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International Adoption

What you need to know to begin the process.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 United States. Since then, Americans have adopted many thousands of children from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. U.S. families adopt approximately 20,000 children from other countries each year.

Who Chooses International Adoption?
Families choose intercountry adoption for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the family does not meet agency guidelines for domestic adoption but qualifies for intercountry adoption. Sometimes families wish to adopt from the country of the family’s ethnic origin, or they are acquainted with others who have successfully adopted overseas. Typically, the waiting time (and sometimes the total costs) for an intercountry adoption are more predictable than for the adoption of a child born in the U.S. Often families who pursue an intercountry adoption speak of their desire to parent a child who really needs a family as much as the family needs the child. (However, the humanitarian desire to “save a child” is generally not considered sufficient motivation for a successful adoption.)

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, although there are many agencies that specialize only in intercountry adoption. In a few countries families may adopt independently, either hiring a local attorney to find an adoptable child or using their own contacts in the country. To enter the United States under current immigration laws, the child adopted internationally must be orphaned or abandoned or have only one living parent. If you are planning an independent intercountry adoption, make sure you receive knowledgeable counsel concerning the “orphan visa” law and understand your legal responsibilities and risks.

How Will the Hague Convention Affect Intercountry Adoptions?
In 2000 the U.S. ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international treaty to improve accountability, safeguards, and cooperation in intercountry adoption. Since the treaty came into effect in the U.S., in April 2008, its provisions have governed adoptions from other Hague countries. Adoptions from countries that have not joined the treaty will not be affected. Agencies and individuals will need special accreditation to handle adoptions from the more than 70 Hague member countries. Consult the State Department for a list of approved service providers.

Who Are the Children?
Children through age 15 are eligible to come to the United States for adoption, and children aged 16 and 17 are eligible if their siblings have been adopted by U.S. families. The majority of children from other countries who are adopted by U.S. families are young; over the past ten years, 46 percent were under 1 year of age and an additional 42 percent were between the ages of 1 and 4. Children who need adoption are most often from Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. Many African and most Middle Eastern nations do not allow intercountry adoption. No children from Western Europe, Australia, or Canada are eligible for adoption by Americans.

What Are the Costs?
The cost of an intercountry adoption can range from about $15,000 to more than $40,000. The least expensive international adoptions occur with countries that do not require adoptive parents to travel or reside abroad to complete legal formalities. If the adopting family has a lengthy stay in the child’s country of origin, the cost of adoption can exceed $40,000.

Are There Other Considerations?
Families considering 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 open or close without notice. Adopting a child from another country almost always means that the adoptive family will become a transracial or cross-cultural family, which presents special responsibilities. For the child to develop self-esteem and pride, family members must incorporate into their 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 transracial 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. Ongoing parenting education and support from competent and caring professionals (medical, psychological, rehabilitative, or educational, as required) contribute to a child’s healthy growth. With lots of love and patience, the results can be magnificent!

Susan Freivalds is the Founder of Adoptive Families Magazine and past Executive Director of Adoptive Families of America.

©2008 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

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