5 Tips for Starting the International Adoption Process

It’s a big world out there. Where do you begin?

Elizabeth Curry March 29, 2016
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After a lot of thinking and talking and talking and thinking, you’re ready to take the plunge. You are ready to adopt a child and are pretty sure that international adoption is the way you should go. Now what?! It’s a big world out there. Where do you begin? With five international adoption from two countries under my belt, here is where I would start.

1. Get on the internet. Even if you don’t care for computers and social media is not your thing, in order to prepare and do the necessary research for international adoption, you need to be there. You need to have access to Facebook and blogs and other research tools. Sure, you can complete an international adoption without doing this, but you will be missing out on the most up-to-date information on the status of various countries,  the most effective vehicle for vetting adoption agencies, and educated voices that can tell you what to expect.

2. Choose the country you wish to adopt from. For some this decision is easy. They may already have emotional, cultural, or ethnic ties to a certain country. For others, the country is not as important as becoming parents to a child. Here are some things to keep in mind as you do your research.

  • Do you like the country and its people? This country will be joining your family in the form of your child. It is a piece of him or her. Can you help your child develop a healthy view of his or her country?
  • Are adoptions legal in the country you are considering? Please do your own research on this and don’t take an adoption agency’s word for it.
  • Are the adoptions which happen ethical?
  • How long is the process?
  • Are you good with unknowns or do you need a predictable process?
  • Are you open to special needs? The majority of children being adopted from other countries do have special medical or other needs and may be older. If you are looking for a healthy infant girl, I’m not sure international adoption is a good choice for you.
  • Compare costs. Due to a variety of factors, the costs between countries can vary widely.
  • Are you open to travel? If so, how many trips? I don’t believe any countries allow a child to be escorted any longer, so travel is definitely a factor to be considered.

3. Choose your placement agency. The placement agency is the one which will be your liaison with your child’s country and the entity which helps to facilitate the adoption. It does not need to be in your state of residence. More than anything else, this is an extremely crucial step in the beginning adoption process. I’m sorry to say that not all agencies are created equal. Some are fantastic, ethical organizations whose staff really care about the children whose lives they are changing. Others are all about the money, regardless of who it hurts. Of course, there are others which lie along the continuum.

You cannot decide which agency is which based solely on your feelings. Some of the most ethically corrupt agencies are also the ones which sound the nicest on the phone. Your job as responsible potential adoptive parent is to do your research. Get on the Facebook groups which hash out the realities of each agency. Ask for references from actual clients (and not just the happy client referral lists the agency hands out). You will have to do some digging and, yes, it is work. But I’ve seen too many parents get burned, run out of money, lose a placement, discover a child had been trafficked, etc., because they didn’t do their research. In my opinion, you should always choose the agency first, before you even begin to think about an actual child. Too much money and too many lives are on the line to take this step lightly.

4. Choose your home study agency. This is the agency whom you will work with directly to write your home study. This agency must be in your state. Be sure this agency is licensed by the proper agencies before signing. For instance, if you are adopting from a country which has signed the Hague agreement, you will need a Hague-approved agency. Once again, do your research. Ask for recommendations from other adoptive families for both agencies and social workers. And if you and a social worker just do not hit it off, you should feel free to ask for a different one. One other thing to check: some placement agencies (step 3) maintain lists of home study agencies they will work with. Be sure the one you pick can work with your placement agency.

5. You can finally think about the child . . . and the special needs to which you are open. Most agencies will have you complete a checklist of medical needs you would consider. It’s time to do more research. Unless you have direct experience with a need, many of them can sound extremely scary and intimidating. To get a better idea of what life is really like parenting a child with a special need, it’s time to stalk the internet once again. There are many blogs and special websites that describe life with a wide variety of special needs. Read about them. Talk to actual people who are familiar with a certain diagnosis.

The other thing you need to research is the effects of trauma on children. All international adoptees, no matter what age or how apparently healthy, will experience some degree of trauma. Some will be severely affected while others will seem to be completely resilient and not affected at all. You cannot know in advance and it will not be in a medical file, but you must be prepared for it.

It’s only five items long, but I know how intimidating and overwhelming this list can be. I’ve been there and slowly worked through it. Truthfully, it took more than a couple of years of thinking and praying and research before we finally signed on the dotted line with an agency. Take it slowly, do the hard research, talk to a lot of experienced adoptive parents, read books. It is a big step you are taking and it pays to do the advance work. But I will also say that it is worth it in the end. I have five beautiful, wonderful children that I would not have without the steps which preceded them. They were definitely worth the effort and stress and worry.

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Elizabeth Curry

Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing the experiences of her family she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, home schools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.


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