The ninth largest country in the world, Kazakhstan, is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan officially became a country in 1991 when the nation gained independence from the Soviet Union following the dissolution of the former USSR. Kazakhstan has a rich cultural history, with some of its cities dating back to the 2nd and 3rd century B.C. It’s capital, Astana, is known for its ambitious architecture. Kazakhstan operates as a presidential republic and has the 42nd largest GDP in the world. Ethnically, the country is made up primarily of Kazakhs (66%) and Russians (21%) but over 100 diverse ethnic groups reside in the country.
As the history of international adoption in Kazakhstan is a complex one, it is important to understand the background of U.S./Kazakhstan adoption to appreciate where things stand today. Intercountry adoption began in Kazakhstan in 1992 shortly after the country declared independence. In 1999, the first year for which data is available from the U.S. Department of State, 77 international adoptions took place from Kazakhstan to the United States. Children available for international adoption from Kazakhstan were between the ages of 8-36 months and healthy. The guidelines to adopt from the country were fairly straightforward, and many Americans were drawn to the idea of adopting a younger child.
International adoptions from Kazakhstan continued to rise, and in 2004—at the height of intercountry adoption—835 children were placed in the United States. But Kazakhstan’s intercountry adoption program was still smaller in comparison to other countries. By way of contrast, in 2004, 7,035 children were adopted to the U.S. from China; 5,862 children were adopted to the U.S. from Russia; 3,264 were adopted to the U.S. from Guatemala; and 1,735 children were adopted to the U.S. from South Korea. Interestingly, of that group of five countries, today only China and South Korea remain fully open to intercountry adoption.
From 1992-2011, 6,421 international adoptions occurred from Kazakhstan to the United States. Like other countries during this timeframe, Kazakhstan’s international adoption rates slowly declined. Then in 2012, international adoptions from Kazakhstan to the United States ground to a halt. There were two major factors that caused the suspension of intercountry adoptions in Kazakhstan: the Hague Convention and the perceived ill-treatment of Kazakhstan adoptees in the United States.
In 1993, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption was introduced. The purpose of the Hague Convention is to ensure that every international adoption is completed with the utmost ethical standards. The Convention calls for establishing a central adoption authority and puts several safeguards in place to avoid the trafficking of children across country borders. One of the ways this is done is to make sure every child is indeed an orphan. This may involve a great deal of paperwork, publishing of abandonment notices, and research on the part of the sending country. Additionally, every effort must have been made to place the child domestically (in-country) first. Only after these two requirements have been met will the child be eligible for intercountry adoption.
In 1994, the U.S. became a signatory of the Hague Convention. But it was not until 2008 that the full reach of the Hague Convention could be implemented in international adoptions to and from the United States. For the first six years, the U.S. worked to create the legal framework for implementation. This was made possible by the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000. It then took another eight years for the United States to form a central adoption authority, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of States, set up accreditation for adoption service providers, and design and execute systems and processes through which to complete intercountry adoptions to Hague Convention standards.
In May 2012, Kazakhstan signed the Hague Convention. It was not expected the Convention would be realized immediately in Kazakhstan, particularly given that it took 14 years for the U.S. to comply, but everyone expected that intercountry adoptions would proceed during this time of readjustment. Kazakhstan’s initial response to signing the Convention was to streamline the number of ASPs (adoption service providers) allowed to operate within Kazakhstan, but three months later, Kazakhstan suspended the operation of all ASPs from the United States.
While time to implement the Hague Convention may be to blame, another issue was the failure of U.S. adoptive families to register their Kazakhstan adoptees after placement. Post-placement reporting is a cornerstone of intercountry adoption because post-placement reporting allows for sending countries to ensure their nation’s children are being well cared for and are being provided the resources they need to thrive. A number of adoptive families failed to file any reports on their adopted children from Kazakhstan, so when a July 2012 report found that two Kazakhstan adoptees were living in a home for children with “deviant behavior” the Kazakhstan authorities were distressed. If two children could be found in such circumstances, it was possible there were other Kazakhstan adoptees living in the United States in similar situations. The government of Kazakhstan took swift action. On August 9, 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan informed the U.S. Embassy in Astana that all intercountry adoptions from Kazakhstan to the United States were banned—effective immediately.
For more than eight years, there have been no adoptions from Kazakhstan to the United States, but now the tide may be changing. On January 31, 2020, the Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan issued a statement saying the Cradle of Hope Adoption Agency had been approved to serve as an ASP (adoption service provider) for one year. Cradle of Hope is the only ASP in the United States to be allowed to facilitate adoptions from Kazakhstan to the U.S.
While one ASP may seem like a small step, the hope is that Kazakhstan’s approval of the Cradle of Hope Adoption Agency will lead to other ASP approvals. Should that occur, then adoption from Kazakhstan may become a viable option for families living in the United States. So what is Kazakhstan adoption like? Here is everything you need to know.
The children available for adoption from Kazakhstan are between the ages of 18 months to 10 years old. Because Kazakhstan is a signatory of the Hague Convention, every effort must have been made to place the child in-country before intercountry adoption is an option. This is why many children available for international adoption are older or have special needs. Some have minor, medically correctable needs (such as vision loss, hearing loss, or mild birth defects), and others have more lifelong, significant health challenges (such as missing limbs, unrepaired cleft lip/palate, and unrepaired heart conditions). Children with more significant needs may be as young as 12 months at referral. Sibling groups are available, and often, a sibling group categorizes children as special needs.
Prospective Adoptive Parent
Prospective adoptive parents must be between the ages of 30-55 and be in good physical, mental, and emotional standing. Prospective adoptive families must prove their employment status and be financially sound. Single women are permitted to adopt from Kazakhstan, but single men are excluded from adopting. Couples must be married a minimum of two years before they may adopt. Kazakhstan does not allow for the adoption of children by same-sex couples.
To begin the process of adopting from Kazakhstan, all prospective adoptive parents will complete a home study. A home study is like a snapshot of what life with the prospective adoptive parent(s) would be like for the adoptive child. A home study includes documents which show proof of employment, income, health status, and references from family and friends. Additionally, background checks and child abuse and neglect clearances must be completed for everyone in the household over the age of 18. Once the family has compiled their documents, a state-licensed social worker will meet with the family, typically three times, to discuss the family’s motivations for adoption and what type of child (age, sex, if they have a special need) would fit best with their family. It should be noted that even though all adoptions from Kazakhstan to the United States must currently be conducted by the Cradle of Hope Adoption Agency, Cradle of Hope is based in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. For families who reside outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, their home study must be conducted by a state-licensed social worker in their state of residency. So, for example, if a family lives in San Diego, they must have their home study conducted by a California-licensed social worker before they can begin assembling their dossier for Kazakhstan with Cradle of Hope. Typically, it takes 3-6 months to complete a home study.
Once the home study is complete, families will work with Cradle of Hope to assemble their dossier. A dossier is a country-specific set of documents which bare a close resemblance to the home study. The biggest difference is dossier documents typically need to be authenticated and translated. While they complete their dossier, families will work with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to obtain approval to adopt a child internationally. This approval is called an I-800A. The timeline to complete a dossier and receive I-800A approval is 2-3 months.
Once families have compiled all their documentation, Cradle of Hope will submit their dossier and I-800A approval to the Kazakhstan Central Authority. The Central Authority will review the documents then log the family in for approval. Once approval is granted, a family can expect to receive a referral within 4-6 months, depending on how open a prospective adoptive family is to age, sex, and potential special needs. When a referral is granted, families will have the chance to see photos, videos, and medical documentation of that child. It is strongly advised to have a medical professional review a referral before saying yes.
If a family agrees to the referral, they will move into a “preliminary acceptance” of that prospective adoptive child. At that time, the family will make their first trip to Kazakhstan to meet their prospective adoptive child during a four-week period of fostering and attachment. After this four-week period, a petition of adoption will be filed in Kazakhstan court. The time for a court hearing is not guaranteed and may take some time. It is possible that one parent may be allowed to leave Kazakhstan while waiting for the court date, but this is not guaranteed. Once a court date is set, both parents must be present for the official hearing. After the hearing, the court will issue their decree, and the adoptive parents will become the legal guardians of their adoptive child. The adoption decree issued by the court will then be used to obtain a passport and immigration visa for the child to depart Kazakhstan and move to the United States with his or her new adoptive family. Court, passport, and visa approval may take up to six weeks. During this time, families may choose to return home to the United States. Once the passport and visa are issued, at least one parent must return to Kazakhstan to accompany the child home to the United States. One of the potential challenges about adopting from Kazakhstan is there is no firm timeline, as of yet, for how long at least one adoptive parent will need to remain in Kazakhstan.
From home study to traveling to bringing a child home is approximately 12-18 months. The cost to adopt from Kazakhstan is between $35,000-$45,000, including travel. This amount may be higher, however, depending on how many trips the prospective adoptive parents choose to make back and forth. A total of three trips may be required.
The post-adoption reporting period for Kazakhstan is every six months for the first three years home and then annually until the child’s 18th birthday. Because of the history of international adoption in Kazakhstan, these post-placement reports are vital to the continuation of intercountry adoption in Kazakhstan.
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.