So, although I am definitely no expert, I offer my best effort in answering that very question.
The entire China program (NSN and SN) has certain requirements for all adoptive families, based on a set of guidelines set forth by the CCAA. Most of these rules are non-negotiable, as in the CCAA will not even consider a family if they do not fit within the guidelines. But some of these rules are flexible, especially within the context of the special needs program. So if you don't meet every rule set forth by the CCAA, you should still contact several agencies to ask their stance on a particular rule. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Here is a list of rules, set forth by the CCAA in 2007, that currently applies to all PAPs:
- Both adopting parents must be at least 30 years of age and less than 50 years of age.
- BUT, for the Waiting Child Program, both adopting parents must be between at least 30 years of age and less than 55 years of age.
- Each parent must have graduated from high school.
- A couple must be married for at least 2 years. If either parent has been divorced, you must be married for five years. You may have no more than two prior marriages each.
- You must be financially stable, with an annual income that exceeds $10,000 per household member (including the child you plan to adopt).
- You must have a net worth of at least $80,000.
- Families with fewer than 5 children at home are permitted to adopt. BUT, families with 5 or more children in the home are eligible for the Waiting Children Program. The youngest child in the home must be at least 1 year old.
- Neither parent can have a criminal history with severe outcomes no less than 10 years ago. No history of alcohol abuse unless it occurred more than 10 years ago.
- Both parents must be healthy, without evidence of any mental or physical illness that will affect their life span or ability to parent in any way, including conditions that require permanent medical treatment or medication. No medication for depression or anxiety for the past two years will be allowed. No history of cancer at all will be accepted.
- Adopting Parents must have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 40.
After reviewing the guidelines and establishing that you do, indeed, qualify for the China program, I recommend you sit down and make some calls. A list of agencies that participate in the SN China program can be found on our Agencies page. Many adoptive parents either don't know or don't take the time to call around, I didn't do this our first time around, and I think it's a very foolish mistake. Agencies vary WIDELY, and it is foolish to assume anything, especially when you're talking about things as important as wait time for referral and expense.
So, you're ready to sit down and make calls. Have a list ready. Be sure to cover the basics:
estimated time until referral?
number of families currently waiting to recieve a referral?
how they 'assign' children to families?
do they have access to the shared list as well as an individual list?
Of course, feel free to add your own questions, but be sure to cover those, most basic, questions. Write everything down and organize your notes so you can compare one agency to another. Also, note the following: were able to get someone on the phone quickly? Were they polite and at least attempted to answer all your questions? Did you feel rushed or unimportant? If you weren't crazy about your initial contact with an agency, you might want to consider crossing them off your list. What you see is often what you get.
Know that there is no 'best' agency in the China adoption world. And that's truly a good thing. Some agencies excel at hand-holding, some are less expensive and some have a very short, or non-existent wait list for a referral. But there are many good agencies. Plenty of agencies to fulfill all the needs of the families who want to adopt.
Just be sure you are aware of the good and bad points of that agency, before you commit. Are you willing to wait longer for a referral? Is $ an issue for your family? Are you comfortable using an agency that does less hand holding than others?
So again, I recommend you do your research. Decide for yourself based on your list of priorities and desires. Don't just take your cousin's sister's advice on which agency is best, do the legwork for yourself. Ask questions. Be informed. You'll be so glad you did.
Once you've settled on an agency, applied and been accepted, then the real work begins.
But that's a whole 'nother post :)