September 21, 2011

Cost and Transparency In Congo Adoptions

When we completed our Congolese adoption in February of 2010, there were only a handful (I think only 4) agencies working there.  Now, just 19 short months later, there are dozens of agencies with pilot programs.  I get emails all the time asking me which agencies I would recommend to families. The organization that we worked with is no longer completing adoptions.

Since we didn't work with any other agencies, I don't feel qualified to recommend any of them.  As with all countries, you hear horror stories from some agencies.  You hear how some are completing adoptions unethically.  You hear of children coming home whose stories just don't match up with what their agency told them.  I've even heard of people given referrals for babies who haven't even been born yet!  As we all know, pregnant moms in third world countries typically wouldn't make an "adoption plan" for their unborn child unless they were approached and that is just out and out illegal. And there are some agencies that are doing great work and are also committed to helping the children left behind in Congo. So my best advice is to do an insane amount of research before you choose and agency.  Check out the reviews online.  Talk to other parents who have used that agency- and I'm not talking about the parents that the agency tells you to talk to.  Use the powers of the Internet to find them on your own and ask the hard questions.  Not just the "how long did it take" questions, but the ones that make people uncomfortable.  The "did you see anything that made you feel uncomfortable about the way the adoption was completed" and the "did you feel like officials in Congo were paid the appropriate amounts of money for the services they did" kinds of questions.

I think that those of us close to the program fear corruption in the system above all else.  I know that one of the taboo topics in adoption is money.  I think that it is because to the outside world it seems like we are talking about how much our children "cost".  But to those in the process, it is vital to talk about costs because it is one of the fastest ways to spot corruption.  For that reason, I'm posting today about the cost of our Congolese adoption in hopes that parents completing adoptions have a frame of reference to know if something is amiss.  I'm hearing reports of adoptions from Congo costing about twice as much money as they should and it grieves me that so many are profiting on the misfortune of orphans along the way.  As with all things, costs vary quite a bit- especially over time, so this is intended to be a guide and not a definitive declaration.  I'll denote things that could vary with a star and explain them at the bottom.

Congolese Adoption Costs- Completed Feb. 2010

Agency Application                                                                            $200
Homestudy                                                                                        $1500 *
USCIS filing fee/fingerprints/background checks                                 $910
Congolese Attorney and Congo Court Costs/ translations                   $5500
Flight for one adult/one lap child                                                         $2550  **
Taxi and Daily Escort in DRC                                                            $725
US Embassy Appointment                                                                 $400
Accomodations and meals for one adult/one child for 1 week             $1000
Foster Care for one month/child medical care                                     $250
Adult Vaccines and Visa Entry                                                           $900
Passport for One Child                                                                      $375
Stipend to Orphanage                                                                        $3500  ***
Travel Insurance/Western Union wiring fees                                       $350
DGM fee to get exit clearance                                                      $50    ****

Total costs to adopt one child from DRC                                                                                       $18,210 

A few notes:

* Homestudy fees vary greatly from state to state.  We decided that every agency would eventually give us the report that we needed so we used the one in our state that was the cheapest. 

** Flights now are way more expensive than they were in 2010.  In many instances, you can expect to pay about twice as much for an international flight.    

***  Orphanage Stipend.  Typically, I'm not pro-orphanage stipend.  I think that if orphanages expect to get stipends it can sometimes cause them to "find" babies to fulfill a "need".  However, because we knew that the particular orphanage that our son was from and were comfortable with the transparency they showed in accounting and proving the parentage and orphan status of children that were being adopted, we felt 100% confident that supporting our son's orphanage was the right thing to do.  His orphanage is under the control of the church denomination that we attend and we know the volunteers that travel there regularly and knew without hesitation that the orphanage stipend was not used in a corruptible manner. 

**** DGM fee.  I highlighted this bit of information particularly because this is the posted amount that DGM requires to issue an exit clearance for your adopted child to leave the country.  Often it takes a long time (sometimes several weeks) to be issued this clearance.  If your agency is expecting you to pay more than the posted amount for this exit clearance, you need to think long and hard about weather or not someone was bribed to expedite clearances.  

A few words about "agency fees".  You will notice that we didn't pay anything except the application fee to our organization to assist with our adoption.  They are all volunteer and do not require to be paid for their services.  I get that this is a rarity in the adoption world.  I do think that agency directors and people on the ground working to help get your children home do deserve to be paid.  They absolutely deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise.  Just make sure that you know up front what these costs will be and ask that they be itemized so that you can be rest assured that the fees are not exorbitant.  While I do believe that people working in the adoption industry deserve to make a living, I do not feel that it is ethical to profit from the plight of the fatherless in the world.  Only you can determine if agency fees are fair and ethical.

I hope that this information helps families that are walking this journey to have a jumping off point.  It is often complicated and overwhelming.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I'll do my best to put together a Congo adoption FAQ post next week.                                                                                                                                         

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