Guatemala is one among one of the top countries that place children for International adoption.

It has become a desirable country from which to adopt because of the availability of infant children with better developmental milestones because they are placed in foster care, as opposed to an orphanage.

The placement of abandoned children into a foster care environment helps to decrease the developmental delays that these children are at higher risk for and it makes for the Post- Institutionalization Syndrome encountered in children adopted from Eastern European countries to be almost nonexistent.

Guatemala also provides the signed relinquishment and the results of DNA testing that shows the relationship of the mother to the child to the adoptive parents. The purpose of this policy is to reduce the adoption of children that be obtained by illegal means such as kidnapping, baby-buying, and coercion. Prior to the DNA testing policy, an unscrupulous woman could pose as the child’s birth mother and release the child for adoption for financial reasons. Other tests performed upon the birth mother are HIV, syphilis and hepatitis screening.

As with all countries where financial constraints and poverty force desperate mothers to place their children for adoption, the health concerns for Guatemala are similar to other countries, with some minor differences.

Many of the mothers are smokers, and the use of alcohol varies widely across the country. Drug abuse is also becoming an increasing problem, especially among the young birth mothers. Some of the more common drugs abused are cocaine, marijuana, and tranquilizers.

Other health concerns found in the Guatemala population that may be country-specific are parasitic infestations (such as Dengue, Filariasis, leishmanaiasis and malaria). Such conditions are almost never seen in the U.S. and are generally caused by poor hygienic living conditions.

There are some special social issues that an adoptive parent needs to consider prior to choosing to adopt a child from Guatemala. Once a child is slated for international adoption, they are generally placed in the foster care system. Families should be aware that while foster care is superior to living in an institution, not all foster homes are loving or attentive to the child’s needs. Foster parents will vary in their ability to care for the child and each one has his or her own motivations for become a foster parent.

In terms of the availability of the pre-adoptive medical information, some medical data and monthly updates about/pictures of the adoptive child are usually available for review. While it is not the norm, I have seen a few cases where an actual video tape of the child was given to the parents.  These updates are expected but not required.

Most of the problems encountered in children adopted from Guatemala are similar to all internationally adopted children, and they stem from being neglected in early infancy. Fortunately, because of the foster care programs, developmental delays are not as serious as in other countries. Other medical concerns found in children from Guatemala vary from anemia, to parasitic infections, to tuberculosis. Unrecognized medical concerns such as fetal alcohol syndrome, hearing impairment, and various degrees of developmental delays have also been discovered, but they are rather uncommon. These conditions are problems encountered in many Internationally adopted children, regardless of their country of origin.

While living with a foster family during the early months of life is beneficial to the overall health and development of a orphan child, foster care is not a substitute for a loving parent.

Even though Guatemala has a better infrastructure for caring for its abandoned children, this should not preclude anyone from having the child’s medical data evaluated by an adoption specialist. Health records, pictures, and– if available– video recording should always be evaluated. A through and in-depth dialogue with the prospective parents can help them to become aware of unsuspecting medical concerns.

I have heard many parents and agencies say the following statement: “There are no medical problems in children from Guatemala, and we do not need to consult with a physician.” While I do agree, and I have personally seen far fewer medical issues with this particular population of children, they are still at risk from being neglected, malnourished, and having untreated medical concerns. Parents must educate themselves and consult with a professional and together you can decide whether this child is for you. Do not follow internet statements and lines given by your agencies or other adoptive parents.


The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT advice on how to deal with a particular child’s situation or problem. If your child has a specific problem, you need to ask your pediatrician about it. Only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and treatment plan be made. This website does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.


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