Have you ever thought about or considered adopting a child from another country? For many prospective adoptive parents, the idea of international adoption can seem overwhelming if not impossible; however, it is possible! By taking the time to first understand what international adoption is, researching the necessary steps (domestic and international), and finding the support and resources you will need to work through your journey—you very well may be the perfect candidate to become a family to a waiting child!
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, there are approximately 153 million orphans worldwide. Every day, an estimated 5,700 more children become orphans.
Due to circumstances beyond their control, many of these children find themselves in tough situations—living on the streets, unprotected and exposed to the realities and difficulties of homelessness. In some countries, orphaned children are exploited, abused, and forced to join the militia. Of course, with poverty comes hunger, disease, and illness due to lack of proper medical care, and oftentimes, premature death.
The lucky ones may find themselves in an institutional or orphanage setting. And while orphanages historically tend to carry bad reputations for maltreatment, child trafficking, and inadequate care as a result of political corruption, lack of funds, or mismanagement, many children will call these places home for most of their young lives before eventually being turned out to the street when they come of age.
At the same time, there are many good orphanages and foundations that provide excellent care, going above the basics to provide children with love, education, physical and therapeutic services, and hope—thanks to partnerships with government agencies and private donations. Children in these settings can thrive and often consider their caretakers and peers as family. An example of this is the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children, or FANA, which first opened its doors in 1972 and continues to open its doors to expectant moms and struggling families in Bogota, Colombia, today. And while the efforts of FANA and others like it are admirable, it is agreed that the less time a child spends in an institutional setting the better, which is why adoption advocates around the world are fighting to protect the rights of vulnerable children and shorten adoption wait times where applicable.
In recent years, many countries have made strides to support biological families in order to keep the family unit together when possible by providing financial assistance, education, job training, and shelter if/when domestic abuse is occurring. And while international adoption has become more of a last result because of this, it is still recognized as the only option for many children who do not have immediate or extended relatives able or willing to take them in, but who deserve the unconditional love of a forever family regardless of geography.
According to travel.state.gov, more than 275,800 international adoptions occurred between 1999 to 2018, And while international adoptions have declined over the years—in 1999, more than 15,700 children found homes, whereas, in 2018, the number dropped to just over 4,000—the need for families remains. Last year, 4,058 children found forever families—their lives and the lives of the families they are now a part of are changed for the better! These 4,058 kids now have a family to love them, tuck them in at night, read to them, care for them, protect them, wipe their tears, cheer them on at sports games, teach them to tie their shoes and frost a birthday cake, comfort them, support them, kiss their boo-boos, and arm them with all of the basic life tools we place into our children’s hands with which to prepare them for the world.
Ask the Hard Questions Before You Begin
Ask yourself—what is adoption? What is international adoption? Is it right for me? What will it mean for me? What will it mean for my family? What will it mean for the adopted child?
It may sound silly, but the fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know and while adoption can sound like a wonderful opportunity for you to grow your family, like everything else we do in life, it is complicated and life-changing for all parties involved. In truth, adoption is a wonderful opportunity for families who are open to it and for the many children who have no other options and may spend months or years in an institution as a result.
Deciding if International Adoption is Right for Your Family
There are many differences between domestic and international adoption. Some of these include:
– General requirements such as age of parent, marital status, home study, and background checks.
– Age of children available for adoption
– Wait times
– Access to background or social history
– Missed work
In addition, part of adopting a child from another country is the understanding that you are adopting all of the child, including their roots, culture, and traditions that made up their history before they met you—making sure that you are willing to honor these pieces of your child. And while, for the most part, international adoption is still closed adoption so far as availability to biological family records and social history, you need to respect the fact that your adopted child may someday wish to search for biological family members and learn more about where they came from.
Choosing a Country
Prospective parents often have an idea of where they might like to adopt from based on research or word of mouth from family or friends who have also adopted a child from another country. You should know that just like stateside adoption, where each state has its own set of requirements and processes, so do different countries.
Parents should compare different adoption programs in several countries in order to determine from which country to adopt. Eligibility requirements to consider include age, marital status, sexual orientation, family size, parents’ health, and religion.
You may also want to consider whether or not you will adopt from a Hague Convention country or non-Hague Convention country. To learn more, please visit Adoption.com’s article regarding “Intercountry Adoption Hague and Non-Hague Convention Countries: Participating Countries“ (please note, participating countries are subject to change at any time).
The website myattorneyusa.com provides the following list of Hague Convention countries (please note, this list is subject to change at any time):
– Burkina Faso
– Cape Verde
– China (and Hong Kong)
– Côte d’Ivoire
– Costa Rica
– Czech Republic
– Dominican Republic
– El Salvador
– New Zealand
– San Marino
– South Africa
– Sri Lanka
– United Kingdom
For country-specific adoption information go to the U.S. Department of State website, which provides relevant resources on intercountry adoption and country-specific information.
Finding an Adoption Service Provider
Next, you will want to do some research, and by some, I mean a lot of research in order to find an adoption service provider or agency to help you through the process, both the domestic side of things and the international side.
In addition to reaching out to local providers and internet searches, a great way to determine which agency may be the best for your situation is to reach out and talk to other adopting families who have already been in your shoes. Through their experience, they should have a good relationship with their service provider (if not, there’s a reason for that) and may be able to point you in the right direction to make a good choice.
Make sure to ask the right questions of a potential provider to ensure they are reputable, experienced, and qualified (and are who they say they are) before you begin your relationship. Providers should have no problem answering your questions and in fact, should be expecting you to have lots of questions over the course of your journey. If you get the sense that something is amiss, it’s perfectly fine to end your relationship (the sooner the better).
Most of all, whomever you choose should demonstrate that they have your best interest and the best interest of the child you are hoping to adopt at heart in an ethical and legal manner.
According to Childwelfare.gov, “As of July 14, 2014, all agencies or persons providing any of the six specific intercountry adoption services defined in the accreditation regulations of the Intercountry Adoption Act must be accredited or approved to the standards set forth in the [Hague] Convention regardless of whether the adoption will fall under the Convention or the orphan (non-Convention) process. An adoption service provider that is not accredited or approved may provide intercountry adoption services under the supervision of an accredited or approved provider or as an exempted provider.”
While the Adoption.com “Selecting an Adoption Agency Guide“ provides an overview of what to think about and look for when choosing an agency, the Adoption.com article “5 Most Popular International Adoption Agencies“ provides information on some of the top-ranked international adoption agencies to date.
Taking the first steps toward international adoption is exciting, confusing, frustrating, and will keep you busy for the near future as you learn your way through the system and fill out and complete document after document:
Home Study. Your home study must be conducted by a licensed/authorized and Hague Convention Accredited adoption agency in the state where you reside. You will also need to select a primary provider/international adoption placement agency with the authority to work in the country you are adopting from. For more about home studies, check out “Surviving Your Home Study Guide“ on Adoption.com. While a home study can be confusing and tends to make a lot of parents nervous, with the support of your adoption provider and social worker, you will be able to navigate through the paperwork bringing you one step closer to your goal!
Citizenship and Immigration Services Pre-approval. Prospective adoptive parents are required to apply to Citizenship and Immigration Services (via forms I-600A or I-800A) to be pre-qualified to adopt from another country prior to applying to adopt from a specific foreign country.
Submission of Dossier. Once your home study is complete (Yay!), you will need to submit a dossier, which is a collection of documents that support your application for adoption. A dossier may include birth and marriage certificates, medical exam reports, criminal background checks/clearances, your home study, and pictures.
The Referral. Now that all of the paperwork has been turned in (you will miss being busy once that last envelope goes out and you realize that the waiting game begins), the next step is the referral. This is where your placement agency will present a child to you for your consideration. A referral package may include a photo of the child, medical report, and developmental assessment. It is now up to you to decide whether or not you will proceed with the adoption. Should you decline for whatever reason, the adoption placement agency can present you with another child. However, if you feel comfortable and wish to pursue placement, your next step will be to begin working with your placement agency to prepare to travel to your child’s country to complete the adoption!
Travel and Adoption Day! This is the moment you have waited and worked so hard to reach. No doubt you haven’t slept in days or weeks and your back is sore from lugging bags and supplies with you to your “home away from home” while you meet and prepare to complete your adoption. Some countries require you to stay for a minimum of a week or two to finalize paperwork in country, while others require several months. Be prepared to be flexible as court systems don’t always run according to schedule and there will be a lot of paperwork (yes, that again), medical exams, social visits, agency visits, and day-to-day to-dos to do before you are finished.
As overjoyed as you may be, meeting and holding your child in person for the first time, the reality of living in another country away from home, family, friends, and your support system can feel overwhelming. On the flip side, make the most of this time to spend with your child, bonding and learning about one another. Take this time to familiarize yourself with your child’s homeland—the people, the places, the food, the culture, and see and do as much as you can. While your child is coming home with you, it’s important to acknowledge, honor, and respect the place from where he was born.
Post-Adoption. Now that you’re home, you can expect there will be a bit more work to do. Working with your placement provider, you will need to submit to post-placement visits in your home in order to comply with your child’s birth country’s adoption requirements. Some countries require follow-up reports for up to five years. You also may need to (it is highly recommended) re-adopt your child in the United States’ court system and obtain a United States birth certificate. Not only does this protect the child’s citizenship, but you will need these documents for school enrollment, college applications, and future travel within and outside of the country.
Ready to Begin?
Now that you know a little bit more about how to adopt a child from another country, please visit Adoption.com’s “The International Adoption Guide,” which offers an overview of next steps you will need to take to make your international adoption dream a reality!
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Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.