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It's a Wonderful World: International Adoptions

A growing number of American families adopt internationally every year. Some of the most popular countries for international adoptions are China, Guatemala (as well as other Central and South American countries), Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Haiti. Many people adopt infants from these countries, but older children and special-needs children are also available.

Some families prefer international adoption for the following reasons:

  • They feel adopting internationally is easier than adopting domestically. China, for example, prefers older couples, who may have more difficulty adopting domestically because of their age. Singles are also able to adopt more readily internationally.
  • They see international adoption as a humanitarian act. A few years ago, for example, when images of Romanian orphanages hit the airwaves, and people saw and learned about what transpired during the collapse of the Romanian government, they flocked to help these children in desperate need. More recently, in response to press reports of infant girls in China being abandoned because of the cultural preference for sons, many American couples turned their attention there.
  • They feel that adopting internationally is a way to avoid having to deal with the birthmother. If this is your main reason for wanting to pursue an international adoption, consider this: You're going to be dealing with the birthmother whether she's in the next county over or the next country over. Why? Because the birthmother will very likely be an important issue for your child as he or she grows and matures.

A few points to ponder

If you're thinking about adopting internationally, you need to consider and be comfortable with the following considerations:

  • The children available in these countries are rarely newborns. If you request an infant, your child would probably be between 6 and 12 months old before you could bring him or her home.
  • Because of the sometimes extreme poverty or the lack of resources in the child's birth country, poor nutrition, malnutrition, and untreated medical problems — such as unrepaired cleft lips and palates — are not uncommon.
  • You usually have to travel to the country at some time during the adoption process. Sometimes you have to make two trips: once when your child is assigned to you and again to bring your child home.
    A few countries let you arrange for an escort to bring your child to the United States. However, after you pay the expenses for the escort, the cost is about the same as if you traveled to the country yourself to bring your child home.
  • In an international adoption, the birthmother is not available as an important resource for your child. As your child asks questions and exhibits curiosity about his or her birth family, you'll have very little info to share. In a domestic adoption, you may have continued contact with the birthmother, which can be an avenue you use to secure information your child feels is important.
  • Although some countries, such as Guatemala, place the babies in individual homes similar to foster homes in the United States, other countries, such as China and Russia, house available children in orphanages. Depending on the region's resources and stability, the quality of these orphanages and the level of care and attention the children receive vary a great deal. Trustworthy international agencies do their best to work with reputable orphanages and to make adoptive families aware of any issues that may result from the child's time in these environments.
    Children raised in orphanage settings don't receive the love and nurturing all children need. Even with dedicated orphanage staffs, the adult-child ratio is often so high that the kids don't receive the individual attention they crave.

A very brief description of the process

The process for international adoptions is more complicated than domestic adoptions because you're dealing with two governments, two cultures, a distance of usually thousands of miles, and — brace yourself — the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), formerly known as the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which you have to convince to let you bring your child into the country. And that means a lot of paperwork and, usually, quite a bit of time.

After you convince the United States that the adoption is a go, you have to convince the other country to let the child leave. And that means more paperwork and more time. In general, here's what you can expect:

1. You hook up with an international agency and have a home study done.

The agency you work with may not be in your state. If that's the case, you have to find a local agency to do your home study.

2. You prepare a dossier.

The dossier is the packet of information you need to adopt the child. It includes items like the INS documents, as well as notarized copies of other important documents (like your birth certificates, marriage license, health reports, and so on).

3. You're matched with a child.

4. After a period of time, during which the birth country issues a visa to the child, enabling him or her to leave, the adoption is finalized.

5. Your child comes home.

6. You re-adopt the child in the United States.

Adopting internationally sounds intimidating, but many people do it and have wonderful stories to tell about how their child came to them. Just make sure that you hook up with a reputable agency, which can help you through the steps and all the forms that you'll be filling out, and buy lots of pens. You'll need them.

When you adopt internationally, you generally have the same expenses as you would in a domestic adoption, in addition to travel expenses, translation costs, and possible orphanage "donations," which are not optional.

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