We’re in the process of waiting for a referral for our international adoption. Although there is plenty of information available on the web, it’s difficult to know where to get started. These are some things that we’ve learned over the past 15 months and that we would recommend to anybody considering international adoption (a special thanks to those who contributed with their suggestions!):
Step 1: International adoption is not easy.
Start your adoption journey with a realistic mindset. According to the US State Department, in 2004 there were 22,991 children adopted internationally to the US. Since then, that number had dropped year after year. In 2012, there were only 8,668. The reasons are many, including large programs such as Guatemala and Russia closing and others like China slowing down considerably. Keep this in mind when you speak to people who adopted several years ago. The conditions and waiting periods have changed significantly.
Having said that, when there’s a will there’s a way, but it’s important to keep an open mind because it might not be as simple as it used to be.
Step 2: Be open to children with special needs and older children.
Special needs can be a scary term, but I encourage you not to be deterred by it. Waiting children do not necessarily have severe special needs, and many of them are medical conditions that can be operated on or treated. Children older than 3 are qualified as waiting children because they are considered difficult to place, even if they are healthy. Take a look at www.rainbowkids.com to learn more about waiting children and to access the files of waiting children all over the world. If you wish to receive more information on one of them, you can request for their agency’s information and follow up with them.
Before selecting a country, become familiar with the characteristics of the country’s policies and the size of the international adoption program. The US Department of State offers information on the international programs available for the US: http://adoption.state.gov/
In this site you can see how many children were adopted from the country to the US in the past year. This will give you a sense of the size of the program.
Step 4: Choose an adoption agency.
This is an important decision! I recommend interviewing several agencies before making a decision. A good resource is the Adoption Agency Research Yahoo group.
When you’re interviewing agencies, make sure to ask them how many children they’ve placed the previous year. This will give you a sense of how active they are.
Also ask them to put you in touch with other families who have adopted children of similar age / gender as the child you’re looking for. Sometimes the waiting times vary considerably depending on the age or gender of the child, so make sure you’re speaking to families who have experienced a similar case. This can help you make a decision to choose your agency.
Some agencies are specialized in older children, sibling groups or children with special needs. Make sure you find the best agency for your needs.
Step 5: Build a support group.
There are many groups and associations of families who’ve adopted from a determined country, like Families with Chinese Children. Find the online forums or associations related to the county you’re adopting from. If you’re on Twitter, follow hashtags #adoption or #internationaladoption and soon you’ll have a network of families that can share their experience. You can also check out blogs on adoption or log on to http://www.wordpress.com (the most popular blogging platform) and look for the topic of adoption. These families can become your best resource before and during your adoption process.
Step 6: Do your homework.
Internationally adopted children are usually not infants and have experienced some level of trauma. Parenting an internationally adopted child is not the same as parenting a biological child or as adopting an infant. There is plenty of great literature on the topic. Although not all agencies require parents to read certain books, I personally think it should be required. It’s better to be prepared before the child comes home! This is a great recap from a fellow blogger: http://www.walkingbytheway.com/blog/adoption-books/
Step 7: (Patiently) Wait for a referral.
Once you’ve selected your agency, they write up your home study and you complete the paperwork to be approved by USCIS. After that, you typically wait for a referral. Waiting times vary from year to year so ask your agency about the most recent estimates. From what I’ve read and heard, referrals for children with special needs, older children and sibling groups can be as short as a couple of months and referrals for healthy children under 4 can range between 18 months and 6 years. One agency publishes the date when each family’s dossier was submitted to the country, the gender / age of the child they’re wishing to adopt, and the date of the referral. I like this approach because it gives you a very updated idea of what the waiting times are. When in doubt, be conservative and calculate that the process will take more than what you are told. I still haven’t met anybody who said: “Wow, it was much shorter than what we thought.”
We’d love to hear from other families who’ve adopted or are in the process of doing so. What other tips would you share?