Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How much does it cost to adopt from DRC? (part 2)

While working on the post about finances in DRC adoptions, I began to wonder about the foreign fees breakdown (or lack of breakdown) with different agencies.  As we lived in the DRC while we were adopting, we paid everything personally and we knew exactly how much every document cost, how much every process cost, and how much every step cost.  I knew it was possible to know this information since we found it out from our lawyer fairly easily.  I decided to interview the two agencies/organizations (DRCAS and OFA) that gave breakdowns of fees to their adoptive parents, I hope in doing this it will contribute to greater transparency of fees in adoption in DRC.  

The first interview is with DRCAS.

1.  Can you describe your agency/organization?
 DRC Adoption Services is a licensed child placement agency.  We work with families adopting from DRC.  We only place children who are legally free for adoption that have two deceased parents or are considered legally abandoned prior to referral.  We do not work with any relinquishment cases.  Our desire is to provide an ethical and transparent process. 

2.  Can you please give a detailed breakdown of your foreign fees (as they relate to the direct court processes and documentation, passport, DGM, social/family affairs)?  DRC Adoption Services charges a foreign service fee of $15,180 which includes private foster care.

 FOREIGN SERVICE FEE                            $15,180.00                 
            I.  LOCATION OF CHILD    
            Search Child: $1500                                                  
            Gift to the orphanage: $500                                       
            Preparation of Documents: $1000                            

            Judgment of adoption: $300                                      
            Supplemental Birth Certificate Judgment: $250                   
            Act of adoption: $100                                                
            Birth Certificate: $100
            Costs and expenses: $1000

            Salary for foster mom: $1600
            Living expenses of the child (Pampers, milk, food, and medical):  $2400

            Legalization documents at City Hall: $100
            Obtaining a passport to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: $450
            Slip obtained from the Ministry of Gender and Family: $450
            Child Visa:  $230
            Obtaining permission to leave the DGM: $200

            Attorney receives $5,000 for services. 

3.  Why do you feel like it is important to give a breakdown of your fees?  Adoption is very expensive and it is important that families know and understand where their money is going.  Although some foreign service fees may vary slightly due to expenses associated with acquiring certain documents, services being provided by third parties, etc., they should be fairly close. 

4.  How did you determine what the breakdown of the fees are in Kinshasa?  We work with our attorneys and in country staff to determine foreign service fees, as well as regularly compare the “market” to ensure our fees in line with what the individual services actually cost.

5.  How would you respond to an adoptive parent who says that their agency/organization simply cannot give any breakdown of fees because fees are changing all the time or because the agency is not given that information themselves for each individual adoption case?  There are situations in which there could be extenuating circumstances that increase the fees in a particular case and we do make sure our clients aware of this; however, the cost of a particular document is the cost of the document.  If there is an increase in fees for the document, an agency should be able to explain why (for example:  the way a document is acquired changed or the rate increased for all families).  Agencies should be able to provide a standardized fee schedule and then if changes are necessary be able to explain why those changes are necessary.

6.  What is one piece of advice you would give to a prospective adopting parent in DRC?  You are paying for the services of your adoption agency to advocate for you and your child.  You should use a provider that allows you to ask tough questions and has answers to the tough questions or is willing to find the answers for you.  You should never feel as though you are bugging them.  You deserve to know how your money is spent, all of it.

7.  What is your contact information if a PAP wanted to contact you? amy@drcadoptionservices.com  (502)767-6902

The second interview is with OFA.  The same questions were asked as were asked to DRCAS.

1.  Our Family in Africa (OFA) is not an adoption agency, but rather a humanitarian organization with a mission to serve Congo's orphaned children.  We partner with a small number of adoptive families by providing guidance in their journey of adopting a Congolese orphan.  OFA is primarily a volunteer-run organization, and these families must commit to a long term role in our mission.  We support several orphanages throughout Congo, and we strive to provide food, caregiver support, education, medical care, safety and love.  

2.  We do not charge any foreign fees, but rather, we provide our families with a list of estimated expenses.  This helps our families to budget and prepare for the costs they will likely incur in the adoption process. OFA families pay their providers directly, not through OFA.  They will send funds directly to their document translator, DRC attorney, etc.

3.  While we don't set or negotiate any fees for the process in Congo, our Congolese partners do an excellent job of communicating the current costs involved, so we can help OFA families to budget and prepare.  It is important for families to understand what expenses they are paying for.

4.  In a country struggling with poor governance or infrastructure, costs are not always concrete.  It's very important to have trusted partners in a process such as adoption.  We rely on our partners to relay information such as court fees, document costs, etc.

5.  It is possible that fees could change during the adoption process, but any agency or organization should have a process in place to be made aware of any changes and to adequately explain these changes to their families.

6.  Prospective adopting families should be patient and understanding during the adoption process.  There are many challenges in Congo, and some families aren't familiar with how complicated simple tasks can be.  Lack of electricity, internet connection, poor road conditions, illness of Congolese partners, etc. can be frustrating realities and may possibly cause delays.  Families should plan to travel to Congo, and be prepared to embrace their child's birth country.  Families should be patient with the United States Embassy, as their investigation of orphan status is a critically important step.  Also, the Congolese government has ultimate authority in the adopted child's ability to leave the country.  We advise families to patiently respect the office of DGM, as they investigate the adoption documentation, and eventually issue an exit letter.

7.  We are not currently accepting new families into our program, but have many volunteer opportunities.  If families would like to learn more about the work we do in Congo, they can go to www.ourfamilyinafrica.com, or contact Cami MacDonald at 602-330-6337.  We are particularly excited about the success of our nutritional feeding program, which is in a remote area of Southeastern DRC. We have partnered with a group of Congolese women who grow and harvest peanuts.  Next, they grind the nuts into a nutrient-rich peanut paste which is saving the lives of children suffering with severe malnutrition.  This partnership employs ten Congolese people and has transformed the lives of children on the brink of death.  We are committed to help prevent additional orphans in Congo, and are thrilled with the positive results of this important project.  Families can donate to this cause or learn more at our website.

Thank you to DRCAS and OFA for being willing to be interviewed for this post.

And again, finally, I will repeat what I wrote in the first post, this post is not meant to recommend or attack any agency or organization.  If you are a PAP, please read through my other posts on the right side of this blog as you consider which agency to adopt from in DRC (and whether or not to adopt from DRC at all).  These posts meant to increase transparency in adoption in DRC.  This one specifically is meant to show that the information related to foreign fees are available to those working in adoption in DRC and you can ask your agency for this information (and should).  

Very important note on this post:  All comments will be moderated and anonymous commenters will not be allowed.  In addition, if your comment is not respectful, it will not be posted.   

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How much does it cost to adopt from DRC? (Part I)

In an effort to help there be more transparency in adoptions in DRC, I asked some adoptive parents if they would like to anonymously share their fees for their adoption in DRC.  So many said "yes", that they would be excited to do so and wished they had something similar when they were early in the process.  So, a huge thank you to those who helped and contributed (I'm sorry it took me so long to get this up, it was complicated!).  You all are amazing and thank you!

And yes, for those of you would like to contribute to a follow up post, you still can!  I have some others that weren't quite ready yet, so there will be a second post with more agencies/organizations/independents.   Just contact me (email is above right).

As a small explanation, if details of fees were not explained to the adoptive parents, there will be no details on the charts.  I did not include home study costs or uniform USCIS costs on the tables though they are reflected in the overall costs.  Thank you again, and I hope this is helpful to all of you who are in process right now and well as contribute to overall transparency and truth in adoption in DRC.

Please click on the bottom right of this workbook to expand it and see all five different sheets of information.  There is a lot of information!  You have to expand it and then toggle through the five sheets.  The top four families adopted two children.  The remainder adopted one child.  The adoptions occurred all over DRC, most from Kinshasa.   We included the costs of our personal adoption, we are "independent #1".

Sheet 5 is a detailed breakdown of specific adoption court fees provided by families adopting DRCAS, OFA, and those who are independent (or using the services of a facilitator) who were given this information from their agency/organization or paid the fees directly themselves as they were independent.

DRCAS (DRC Adoption Services) has recently become a licensed child placement agency.  The family that adopted with them that is quoted in this table worked with them doing an independent adoption before they became an agency.  Their fees have increased slightly now that they are an agency (and working on Hague accreditation).  Please contact Amy True if you have any questions about DRCAS at amy@drcadoptionservices.com.  

This post is not meant to recommend or attack any agency or organization.  If you are a PAP, please read through my other posts on the right side of this blog as you consider which agency to adopt from in DRC (and whether or not to adopt from DRC at all).  This is meant to increase transparency in adoption in DRC.  

Very important note on this post:  All comments will be moderated and anonymous commenters will not be allowed.  In addition, if your comment is not respectful, it will not be posted.   

Thursday, February 7, 2013

sending them home...on wings

Today I found out one of the new little babies died.  I found out another little baby died last month.  Both babies were newborns and died within a month or two of their arrival, both had come small and sickly.  Most babies that die within two months of their arrival die of infections acquired from delivery (like untreated +GBS or herpes) or blood infections or meningitis.  Kale was 5 1/2 lbs and Farahisha was around 6 lbs upon entry to the orphanage.   We are raising funds for more mamas to care for the babies.  If you are interested in contributing to this, please let me know.

I don't have a lot of words today, but a very heavy heart.   Babies die every day all over the world.  I don't often know their names.  Babies have died at the orphanage before even before anyone took their photo and all I was given were names.  Today, I know two of their names and I know their faces, and I pray that they will rest easy now that they are home with their mamas.  I know their fathers and extended family members will also be mourning their loss and I pray for them as well who brought their little ones to the orphanage with the hopes of their survival.



Monday, February 4, 2013

"mommy, why is she so bad?" (and daring to dream)

Six little words that crushed my heart yesterday.  Said by one of our little girls about one of her sisters.

One of our girls is struggling.  And has been struggling for a long time.  About one year ago, my husband and I finally acknowledged that everything wasn't okay and we reached out and asked for help.  The reaching out part wasn't hard given we live in the states and there are people that can help us and our daughter, but the acknowledgement of it was the hardest part.  Acknowledging that our little one didn't escape unscathed.  That 2 1/2 years after her adoption, she is struggling, and probably will struggle for many years ahead.  That she is still hurting and that her heart has not healed.

You are loved, you are good, you are wanted.  You are loved, you are good, you are wanted. 

Our girls came home to live with us at 8 months old.  They moved out of the orphanage into foster care at 5 months old.  It was a very good foster care situation with the director of the orphanage.  But the first 5 months of their lives were not good at all.  I've posted about it on here a lot.  Way too many children, lots of babies needing formula, and not enough funding for formula and mamas.  They were left in their cribs all day long and rarely held or touched.  Three times a day they were given very watered down formula.  The mamas did they best they could to keep those babies alive.  Things have changed a lot at the orphanage since then (thanks to all of you), but when I first walked into the orphanage almost three years ago, it was heartbreaking.  When I look at them and how well they are doing, despite the neglect and severe malnourishment they experienced at a critical age, I see little miracles.

You are loved, you are good, you are wanted.  You are loved, you are good, you are wanted. 

Our girls are twins, fraternal, not identical.  They responded differently to the deprivation they experienced.  One was more resilient and one more vulnerable.  I saw the difference in so many of the children the first day I walked into the orphanage.  Some were doing amazingly well and others were really struggling.  Some one year old were sitting and interacting with their surroundings, other one year olds were laying in their cribs rocking back and forth back and forth with vacant looks in their eyes and completely broken hearts. They couldn't sit or even hold their heads up.  Those little ones shuddered when touched.   Orphanages harm children.  An orphanage harmed my child.  That is the reality I face when I look in her broken little heart.  And it wasn't just the orphanage.  It was the trauma of her mother dying and being left in an orphanage as a newborn.  The pain and loss of losing her mother, the most important person in her life at that point.  The trauma of a family splintered apart.

You are loved, you are good, you are wanted.  You are loved, you are good, you are wanted. 

The three little girls are young.  They don't understand all of this, the effects of trauma on her young fragile heart.  They only see that she can't figure out how to play with them, that she destroys their games, that sometimes they get hurt when she comes around.  And they see it as being "bad".  Oh, little hearts!  How I wish I could take all this pain and make it go away.  How I wish I could make it all just disappear.  But I can't, and it is just enough to break my heart some days.  Because, it's just not fair (to speak like my little ones).  It's just not fair, baby.  And it's hard for all of them.   But, most of all it's hard for the hurting little one who doesn't even understand any of it, who doesn't understand that she isn't "bad", that instead she is very wanted and loved, and that she is good, beautiful, brave, courageous, and strong.  I pray that someday, she will know it deeply and truly.

You are loved, you are good, you are wanted.  You are loved, you are good, you are wanted.  

I have certain dreams.  Dreams of showing children they are loved, wanted and good.  One of my dreams is to work with the staff at the orphanage to get the babies back home with their families quickly, and then to look for alternative care if reunification isn't possible.  I dream of hiring and training a social worker, to move to supporting more family reunification, preservation and support.  Because these little ones have families.  Most are simply poor farmers or maybe they work in mines, or maybe they don't even have a job.  Their wives died, and their babies were close to follow, but for the orphanage.  But I don't want them to linger in the orphanage.   I believe this dream is possible.  Here is a wonderful example.  And this home provides quality social work and quality baby care while children are in the their care.

Things can change.  I am still hopeful they can change for the orphanage we work at in eastern DRC.   Babies don't need to linger in orphanages so long.  These babies are cared for deeply.  I was reminded of this the other day when I was going through old photos.  And I came across these, of the new babies all being dedicated at the local church.  The church coming together, praying over them, setting them apart.  The community cares for their children.

And I remembered so many early talks with the director of the orphanage three years ago.  His dreams of creating a guest house on the orphanage campus so that families could come and stay and visit their children.  A room to do job training/skills training for older orphans and for families.  Dreams of sustainability at the orphanage so that they don't have to forever rely on outside donations.  Building up congolese families and their abilities to care for their children.  Dreams I want to support.  Dreams that I hope still remain, that haven't faded away with time and other priorities.  

There are many challenges with change.  There is so much hard work ahead.  Please be praying that all those involved with the work at the orphanage would also feel compelled to work together to make these changes happen.

Happy Birthday sweet girl! (Natalie, 6 years old)

Natalie turned six years old last week.  Hard to believe she is six but also hard sometimes to remember that she is only six.  She is such a mixture of intensity, compassion, sensitivity, maturity, perfectionism, and innocence.  Yesterday we were talking at the table and she said, "Mom, I just don't know if I should believe you about God or believe other people who don't believe in God".  What?!  At just six?  She actually asked me this question a couple months ago as well.  I thought that would be more  of a freshman in college type dilemma.

She is an amazing big sister and though she struggles when everyone is screaming (or just in general trying to annoy her) and she wants it quiet, she does an amazing job at pulling out patience and kindness to the three younger ones.   And she knows that drawing will calm her down when she is upset.  At school, the teachers report she is "safe" for those that are nervous and scared and need someone to just sit by them and play with them.  

(lately trying to get a non-blurry photo of Mia smiling is impossible)

She has always been very intense in her emotions and responses to things that upset her or make her mad (in other words, she screams a lot).  When we were in Congo, our congolese staff called her "mechant", meaning mean (to put this in context, there was a painted picture of a dog on our gate to our compound that said "mechant" to describe that the dog was mean).   They loved her, but never really understood why she screamed so much.  The other day I was talking with a friend and realized that in the last 3 months, she hasn't had a single screaming fit.  I feel like they are finally, finally slowing down.

She wants to move to another country when we are done living here.  Lately, it has been Japan since she is learning about it in school.  Her only stipulation is that the people and kids have to speak english.

She still wants to be a construction worker when she grows up.

Probably my favorite thing she spontaneously came out with this last year was after she fell off her bike and skinned her elbows (for the umpteenth time).  She yelled in frustration, "Why did Adam and Eve have to eat that stupid apple anyway???"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

thoughts on marriage, following dreams, and walks in the snow

Walking home last night was a challenge.  It was dark.  It was snowing the kind where you can't see in front of you.  It was 16 degrees.  I had forgotten the flashlight.  And I was wearing work clothes (why are women's work clothes so lousy for any kind of weather but balmy 80s!).  Sort of felt like I was walking home in a blizzard at night.  Our phones weren't working and so Mike didn't know what time to come and get me.  Thankfully, I got a ride from a neighbor.

Following our dreams meant making sacrifices that at times are hard.  Money is scarcer than it has ever been.  We make do with one car.  We utilize the bus.  And most of the time, it works fine.  Mike has never minded the walk to the bus stop in the mornings and afternoons.  And most days, the mile walk home on our country road doesn't bother me either.

Some days, we can see the dream we are chasing clearly in front of us, other days (most of them) its far ahead of us and allusive in the dim light.  

Lots of little ones, tight budgets, expensive child care costs, walks in the dark on cold nights, stressful school programs, new jobs, trying to make new friends, adjusting to the states, loneliness--a lot of stress is on our marriage.  We realize we are different people than who we were when we left for congo over almost 6 years ago with our newborn in tow.  We are learning to know each other again, tentatively taking steps toward one another, the new and old people we have become.

We learn to do without the things we thought we needed.  We learn to appreciate the things we took for granted.  And we try to hang tight to each other in the midst of it all.

One of our dreams...to one day live on the west coast again (maybe not literally ON the coast though).  One day...