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Adopting Internationally

Every year, thousands of American families adopt a child from another part of the world By Susan Freivalds

By Susan Freivalds

The modern era of international adoption began after the Korean War, when Korean and Amerasian orphans were placed with families living in the U.S. Since then, Americans have adopted hundreds of thousands of children from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. In fiscal year 2012, U.S. families adopted 8,668 children from other countries.

In the last few years, the number of international adoptions has dropped. Some countries, such as Guatemala and Russia, have closed. Other countries place greater restrictions on prospective parents, or require longer waits. In many cases, parents have an easier time adopting older or special-needs children. In some countries, adopting a healthy infant is no longer even an option.

Even so, there are many children throughout the world who need parents, and many parents still consider international adoption to be their first choice.

Who chooses international adoption?

Families choose intercountry adoption for a variety of reasons. Sometimes families wish to adopt from the country of the family’s ethnic origin, or they are acquainted with other families who have successfully adopted overseas. For some countries, the wait time and the total costs are more predictable than for the adoption of a child born in the U.S.

Many parents pursue an intercountry adoption because of a desire for a closed adoption, which is becoming less common in domestic adoption, or because they don’t want to have to be chosen by a birthmother.

How do I adopt from another country?

Typically, intercountry adoptions are handled by private, nonprofit adoption agencies. Public agencies for the most part do not participate in intercountry adoption. Some agencies that handle domestic adoptions also work in intercountry adoption. To enter the United States under current immigration laws, the child adopted internationally must be orphaned or abandoned or have only one living parent, who is incapable of providing care.

What are the costs?

The cost of an intercountry adoption can range from $15,000 to more than $50,000. The least expensive international adoptions occur with countries that do not require adoptive parents to travel or reside in the child’s country of origin to complete legal formalities.

How has the Hague Convention affected intercountry adoptions?

The Hague Convention came into effect in the U.S. on April 1, 2008. Its provisions govern adoptions from other Hague signatories, including China, India, and Hong Kong. Adoptions from countries that have not joined the treaty, such as Ethiopia and Ukraine, continue as before. With the passage of the Universal Accreditation Act, all U.S. adoption service providers, even those working in non-Hague countries, must meet Hague standards by July 2014.

The Convention was intended to prevent corruption and make the process more transparent, but implementing its rules has led to slowdowns or shutdowns in some countries. Guatemala, which sent 4,726 children to U.S. families in 2007, ratified the treaty without having a Hague-compliant process in place, leading the country to close its international adoption program the following year.

Who are the children?

Children through age 15 are eligible to come to the United States and join a family through adoption, and children ages 16 and 17 are eligible if their siblings have been adopted by U.S. families. In 2011, 15 percent of children adopted by U.S. families were under one year of age, and an additional 56 percent were between the ages of one and four. It is becoming less common to adopt an infant from overseas.

Most of the children adopted internationally come from Asia, Africa, Latin America, or Eastern Europe.

Are there other considerations?

Families who decide to pursue intercountry adoption must understand that the background and health information they will receive about their child will likely be incomplete and may be unreliable. Frequently, changing political situations increase the uncertainties of intercountry adoption, and countries may alter their guidelines or close their adoption programs without notice.

Adopting a child from another country almost always means that the adoptive family will become a transracial or cross-cultural family, which brings special responsibilities. For the child to develop self-esteem and pride, family members must incorporate into their everyday lifestyle elements of the child’s original culture, including friendships with people of the child’s ethnicity.

Arming your child against racism is another duty of trans-racial families. Many families report, however, that embracing another culture is one of the unanticipated joys of intercountry adoption.

How do internationally adopted children do?

Studies show that most children do well, often overcoming occasional early malnutrition and deprivation to become happy, emotionally healthy adults. It’s important to line up Early Intervention services and any specific medical care your child may need before he comes home, or as soon as possible after his arrival. Ongoing parenting education and support from competent and caring specialists in medicine, psychology, rehabilitation, or education, as required, contribute to a child’s healthy growth.

Susan Freivalds is the founder of Adoptive Families magazine.

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