How to Make Sure Your International Adoption Succeeds

Wondering why international adoptions fail? Read up on common reasons — and learn how you can make yours more likely to succeed.

Globe, representing why international adoptions fail and succeed at different rates

What goes wrong in international adoptions?

Since parental rights are almost always terminated before a child is available for international adoption, there is little risk of a birth parent changing his or her mind. But there are other ways an international adoption can fall apart before the child comes home.

Why do international adoptions fail?

The sending country suspends or restricts adoptions because of political pressure at home, genuine concern about the treatment of adoptees, or because a natural disaster or civil war disrupts the bureaucracy. The U.S. government suspends adoptions from a specific country or withholds a visa for a particular child because of concerns about the ways in which children are becoming available for adoption. The sending country or the U.S. suspends adoptions processed by a specific agency, attorney, or facilitator because of concerns about corruption. Adoptive parents learn, either through testing or through a pre-adoption visit, that the child has problems that weren’t disclosed in the initial referral.

How can I make my international adoption more certain?

There is no magic bullet (like birth mother counseling) to cut risk in international adoption, but there are a number of steps you can take up front.

Before you choose a country:

  • Check to see how many of its children have been adopted into the U.S. in each of the preceding five years. Are the numbers stable? A sharp rise indicates that the country may have difficulty processing new applications; a sharp decline indicates that adoptions may be more restricted.
  • Check the State Department’s flyers for the countries you are considering; look for any mentions of corruption.
  • Talk to recently returned adoptive families. Ask what they experienced in country, and in their visa process.

Before you sign on with an agency:

  • Ask how many children the agency brought into the U.S. in the previous year.
  • Ask if any adoption applications resulted in a “NOID” (Notice Of Intent to Deny a visa, issued by the U.S. embassy when it is concerned about an adoption).
  • Ask about in-country staff. How long have they been working for the agency?
  • Ask exactly how children become available for adoption. Are they from orphanages? If so, how do they get there? Are they with foster parents? How are the foster parents recruited and paid?
  • Ask about birth parents. Are they identified? If so, do they have continued contact with the child? What support do they have if they choose not to place the child for adoption?

There are no “right” answers to any of these questions. What you are looking for is an agency that understands the process, knows its employees and colleagues, is sympathetic to the birth family, and can patiently explain the details to you. If you sense that they cannot or will not provide information, move on to another agency. 

What if the country stops or suspends adoptions?

If your sending country halts adoptions after you started the process, you will be tempted to persist, hoping for a reopening. Our families’ experience is that, unless you have already accepted a referral, you are better off switching to another country. As a general rule, when a country restarts its adoption program, there are many new restrictions, and the entire process slows down.

If your adoption agency works with more than one country, it will be far easier to switch mid-process.

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