By Becca Albertson

Chances are, you know someone who has adopted a child internationally, or maybe you’re interested in it yourself. Well, I am a social worker with Carolina Adoption Services who does homestudies (pre-placement assessments and approvals for adoptive families) for families adopting children from other countries (International Adoption). I am also the mama to three kids. We adopted our youngest child, Sam, from Ethiopia two years ago. So I have personal experience as an adoptive mama, as well as an adoptive sister to three girls from Romania.

Katie asked me to write the following blog on the international adoption process. I have offered a very detailed account, but hopefully it will answer most questions you might have. At the end of this blog, please add any other questions I did not adddress – as well as your comments – so readers can follow along.

The media loves to focus on the negative stories involving adoption, but 99% of adoptive families are happy, healthy, and doing well. I’m going to do my best to explain International Adoption… there’s a lot to cover! In the following paragraphs I’ll cover and explain the terms “homestudy,” “homestudy agency,” “placing agency,” “CIS,” “dossier,” and a few other terms you may have heard in relation to International Adoption.

International adoption can be tricky, and unfortunately, corrupt in a small amount of cases. Countries who open their borders to adoption need to have an adoption infrastructure in place (laws, courts). The adoption agency hired by a family must have a solid relationship with the countries they provide adoption services for (they need to have a license to work in that county). The agency hired by an adoptive family should be Hague accredited, a member of JCICS (Joint Council on International Children’s Services), and accredited by COA. These symbols can be found on their website, or each licensing organization can be researched for a list of member agencies. A list of references should always be on offer from an adoption agency.

A placing agency, in addition to the license obtained by the countries it works in, should be licensed by the state where its main office is located, and it may have offices/licenses in other states as well. A placing agency is the agency that will coordinate the paperwork going to the foreign country (this paperwork is called the DOSSIER) and they will coordinate the matching of and placement of the child adopted by a US family.

In order to move on to the paperwork phase of the adoption, however, a family must have a homestudy. A homestudy, otherwise knows as a Pre-Placement Assessment, is when a social worker comes to the adoptive family’s home for a series of interviews. During these meetings, a family discusses their motivation to adopt, grief situations if dealing with infertility, grief situations if dealing with the loss of children to death, and the level of resolution of grief.

Families of origin are discussed, to know the adoptive family’s background more thoroughly, and also to seek out any abuse patterns that may need to be addressed. We talk about the marriage if the adoptive parents are married (many single people adopt, too), and snoop around the house (just kidding). Really, social workers just have to make sure that a family is legitimate and legal, with no horrible criminal record, and with a well-kept and safe home for a child.

The homestudy requires a set of paperwork similar to that of the DOSSIER, but not always the same. It includes birth/marriage certificates, medical reports, financial reports, proof on insurance, criminal background checks, references, employer letters, and guardianship letters. The homestudy agency guides families through all of this and helps them know how to gather each piece.

A family’s homestudy agency may or may not be the same as their placement agency. For example, Gladney is an agency based and licensed in Texas (and licensed in other states but I’m not sure where, so we’ll use Texas as an example). So, say a family chooses Gladney to be their placing agency to adopt from Ethiopia. If they live in Texas, Gladney can also be their homestudy agency, because they are licensed by the state of Texas. But let’s say they live in the state of Oregon, and Gladney is not licensed to work in the state of Oregon. Well, Gladney can remain their placing agency, but they’ll need to find an agency licensed to do homestudies in the state of Oregon. Let’s say there’s an agency called “Oregon Adoption Services”. That can be their homestudy agency. Once they approve the family to adopt, and write the homestudy report, they send it to Gladney, the placing agency. Gladney handles the rest of the adoption.

While the homestudy is taking place, the family files an application with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS), because they will be bringing an immigrant into the country. Once your application is at your state CIS office, you will be given a fingerprint appointment date. Once your fingerprints are done, and once your homestudy agency sends your completed homestudy to the CIS office, your file will be considered complete.

Then the CIS official will approve you (or not) to bring an immigrant orphan child into the country. You may not adopt internationally without this approval. Once you receive this approval, that piece of paper becomes part of your DOSSIER to be sent to the country you adopt from. CIS also sends a cable to the US Embassy in the country you adopt from, so that the Embassy knows that you have been granted US permission to bring a child into the US from that country.

Once homestudy is completed, the write-up becomes part of the DOSSIER. This group of papers represents a family to the governing body of the foreign country. The placing agency assists families in gathering documents for the Dossier. Each country has different requirements for what is included in the Dossier. The documents are very similar to what is needed for the homestudy. So there is some overlap, yet they are two distinct piles of paper.

The dossier is made official by the family’s state of residence, the US government, and the foreign government’s Embassy. The stack of papers forming the dossier is sent to each of the above places to have an official, stamped paper added to each of the original papers. This is called authentication of the Dossier, and that is what shows the country that each paper is authentic and official.

Once the Dossier arrives in the foreign country, it represents the family to that government. The placing agency will have staff members who live and work in that country. They will handle the dossier in order to match the family to a child who meets the standards of abandonment or the official definition of an “orphan” (as defined by both that country and the US gov’t) in order to only match each family with a child who truly needs to be adopted. This way corruption is largely avoided, because these standards are checked thoroughly and systematically.

Once a family is approved to bring a child home, the homestudy agency takes back over (if different from the placing agency) to do post-adoption visits and reports. These visits are to check on the family and child, and to provide support. It is also required that agencies send reports to the child’s country of origin, to let them know how the child is doing. Post-adoption reports are also filed with the family’s state of residence, so that they may obtain paperwork for the child based in state (such as a birth certificate with the child’s new family name) and a SS#. The homestudy agency guides you through all of this.

As many of you can guess, the costs of all these services really add up, not to mention the traveling to and from the country of adoption. For these reasons, adoption can cost between $20-$30 thousand dollars.

This part is pretty personal for each adoptive family. There are many ways to fund raise, and many grant and loan opportunities for adoptive families. Adoption agencies are great with connecting families with such organizations and financial resources to help pay the various fees. Also, the US government does give a tax credit for adoption, and families can learn more about this on the IRS website or through their agency’s website. This often helps families to pay back loans more quickly.

I hope this helps to explain the complex nature of the International Adoption process. I urge you to support those around you who are adopting a child, and thank those of you who already do.

Becca also keeps a personal blog about her family’s international adoption journey, plus related articles. You can catch up with Becca on her blog Expanding the Albertsons.