When you decide to adopt a child one of the first big decisions you will make is whether to adopt domestically or internationally. When I was initially reviewing all of the choices our family would be making I had no idea that ethical decisions would even come in to play—I mean, aren’t all agencies and families and countries on the up-and-up? (Spoiler: No. Not even close. Sigh.) Here are some basics for ensuring that your international adoption is ethical and honest.
1. Choose a HCAP country, if at all possible. Understand the difference between countries choosing to follow the Hague Convention Adoption Process and those who do not. While I am not unilaterally saying not to adopt from a non-convention country, know that those countries who adhere to convention standards have rigorous pre- and post-placement standards and work diligently to prove that an orphan is, in fact, adoptable. (In addition, HCAP requires parent training (always helpful) and preserves adoption records for 75 years.) Should you feel strongly that your child is currently in a non HCAP country be prepared to work harder to ensure an ethical adoption, simply because the government and agencies are not required to do that work for you.
2. Be patient. When you adopt from a convention-compliant country know ahead of time that the process is going to take a while. GOOD! The slower the process moves, the better it is for your child. Protecting their rights, accessing health history, ensuring that your kid is, in fact, adoptable, takes time. You know what moves fast? Child trafficking. SLOW IS GOOD.
3. Choose an agency wisely. The more transparent your agency is, the better it is for you and your child. Fees, deadlines, and filings should all be known, and should be able to be broken down for you to the dollar. If a filing seems expensive, ask for reasons why. Full pre-payment is another red flag—be especially concerned if you are paying tens of thousands to a state-side agency that has no reciprocal partner in the host country. Finally, any agency that won’t allow you to talk to families that it has worked with (only providing written or posted testimonials) is an agency from which to run away.
4. Ask about your child’s history. Look for clues in his medical and family history. Who placed him in an orphanage? Is there another family member that he could live with, given financial or educational assistance? Does he want to leave his country? Many times children are placed in a religious or humanitarian orphanage simply because they are victims of poverty—and that is not a reason to uproot a child and dissolve a family. Find out all you can before you sign the papers and, if possible, commit to visiting his extended family before and after placement to help keep those ties in place.
5. Do the research. Read everything you can about your country and its history. Learn the difference between legitimate adoption and child trafficking. Understand the difficulties and nuances of international adoption. Talk to other parents and internalize that this is far from a black and white issue.