The journey to adoption can be a long and sometimes confusing one. Knowing which documents are required and the process for procuring those documents is essential. For those families pursuing international adoption, a dossier will be required. But before families can begin to work on a dossier, they must first go through the home study process. The home study process involves gathering documents, letters, references, and certificates. Families will meet with their social worker a number of times, take pre-adoption parenting classes, and submit to background clearances and fingerprinting. Additionally, families will apply to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for permission to bring an orphan into the United States. Upon approval of the home study, families pursuing international adoption will be welcomed into the country program of their choosing by their agency. Then comes the dossier preparation.
A dossier is a country-specific collection of documents designed to illustrate what the prospective adoptive family is like. An adoption dossier includes everything from a family’s medical and financial background to their employment history. Typically, there are between 15 and 20 documents in a dossier, depending on from which country a family chooses to pursue an adoption. What separates the dossier from the home study is that documents in the dossier must be notarized, authenticated, and apostilled. Following this process of authentication, the documents will be translated into the language of the country from which the prospective family is adopting, and then sent on to the central adoption authority of the child’s country of origin.
The documents contained in a dossier are very similar to those contained in the home study. It can be difficult to think about compiling much of the same documents, but with a little forethought and a lot of organization, the process should not prove too difficult. It is important to remember that each country is different in terms of the documents they require for adoption so be sure to check current country guidelines with your agency. Generally speaking, the following documents are contained in a dossier:
- Formal Letter to Central Adoption Authority: This is a letter written by the prospective adoptive parents to the country’s central adoption authority. In it, you will express your reasons for pursuing international adoption and the type of child (age, gender, special need) you hope to adopt.
- Home Study: This will be supplied by the family’s social worker.
- Birth Certificate(s): Each parent must obtain a certified original of his or her birth certificate. The easiest way to do this is to contact Vital Statistics.
- Marriage Certificate: If applicable, you must obtain a certified original of your marriage certificate. These are available through the county in which you were married.
- Divorce Decree: If applicable, a copy of a divorce decree from any previous marriage(s) is required.
- Proof of Residency: This can be as simple as a copy of your driver’s license, assuming your driver’s license lists your current home address. For most countries, you can make a copy of your license and then write an attestation statement. An attestation statement states “I attest that this is a true and exact copy of the original” and must be attached to the copy (of the license) then signed before a Notary Public.
- Physical Exam(s)/Medical Form(s): Often countries supply their own medical exam forms, so your physician will just need to provide the requested information. One tip for these: Often times physicians’ offices use a stamp in lieu of an original signature. It is important to let your physician know you need an original signature. If an original signature is not provided, the form will need to be redone.
- Employment Letter(s): Like the letter obtained for your home study, you will need a letter from your employer(s) stating you are an employee in good standing and listing your current salary and benefits.
- Financial Statement: Each country requires a list of your personal assets, which is sometimes referred to as the Attestation and Declaration of Personal Goods.
- IRS 1040 Tax Statement: Often one of each year for the past three years is required.
- Local Police Clearance(s): These are the same as were obtained in your home study, but often on a country-specific template.
- Letters of Recommendation: Three letters are usually required and may not be the same letters used in your home study. Typically, families will ask the same references to write another letter, but the dossier letters of recommendation often include country-specific questions.
- Undertaking by a Relative: This is the same as was obtained during your home study but on country-specific forms.
- Passport Copies: If you do not have a passport yet, be sure to apply for one during the home study process as sometimes it can take a few weeks to receive a passport. If you have recently married and changed your name, be sure your new name is on your passport.
- USCIS Approval: You will need the original of your I-800 approval.
- Photographs: Of you and your home. Typically, 6-8 photographs are required.
If you have other children residing in the house, you may also need to include:
- Child’s Birth Certificate: A certified original of your child’s birth certificate. If your child was foreign born, then a copy of your child’s birth certificate may not be possible to submit. Be sure to check with your agency for country-specific guidelines.
- Adoption Decree: If you previously adopted, you will need to provide a copy of your adoption decree along with an attestation.
- Post-Placement Reports: If you previously adopted, you will need to include a copy of the most recent post-placement report filed along with photographs from that report.
- Consent from Children: For many countries, children currently residing with the family must consent to the adoption. Children must write 2–5 sentences stating they are okay with and looking forward to having a new brother/sister. The letter must be signed by the child. If the child is very young, ask your agency for country-specific guidelines.
- Child’s Medical Certificate: Similar to the form used by the parents, your child’s physician will need to complete a country-specific medical form. Be sure to request an original signature from the physician for the form.
When compiling documents for a dossier the best thing to do is keep a spreadsheet of which documents are needed and where they need to be authenticated. Some documents may take longer to obtain or to authenticate so families may want to choose to work on these first. Another tip is to group documents from each state together. Families may have a birth certificate from one state, marriage certificates in another, and reference and employment letters from another. Each document will need to be authenticated, so be sure to keep track of which document originates from where. When the time comes to authenticate, it is easier to send documents in for apostilling all together. Not only does it save time, but many states charge a set amount for the first document, say $25, and then less, say $15, for each additional document.
It may be tempting to rush through the compilation of documents for your dossier, but there are a few rules to bear in mind:
- When filling out the forms, take no chances. If something is misspelled, re-do the form. If a date is incorrect, re-do the form. If an address is incorrect, re-do the form. Correction fluid, such as White-Out, is not allowed. Neither are strikeovers or eraser marks. When in doubt, if there is a mistake, re-do the form. It may make for more work during the process but in the long run, it will save a lot of time.
- Do not use abbreviations. This makes the work harder for translators and often the abbreviation used can carry a different meaning when interpreted.
- Do not add attachments or any information other than the specific information requested. This can be difficult as most prospective adoptive families want to show how wonderful they are and what a wonderful forever family they will be to the prospective adoptive child.
- Make sure all signatures are both original and legible.
- Write out the date on all documents in longhand. This means that rather than printing 03/04/2019 you should write “March 4, 2019.” The reason is most countries use a number system that is a reversal of the United States. To them, 03/04/2019 may be April 3, 2019, and not your intended March 4, 2019.
Before sending the documents in for authentication, be sure to make copies of everything. Whether printouts, scanned copies to a cloud or hard drive, if anything goes missing you can originate a new document with the same information quickly.
Once the documents for your dossier have been compiled, the next step will be to notarize each of the documents, if you have not done so already. Notarized documents must be signed by both parties, if specified, and must be signed before a Notary Public. Notary Publics may be found at your home study agency, banks, city halls, or even UPS. The Notary Public will sign the document, and stamp the document with the statement of “Subscribed and sworn to me in _____ County, this __ day of _____, 20__.” It is important to ask that the Notary Public’s commission be valid for at least 12 months into the future. This will ensure the document is still “under warranty” by the time it is accepted by the foreign central adoption authority.
Next families will begin the process of state apostilling. An apostille is a form of authentication published by a state certifying the authenticity of a document which originated in that state. During the apostille process, the Secretary of State’s office will verify the Notary Public who signed the document was a true notary and the document in question is a real and official document. The Secretary of State will then issue a cover document with the state’s seal. This cover document will be stapled onto the original document and should not be removed. The removal of the staple will signify to other countries that your documents are not indeed authentic.
During the state apostille process, families will send the necessary documents to each state for authentication. This means that if a man was born in Texas but lives in Virginia and works in Maryland then he must submit authentication requests to three different states: Texas, for his birth certificate, Virginia for his proof of residence, and Maryland for his employment letter. Some things, like birth and marriage certificates, can be ordered with an authentication stamp so be sure to check with Vital Statistics on your state’s authentication process. For all other documents, families will need to submit a cover letter listing the documents to be authenticated and enclose the necessary fees.
Following the apostille process on the state level, families will next submit all their documents to the U.S. Department of State for authentication. Like at the state level, families will need to list the documents to be apostilled and enclose the necessary fees. Once completed, the original documents will be returned to families with the United States seal on top of the state seal, all stapled together. Again, families should not remove the staple as removal of the staple will signify to other countries that your documents are not indeed authentic.
This process of apostilling can seem like a lot of extra steps but there is a legal reason behind it. In the 1950s, during which time the first international adoptions were beginning to take place, there was no standard by which a document originated in one country could be authenticated in another. The absence of such a standard meant those individuals and businesses in need of a public document from one country had to go through substantial hoops and hurdles to use the public document in another country. This led to the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents (“Apostille Convention”). The Apostille Convention established a process through which international documents could be authenticated for use across countries. This is particularly remarkable given the complexities of legal systems throughout the world. To date, over 100 countries have signed and enforce the Apostille Convention, making it one of the most widely accepted and successful of all international treaties.
Once families have completed the apostille process, all documents and apostilles will be submitted back to the family’s agency for translation. The documents will be translated into the language of the country from which a family is pursuing adoption, and then the documents will be sent to the country’s central adoption authority. Upon dossier approval, families will then be eligible to be matched and the adoption process proceeds.
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.