After I returned to the states following my eastern European adoption journey, family and friends would stare at me with wide eyes and almost always ask the same question first: “Wow, why Poland?” Many American families shy away from adopting overseas because of the assumed cost as well as the time they will have to spend in an unfamiliar setting where there is a language barrier. Yet, others are drawn to the culture of their ancestors, the prospect of a closed adoption, or the desire to ease the suffering of orphans around the world by creating “one less.” The process, while lengthy, is incredibly rewarding and may be more affordable than you think.
Choose a Country
If you choose a country that is Hague-accredited, such as China, Guatemala, Poland, or Romania, you will need to use an accredited agency. The Hague Convention of 1993 was intended to safeguard international adoptions and improve transparency. The passing of the Universal Accreditation Act in 2014 required even those U.S. adoption service providers who were not operating in Hague countries to meet Hague standards. Many agencies that facilitate domestic adoptions also have international programs, and there are others that specialize in particular countries.
When researching, you will want to find out about the ages that most children are adopted out of the countries you are considering. Keep in mind that you may begin to parent your child a year or two later than the time of the referral because of the travel and paperwork that needs to happen in between. Some countries, such as Guatemala and Korea, require little or no travel time. Consider the types of needs (minor correctable, special needs, sibling groups) that you, or you and your partner, are prepared for and begin building a support network to help your child develop a healthy, happy life when he or she comes home. While the media will report the occasional negative news, remember that most internationally adopted children adjust well and go on to live contented, productive lives in the U.S.
Obtain a Home Study
When my husband and I first began the home study process, I felt like I was going on job interview, wearing a dry-cleaned dress, and trying to psych myself up beforehand. Then I began to realize that the social worker was actually on my side and was asking me questions about my family and interests, almost like I was filling out a dating profile! The process is not as intimidating as it seems at first, and gives you, or you and your partner, and opportunity to consider the type of family that you are going to be and the kind of child that you will be best matched with. We used an out-of-state agency but were able to use a local organization that was communicating with our adoption agency to do the home study. It is good for up to 12 months and may require an update later on in the process.
Complete Your Paperwork
You will need to file an I-800 or I-600 form, depending on which country you choose to adopt from. Some may require a “dossier” that includes pictures and other family information. Your agency may have an intermittent pay schedule that requires fees at different points in the process. Remember that there is an adoption tax credit ($13,570 per child as of 2017) as well as potential reimbursement from employers and adoption grants, when considering financing your journey. Make sure you explore these options, as many middle-class families have found they can support an international adoption efficiently by taking advantage of programs designed to assist them.
Wait for Your Referral
This can be a difficult time, but getting the phone call with information about your potential new child makes it worth the wait. It is a good time to get a part-time job to earn extra money or to read up on parenting and develop an approach that will work for your family.
As a self-identified homebody who hates change, I was worried about spending time in a place where I couldn’t communicate, but I found myself looking forward to our second trip to Poland because the kids had been such a delight the first time. I learned a great deal about the history and culture of my ancestors and began to appreciate their courage and contribution to the world. Lodging and dining was also a lot less expensive than it is at home, and of course, we enjoyed the pierogis and Polish pancakes.
Finalize Your Adoption
After a “bonding” period of three and a half weeks, my husband and I appeared in Polish court, where we officially became the legal parents of our children. For some, the adoption is finalized after they return to the United States. Most countries will require some travel and paperwork in-country.
Obtain Your Child’s Visa
A foreign adoption does not automatically grant your child a Visa, and you will have to apply for it separately. Our court date in Poland was followed by a three-week “appeals” period where we were required to stay somewhere in the country and wait for our children’s passports and Visas to be processed. The American Embassy was located in Warsaw where many people spoke English, and we enjoyed creature comforts like McDonald’s and Starbucks. Our interview at the embassy was a series of basic questions about the children’s names and ages and our home in New York.
If you want to cry happy tears, check out a Youtube video of a family arriving at an airport and introducing their newly adopted child to extended family and friends. The journey, the wait, and the expenses pale in comparison to these life-changing moments.
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