Intercountry Adoption: Where Do I Start?
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2009|
Adopting Your Child
What You Should Know
Your adoption services provider should provide you with all of the information you need to successfully meet eligibility requirements to adopt your child. For example, all prospective adoptive parents will need to complete a home study, submit immigration forms, and put together a dossier (a collection of the family's personal records—which vary by country but may include proof of a family's identity, finances, health, and character—required in order for the country's legal system to process the adoption).
A few months to a year or more after completing the required paperwork, your family will be matched with a specific child for possible placement. This process varies greatly depending on the country and adoption provider involved. In a few non-Hague Convention countries, families might be allowed to be directly involved in this step by visiting orphanages and viewing photolistings of waiting children. Waiting to be matched with a child is often one of the hardest and most unpredictable parts of the adoption process. Tips for helping families deal with the wait are in the Joint Council on International Children's Services publication Coping and Difficulties and Delays As You Wait For Your Child at jcics.itsac.com/old-files/Waiting.pdf.
When a specific child is identified, you will receive a referral (a packet of information about the child). This packet usually includes the child's picture and information on the child's health and history. In the case of an abandoned child, medical information and history may be limited to the period of time since the child's placement in the orphanage or institution. You will have a period of time to review the information and decide whether you can meet this child's needs. Ask your provider or a doctor any questions you have before you accept the placement. Take as much time as you need to feel comfortable with your decision, paying particular attention to the information related to the child's health, prenatal health (if known), placement history, and expected emotional or mental health needs. It is better to stop the process prior to meeting the child if you are unsure about whether you can make the changes necessary to incorporate him or her into your family.
Health information. The type and quality of available medical information will vary depending on the country. Reputable providers will give you as much information as possible about a child's background and medical history, but they cannot guarantee the information is accurate or complete. Many factors influence the health of children who need families in other countries. Children often have health conditions that are common in developing countries but can be prevented or easily treated in the United States. Children's health also can be affected by living in institutions. A doctor familiar with intercountry adoption can help you understand the information you receive about the child's health and development. Prospective adoptive parents who plan to make two trips to the child's country might even make a video of the child on the first trip and ask a doctor to evaluate it. See the Some Places To Go section below for links to international adoption clinic websites.
Expected emotional or mental health needs. Children in other countries enter their country's child placement systems for many of the same reasons children enter foster care in the United States, including parental substance abuse or prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs, physical abuse, or neglect. In many countries, children waiting for adoption live in institutions, where they are sometimes exposed to physical or sexual abuse and/or neglect. It is important to be aware of the possible effects of these experiences on children's emotional and mental health, so you can have realistic expectations about your child's future needs. While the vast majority of adoptions are successful, research shows that families that have realistic expectations about what it will take to meet a child's needs and how those needs might affect family life, the parents' relationship, and other children living in the home are more likely to be successful.
The legal adoption or guardianship process begins after you accept a referral for a specific child. In some countries, families are required to travel to the child's country of origin to finalize the adoption in the foreign court. In others, guardianship of the child will be transferred to the prospective adoptive parents or to their agency, but they must finalize the adoption in U.S. courts to fulfill USCIS requirements.
In the case of a child from a Convention country, it is important that you do not adopt or accept legal custody of the child until:
- USCIS has provisionally approved the petition to classify the Convention adopted person as an immediate relative (Form I-800) AND
- The U.S. Department of State has advised the Central Authority of the child's country that the prospective adoptive parents have been found suitable and the child appears eligible to come to the United States if adopted or if legal custody for the purpose of adoption is granted
Even if a trip is not required, experiencing your child's country of origin firsthand can give you a deeper understanding of what his or her life was like before joining your family. Traveling with a group of other prospective adoptive parents can help you form supportive relationships with other adoptive families that can last for years.
Some Places to Go
The USCIS publication The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children explains USCIS regulations, details requirements for prospective adoptive parents, and provides links to forms for intercountry adoption: http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/adopt_book.pdf.
The University of Minnesota's International Adoption Clinic website provides information about the health of children adopted from other countries:
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a State-by-State directory of pediatricians with a special interest in adoption and foster care medicine:
Prepare for travel to your child's country of origin by reading the Adoptive Families magazine article "The Top 10 Secrets of Successful Adoption Travel":
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