Blessings come in many packages. It's not unusual to fail to recognize them immediately. Sometimes it takes time, patience, and a change of perspective to recognize a blessing. It took those things for me to realize the value of the China Special Needs Program.
When I started working for Dillon International in 2004, intercountry adoption had reached a pinnacle and families were pouring into the China Program. That year 22,991 children were adopted by American families; 7,038 of those children were from China. The China Centre for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) had developed a stable, predictable adoption process. The children in need of families were predominantly healthy, infant girls. And the adoption journey was relatively quick, with families receiving referrals 6 months after submitting a dossier to the CCCWA.
Back then the journey seemed simpler. Then things started to change.
The CCCWA changed the requirements for families, making it more difficult to meet the eligibility requirements to adopt a child. They eliminated single applicants altogether for a period of time (single woman may now adopt from China again).
China's focus became concentrated on preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Domestic adoptions in China began to increase, as did the strength of their economy.
For US families, the wait time grew and grew and grew. Families waited and waited, hoping for the pendulum to swing back to the program they signed up for (healthy young infant girls).
But the pendulum has never swung back. The wait time to receive a referral of a healthy infant grew from six months to surpassing 6 ½ years.
All the while, as families waited and grappled to understand what was happening, China was changing and so were the faces of children arriving home with their new families. The children coming off the airplanes were walking, wearing blue trousers and sporting beautiful cleft smiles. They were fully fluent in Mandarin and struggling to communicate. They were acutely aware of what they were leaving behind: friends, food, language, foster families, orphanage caregivers, and a familiar routine. They were coming home and being enrolled in school or being scheduled for surgery or both.
While I was trying to console families who were reeling from the lost dreams of adopting an infant girl from China, the China Adoption Program became a Special Needs Adoption Program. The reasons are varied and complex. Amy Eldridge, Director of Love Without Boundaries, has produced an incredibly enlightening blog series, The Changing Faces of China's Orphans, addressing some of the factors.
At first, I struggled to embrace the changes. My experience had been that it was challenging to find families open to adopting children with medical and/or developmental needs.
In 2003, Dillon was granted the opportunity to find families for these children, but the task was often daunting. However, every time a family stepped out in faith and said, "I think he's my child," my heart leaped for joy. As more children came home through the Special Needs Program, more and more families seemed to open their hearts and their minds to the possibility.
Families learned that the label Special Needs was just that: a label. For some families it was a very scary label until they came to know a child with cleft lip and palate or a limb difference or a vision impairment or cerebral palsy.
It's amazing how a small child with a big heart and even bigger dreams can help you forget that they are missing an arm or have one eye or have had surgery to repair their heart.
With time and patience, I have come to realize that the changes in the traditional China Adoption Program are indeed a blessing in disguise. The door has been opened for countless children who were previously forgotten and hidden and dismissed. They now have the opportunity to find families, overcome challenges and chase dreams. They bless our world and us.
There are still thousands of children in China who desperately need families. They may be older. They may have medical and/or developmental needs. They may require more time and care. But they are waiting.
The decision and reasons to adopt are deeply personal. Are you a family who can see the world through a child's eyes? Do you want to help a child discover the special gifts only they can bring into our world? Do you have faith, fortitude, flexibility and a funny bone? Then maybe the China Special Needs Program is something to consider. I encourage you to be vulnerable and real and honest as you follow where your heart leads you.
This year, Dillon International celebrates 20 years of uniting children from China with forever families.
Dillon International is an experienced Hague-accredited adoption agency with an excellent reputation at home and abroad. Headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., Dillon has regional offices in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and California. Families in all 50 states can be served.