Hoping to adopt from Bosnia
Hello. I've been lurking here for a while and have learned a lot. I've also read the State Department adoption requirements for a lot of countries. Still, I've got some questions.

So my boyfriend and I hope to adopt from Bosnia. He was born and grew up there and is a dual citizen. Although Bosnia generally doesn't allow international adoption, apparently they do for applicants of Bosnian origin. (Not sure if me being American would affect that.) The State Dept. lists only one adoption from Bosnia last year.

I've read some domestic Bosnian adoption forums, and it looks like the wait is long. Although part of that looks due to a lengthy wait for a home study in that country. Since it's a non-Hague country, we'll do this independently. Great because we're on a budget. Bad because we have to find our own way. Luckily, we don't have much of a language barrier problem.

We're wondering, I guess, what now?

1.) Contact the Bosnian Social Work Ministry to verify that we qualify, then get the paperwork going? Or should we rely on answers from an in-country facilitator or attorney?

2.) Can we file the I600-A before we do the home study? Do we have to specify Bosnia on it, or can we put Eastern Europe, in the event Bosnia falls through?

3.) Bosnia requires unmarried partners to live together for 5 years. We've been together on and off for 12 years but only lived together for 4. How does the home study verify this? Is it based on one's word?

4.) How does one go about finding a reputable facilitator in a country that only does independent adoption?

5.) Is it possible to visit orphanages independently and initiate adoption after forming a connection with a particular child? (I have a friend that did this in Haiti.)

6.) Does anyone know of a successful Bosnian adoption? Or other independent adoptions from less commonly talked about countries? I'd love to hear stories about the process people went through.

Thanks so much for any thoughts in advance. I'd love any advice or input.
First off, let me remind you that, while Bosnia "may", under extraordinary circumstances, place a child with a cohabiting unmarried couple, the U.S., like most other countries, defines only two categories of people who are permitted to adopt -- singles and married couples. Married couples are not allowed to adopt as singles and single people cannot adopt as married couples, even if they cohabit.

As a result, one of you will have to do the adoption as a single person, although the fact of your cohabitation will have to be included in the homestudy, and the other partner will have to be interviewed, fingerprinted, etc. If you live in a state that permits second parent adoption, you can go to court AFTER your child is home and have the partner do a the second parent adoption and acquire the same rights and responsibilities as the person who did the initial adoption. Unfortunately, most states do not permit second parent adoption, and you should consult an attorney to determine how to give the partner equal parental rights with the adoptive parent.

1. With regard to how to start the process, I would recommend that you consult the U.S. State Department website at [url=http://adoption.state.gov/country_information/country_specific_info.php?country-select=bosnia-herzegovina]BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA | Intercountry Adoption[/url]. It will give you a detailed description of what needs to be done.

2. Some USCIS offices allow you to submit the I-600A before the homestudy is complete, and some don't. There is actually no benefit to doing so, since the USCIS cannot do anything with it until your homestudy report is received. It will simply sit in a file. Some people also worry that, if the two documents are sent separately, there is more risk that they will not find their way into the SAME file. You will have to specify a country in the homestudy report and I-600A. If you subsequently change countries for any reason, you will need a homestudy update, which will be sent to the USCIS.

3. Normally, if you were adopting as a cohabiting single, the homestudy report wouldn't have to make a huge deal over how long you were cohabiting. Since Bosnia cares about this matter, however, the social worker will need to put some statements in the homestudy report. An experienced social worker will figure out how to word things so that they are acceptable to Bosnia and what documents, if any, such as a lease with two names on it, she will need to review to document the cohabitation.

4. Frankly, it is not a great idea to do an independent adoption unless you have sufficient familiarity with the culture, the government, etc. to find a reputable lawyer or facilitator in that country. Moreover, you have to remember that most foreign facilitators, even the best ones, know about their own country's laws, but may not understand U.S. immigration laws. If you wind up adopting a child who does not qualify for immigration, or getting paperwork that does not meet USCIS standards, you can wind up having full legal responsibility for a child that you cannot bring to the U.S. unless you live with him/her for two years overseas first. If you must do an independent adoption, you might want to try talking with the U.S. Embassy in the country, to see if the staff have any experience with lawyers and facilitators who can provide assistance.

5. Since Bosnia is not a Hague country, you probably can visit orphanages and identify a child, if the foreign country and local jurisdictions permit it, and if an orphanage consents to the visit. However, do remember that, in many countries, a lot of the children in orphanages are not adoptable under the foreign country's laws and do not meet the U.S. definition of an "eligible orphan" who is entitled to an adoption visa. In fact, families often put children in orphanages whiile they are dealing with issues such as divorce, job loss, severe illness, etc., but have no intention of releasing them for adoption. The orphanage functions simply as a foster home or respite care provider. You should also be aware that identifying a child on your own may not be a good idea if you don't have a lot of familiarity with the health issues of internationally adopted children and with foreign medical records. Just because your boyfriend speaks the language does NOT ensure that he is famiiliar with Bosnian medical terms and their implications. To give you some examples:

a) A child may look awful and be rather shut down because he/she has intestinal parasites, scabies, delays due to lack of stimulation, mild to moderate malnutrition, poor dental care, an untreated sinus infection, and so on -- plus a bad haircut. You may reject this child, yet you could be rejecting a child who is perfect for your family and likely to be very healthy. All of the conditiions mentioned are minor, treatable, and very common in orphanages. The child could actually be totally free of significant issues and capable of normal physical, mental, and emotional development. Such a child often does extremely well in a family.

b) A child may run up to you and give you a big hug, lots of smiles, and so on. You may see this as a sign of connection, and be eager to adopt this child. Unfortunately, it is often the case that such a child has an attachment disorder, possibly mild, but also possibly severe. It is NOT normal for any young child to give hugs to strangers indiscriminately. The child who runs away screaming when he/she sees you, or hides behind the orphanage director, may actually be in better psychiatric condition.

c) In many Eastern European countries, the medical records use terms that are not used in the West, and some of them sound downright scary when translated literally into English. As an example, in Russia, many or most orphan referrals have medical reports that state "perinatal encephalopathy" -- literally, brain damage during the birth process. In fact, this term is used to indicate that there are some risk factors that may or may not lead to physical or mental problems, such as young birthmother, lack of prenatal care, baby's prematurity, or baby's feeding problems -- or simply the fact that the child was relinquished to the orphanage. On the other hand, some conditions may not be listed on the medical form, even though they are clearly present -- such as the physical features of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder -- or are understated to make the child more adoptable. If you get a chance to see a child's medical records while you are at the orphanage or while deciding whether to commit to a particular child, see if you can fax them to a reputable U.S. adoption medicine clinic, such as the one at the University of Minnesota, and if you can discuss them with the orphanage doctor and director.

Overall, if there is one thing that should be of concern to you, it's the fact that, in 2011, Americans adopted only one child from Bosnia. When you see low numbers like that, be aware that they usually signify:

a) Very few children actually available for adoption. In fact, many European countries do not need to make healthy young children available for international adoption, because they have plenty of their own citizens willing to adopt them. If there is an international adoption program, it is likely to focus on children who are older and/or who have significant special needs. A good example is Ukraine, which requires independent adoption, but almost never has healthy children younger than six and generally tries to persuade parents to adopt children with moderate to severe special needs.

b) Laws or customs that make adoption by foreigners difficult -- long in-country stays or multiple trips, very high fees, judges and other officials who are hostile to international adoption and make no attempts to hide it (like the Georgian official who said that it was better for an orphan to die in Georgia than to be adopted by a family overseas), very strict requirements (no use of antidepressants, no arrests even for youthful indiscretions, no people with BMI over 30), etc.

c) An unclear adoption process, a process fraught with corruption and bribery, etc.

d) A de facto ban (even if it's permitted in the law) on international adoption except for relative adoptions. My bet is that the one child brought home on an orphan visa in 2011 was being adopted by a close relative.

6. Many countries now ban independent, non-relative adoption. The main reason is that independent adoption is where most of the corruption in international adoption occurs, and where many of the problems regarding immigration of adopted children to the U.S. occur. Since you seem to like Eastern Europe, you might want to try going to Ukraine, but be aware that you are not likely to adopt a child under age six unless he/she has significant special needs, and that Ukraine does NOT let you go to orphanages on your own to pick a child. You tentatively identify some children from books in the National Adoption Center in Kiev, then travel to meet those children -- and ONLY those children -- in their orphanages. If you don't find a child whose needs you can meet, you may have to go home and wait for a new invitation to travel and see more books of photolistings.

Russia used to be fairly negative about international adoption, but since some regions permitted it, no official national ban was enforced. Things are changing in Russia, however. Russia has become alarmed over the number of Russian adoptees who have been murdered or abused by American parents, and they are working out strict new procedures with the U.S. government. It is possible that total prohibition of independent adoptions will occur. Of course, since you are on a tight budget, adoption from Russia may not be for you, as the costs are extremely high, mainly because two to four trips, depending on region, are required.

Right now, most of the independent adoptions you are likely to hear about are from various African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. These programs tend to be new and may or may not prove to be stable, with a clearcut process. Ethiopia, the African country with the most stable process, does not permit independent adoption.

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