Is the Child I’m Adopting Really an Orphan?

How to Make Sure the “Orphan” You’re Adopting Doesn’t Already Have a Family

Jennifer S. Jones September 12, 2018
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When pursuing international adoption, one of the scariest things to contemplate is if your prospective adoptive child is, in fact, an orphan. Recent news from countries like Guatemala and Uganda cite incidents of children, with families, unlawfully placed for adoption. While there are laws and treaties in place to prevent such occurrences, as a prospective adoptive parent, there are things you can do to protect your family and a prospective adoptive child. Here’s what you need to know.

In 1993 the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption was established. The Convention, signed by the United States in 1994 and fully placed into effect in 2008, is an international agreement to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children. By signing the Convention, each of the 100+ Contracting States agreed to establish a system to ensure each child listed for adoption is in fact an orphan and is free and clear for intercountry adoption. Moreover, the Convention states that proof must be shown by both the sending country and evaluated by the receiving country (in this case the United States). When, and if, proof has been shown and approved by both countries, then the adoption can proceed. As a prospective adoptive parent, this may mean longer wait times in court, more paperwork for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and a few extra steps, but it is worth it to know the child you are adopting is beyond a doubt an orphan.

There are several countries such as South Korea, Ukraine, and Nicaragua, who have not signed the Hague Convention. For these countries burden of proof is still required by the United States in order for the child to be found legally available for adoption. Unlike Hague Convention countries wherein a child’s adoption and immigration to the U.S. would proceed with an I-800, with non-Hague Convention countries an I-600 must be used. This is an important distinction as with an I-600 the U.S. goes through the process of evaluating your prospective adoptive child’s records and forms to establish if the child is actually an orphan. As a result, it means it is possible to receive a referral for a child only to have USCIS find the child does not meet the definition of an orphan as specified by the U.S. government.

Thanks to the Hague Convention, strides have been made to eradicate unlawful international adoptions, but there is still more you can do as prospective adoptive parents. Before you begin your process, research your agency. As of July 2014, per the Universal Accreditation Act, all intercountry adoptions must be conducted through an accredited or approved adoption agency but not all agencies are equal. Ask for references from current families in the country program of your interest. Request a sample referral so you will know what the international paperwork looks like. Ask about the agency’s history in the country and what kind of contacts they have “on the ground.” Agencies with a long history in the country will be able to flag inconsistencies in a referral better than an agency who has just started working in a certain region.

And remember, as you move forward in your adoption if something doesn’t feel right, say something. When assembling your paperwork and receiving further information on your prospective child, you will notice a consistency of facts. Any time the orphanage or sending country lists something that seems dissimilar or contrasts other information you have learned of your prospective child, treat it as a red flag. Inconsistencies in the child’s medical file may be expected, but dates, locations, and information on how and when the child came into care at the orphanage should not be.

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Jennifer S. Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.


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