Adopting internationally may seem like a daunting and intimidating task at first, but millions of ordinary people have done it before, and so can you. For the beginners, it may be useful to break up the process into several stages and steps, analyzing resources involved at each stage in order to develop an adoption plan and stick to it.
Stage I: Research and Decision-Making
Before diving into an adoption process, it helps to read, research, and talk to as many people as you can about their experiences to understand whether international adoption is for you. Evaluate domestic and international adoption processes and compare the two. If you feel the rewards of international adoption — typically quicker process, irrevocable finalization abroad, choosing your own child and sometimes even saving a life — outweigh the risks, it’s time to evaluate in more detail what is involved. Different countries pose different requirements and constraints, so it is best to choose a few that fit you best and establish an order of preference. Your evaluation criteria might be:
- Country requirements. Some countries restrict foreign adoptive parent candidates based on age, health, marital status, etc. The first question in evaluating a country program is whether you would qualify.
- Children available. If you are looking for an infant or newborn, many countries may not be an option as children there might be unavailable for international adoption at birth or be adopted domestically at a young age. Of course, ethnicity and gender of the desired child may also affect your choice of country programs.
- Time involved. Are you willing to wait for a year or more to bring a child home? How many trips can you make and how long can you stay abroad to finalize the adoption without sacrificing your job? Today, some countries require adoptive parents to stay several weeks in-country to complete the adoption, while others still offer escort options.
- Finances involved. Everyone agrees international adoption is costly, though many compare the cost of adoption to that of a new car and for them there is no question as to what is more valuable. But all families have different budgets. It may cost $2,000 to $4,000 to compile a dossier (a package of documents sent to foreign authorities to process your adoption, including home study and immigration documents). It is then another $3,000 to $5,000 for state-side international adoption agency assistance. These costs might be about the same across all country programs, though of course different agency fees might vary. However, foreign fees and travel expenses vary significantly from country to country, and cost of providing post-placement reports may also be different
- Risks involved. This is not a quantitative criteria that could easily be compared across programs. You may have to research personal stories more to learn if there have been many failed adoptions recently and why — was it agencies’ fault, regional issues or overall change in country policies and laws. There is no such thing as a risk-free international adoption, but knowing what you are facing helps make better decision.
Stage II: Choosing An Agency
Now that you have decided on an international adoption and selected a few countries as possible choices, you need to find at least one agency to help you. You need to find a licensed adoption agency near you to conduct a home study, a comprehensive report about your background, family composition, clearances, etc. A few countries may allow home studies to be done by independent licensed social workers, but those are typically exceptions rather than rules. If an agency conducting your homestudy has international programs, you may complete your adoption through them, or you may choose a different agency for the merits of their programs, track record, etc. Although it may seem comforting to work with an agency nearby that you can meet face to face with, sometimes it is worth going with an agency across the country that has better success rate of problem-free completed adoptions. There are many questions parents are recommended to ask before settling on an agency. But most importantly, you need to interview the references given by each agency and examine other resources that can provide an unbiased reference; do an internet search, contact BBB, maybe even the state licensing board to check if there are any complaints against the agency.
Stage III: Preparing A Dossier
Once you have applied with an agency that will conduct your home study, you are given a list of documents to be provided, forms to be filled out, and in some states, education sessions to attend. A home study, however, is just a portion of your international adoption dossier, and it may be best to concentrate on the homestudy checklist before proceeding with the rest of the paperwork. The agency with an international program you sign up with presents you with an additional checklist of documents and forms. Some of them may seem redundant to those required in the home study, but required as original or certified copies by foreign authorities anyway. All the documents in your dossier would need to be authenticated by notary, apostille or certification and possibly embassy authentication, before accepted by the foreign country. Your agency takes care of translating your dossier and submitting it to foreign authorities. At this point all you can do is wait.
Stage IV: Evaluating and Accepting Referral
Some countries provide information about available child(ren) fitting your requirements after receiving and processing your dossier. When adopting from one of those countries, a family would receive a photo, sometimes a video, and some medical information on a child they are offered to adopt. A family might seek a medical opinion of an international adoption doctor, more research on the internet, etc., to make a decision on whether to accept or reject a referral. In other countries, families are required to travel “blind” and to choose from children available for adoption at the time of arrival.
Stage V: Traveling To Adopt
Practically all countries require one or both parents to travel to the country of adoption to finalize it in court or any other administrative hearing and to bring their child home. Some countries require U.S. citizens to obtain visas in advance, some don’t. Some countries have a prolonged process with so much time between required parental presence that most families choose to make two trips. Adoption trips don’t always come with advanced notice or last the expected number of days, so flexibility in planning is key. In-country coordinators are typically doing everything they can to process your adoption, but red tape and politics may cause some unexpected delays. One thing is for sure — your adoption trip(s) experience would almost surely be one to remember and cherish.
Stage VI: Coming Home
When you come home with your child, one of the first things to do would be to get his or her Social Security number. With that, you can add your child’s information to the health insurance, visit a pediatrician and a dentist, schedule tests and immunizations as needed. Among the million things to do – enrolling in school or daycare, going shopping, introducing your new son or daughter to the new world – please don’t forget to fulfill your adoptive country’s registration obligations, if any, to ensure other families after you would be allowed to bring their kids home, too.