The Republic of Ghana, as it is officially known, is a beautiful country in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea. The country is bordered by Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Previously, a relatively poor country, Ghana has made great strides in the past few years and is the first African country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the country’s extreme poverty numbers in half. In fact, according to the International Monetary Fund, Ghana is projected to be the fastest growing country in Africa.
Ghana is a country rich in culture and traditions. Due to its beautiful beaches, rainforests, and prevalence of wildlife, Ghana has become an ecotourism destination. There are over 100 ethnic groups living in the country, with the Ashanti tribe of Akan being among the largest. English is the official language of the country. From 1999-2017, the timeframe for which data is available, the U.S. Department of State lists 1,181 adoptions took place from Ghana to the United States. At the height of intercountry adoptions to the U.S., in 2013, 170 children were adopted. In the last reporting year, 2017, only 21 adoptions took place.
Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from Ghana must be at least 25 years of age and at least 21 years older than the intended adoptive child. If it is a relative of the child who is pursuing the adoption, then the prospective adoptive parents must be only 21 years old. Prospective adoptive parents over the age of 50 may be considered on a case-by-case basis both by their adoption service provider and by Ghana’s central adoption authority. Ghana is reluctant to send children to families with a large number of children, so if a prospective adoptive family already has a number of children living in their home, they should inquire with their adoption service provider before proceeding. For most intercountry adoptions, only married couples are permitted. Same-sex couples are not eligible to adopt. A single woman may adopt from Ghana only if she is a citizen of Ghana. A single male may adopt from Ghana only if he is a citizen and the intended adoptive child is his birth child or if a court has determined there are extenuating special circumstances that would permit the adoption.
Prospective adoptive parents must meet the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requisites for intercountry adoption as well as Ghana’s prerequisites. Prerequisites include being financially sound, having gainful employment, having no history of serious health or mental health issues, and possessing the ability to raise a child of a different culture than themselves. Additionally, Ghana requires prospective adoptive parents to exhibit they can parent a child who has experienced trauma. Ghana recognizes that many children available for intercountry adoption have experienced the loss of one or both of their parent and endured trauma as a result. Thus, it is important to Ghana to ensure prospective adoptive parents have the training and tools necessary to adopt. All of these requisites may be met through the home study process as through the home study process a minimum 20-30 hours of pre-adoption education will be required.
As Ghana is a Hague Convention country, in order for a child to be found eligible for intercountry adoption the child must have been legally declared an orphan. To do this there must be no known family for the child, the family must be unwilling to care for the child, or a court must have found the family to be unable to care for the child due to instances of abuse or neglect. Most intercountry adoption is special needs adoption. In Ghana, special needs encompasses children older than age 6, sibling groups, and children with mild/medically correctable needs to more serious, lifelong needs. Many children are HIV+, have hepatitis, or sickle-cell anemia. Because health resources in Ghana are somewhat limited, many children will have been exposed to malaria and/or parasites and should be tested upon coming home.
The first step to adopt from Ghana is to complete a home study. A home study is essentially a compilation of documents, background checks, personal references, and letters from employers and doctors, assessing the prospective adoptive parents’ levels of physical and mental health and their means to provide for a child. A state-accredited social worker will meet with the prospective adoptive parents typically three times in person to gauge what type of parents they will be and what type of home environment they will provide for the child. The purpose of the home study is also to help the prospective adoptive parents determine what age and level of special needs, if any, they are open to parenting. As Ghana is a Hague Convention country, all home studies must be conducted by a Hague Accredited adoption service provider, also known as ASP. A complete list of ASP’s may be found on the U.S. Department of State website. The process to complete the home study will take between three to six months, depending on how quickly the family compiles their paperwork.
Upon completion of the home study, families will next apply to USCIS to be found suitable to adopt a child from a Hague Convention country. This is called the I-800 process. Once a family’s I-800 is approved, and the family is approved by the adoption service provider to adopt through their country program, they will begin the process to compile a dossier.
A dossier is similar to the home study and many families will experience a sense of deja vu at the process. But unlike the home study, almost every document in the dossier will need to be notarized and authenticated. Families will work to complete assembling their dossier, then submit it to their adoption service provider for submission to Ghana’s central adoption authority, the Department of Social Welfare. The Department of Social Welfare will evaluate the family’s dossier and if approved, the family is then eligible to receive a referral. The time frame for this step is roughly three to six months, again depending on how quickly the prospective adoptive family is able to compile their paperwork.
Families will work with their adoption service provider’s matchmaker to receive a referral. The matchmaker will search Ghana’s central database of waiting children to find a child who matches the approximate age range and special need(s) the prospective adoptive family has indicated they are open to adopting. Identifying a waiting child from a photolisting, such as Rainbow Kids, is not possible as Ghana does not participate in these programs. When a match is found, the family will receive a photo, a brief social history, and a brief medical history of the child. The family will then evaluate the match to determine if the child will be a good fit for their family. During this time it is important to have the medical file evaluated by an international adoption doctor. The timeline to match with a child can be anywhere from one month to up to three years, for a minor needs child under the age 4.
After evaluation, if the family chooses to accept the referral, they will complete the referral acceptance paperwork for Ghana and then apply to USCIS to bring the child to the United States. During this time, USCIS will evaluate the child’s referral and their background information to determine if the child in question is indeed an orphan and is indeed available for intercountry adoption, per the terms of the Hague Convention. Once the family receives USCIS approval, they will be invited to travel to Ghana. Typically, two trips to Ghana are required over a period of a couple of months. While it is possible to remain in-country throughout the process, agencies tend to discourage staying in-country as the exact timeline in Ghana varies widely.
During the first trip to Ghana, both prospective adoptive parents will be required to travel. The trip will last a minimum of 30 days, during which time the prospective adoptive parents will spend time bonding with the child at their orphanage or with their foster family. The Ghana Department of Social Welfare will observe the prospective adoptive parents’ interactions with the child and evaluate how the child is responding and adjusting to the prospective adoptive parents. Pending a successful bonding time, the family will then be given a court date for the adoption to take place. The adoption will take place in a local court and the local court will set the date and time for the hearing. This may be either immediately or a few months in the future.
When it comes time for the court hearing, at least one parent must be present. During the court hearing, a judge will evaluate the prospective adoptive parents’ home study, dossier, and bonding assessment from the Ghana Department of Social Welfare. The judge will also ensure, as USCIS did, that the child is, in fact, an orphan and eligible for intercountry adoption. If the judge approves, the court will then issue an adoption decree and the child will legally be adopted.
From here, the family’s lawyer will obtain a new birth certificate for the child (with their new name, if the family chooses to change the name) and a passport will be issued. At the same time, the newly adoptive parents will use the adoption decree to apply to USCIS to obtain a visa application and appointment for their new child.
The child will be registered with the National Visa Center and the family will receive an appointment time at the U.S. Embassy in Accra. If the orphanage and local court are in another part of the country, the new family will now travel to Accra to complete their visa process. Only one parent is needed for the visa process, provided they have the Power of Attorney from the other spouse.
The family will appear before the U.S. Embassy of Accra and present their court decree and other adoption paperwork. After a brief interview, an officer will evaluate the family’s case and issue an IR-3 visa. The IR-3 visa process can take a few days to complete. Upon completion, the family will return to the U.S. Embassy, pick up their new child’s visa, then prepare to journey home. Upon entry into the United States, the child will become a U.S. citizen. Though re-adoption is not necessary, as the child was legally adopted overseas, it may still be a good idea.
The overall timeline to adopt from Ghana is roughly 12 to 36 months. The overall cost, including travel, is between $30,000-$40,000. Affording international adoption can be a daunting prospect, but there are several adoption loans, grants, and fundraising ideas available to help offset costs. The Adoption Tax Credit is another good way to offset costs. In 2018, families could claim up to $13,810 in qualified adoption expenses. Even if families do not use the full $13,810 tax credit their first year, the credit can be applied over the course of five years until the full amount is claimed. One important note: families adopting internationally may not use the Adoption Tax Credit until the adoption is complete.
Once the family returns home, they will be responsible for filing post-placement reports with a state-licensed social worker. Families must adhere to post-placement reporting guidelines for both their state of residency and Ghana. Per Ghana guidelines, post-placement reports are due every six months for the first two years and then annually for the next three years, for a total of five years of reporting. It is very important for families to send their post-placement reports on time as post-placement reports allow the sending country to ensure the continued wellbeing of their young children.
Though the program is small, there are many children in Ghana waiting for their forever homes. Could you be a forever family for one of them?
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.