More than 200,000 children from around the world have become part of American families over the past decade. But lately, international adoption has become a more challenging choice for new parents. A new international treaty that governs adoption, and seismic shifts in the number of children adopted from previously popular countries like China and Guatemala, have ushered in a new era—one with fewer children being adopted, but with more openness and less chance for corruption.
If you're looking to adopt from abroad right now, here's what you should know, based on interviews with top U.S. State Department officials who help oversee the adoption process for American families.
Where can you adopt now?
The State Department keeps a constantly updated list of countries with active adoption programs on their adoption-focused website. Many parts of the world have strict rules that limit the number of U.S. adoptions to a small handful each year, but countries such as China, Ethiopia and Russia continue to send 1,000 to 2,000 children to the U.S. each year.
You'll want to review the rules carefully for each country—many have age and health restrictions, or won't allow adoptions to single parents or to gay or lesbian couples. Some countries adopt children only to parents who share their religion or heritage, or only after the parents agree to live in country for several weeks to complete the adoption. The State Department site gives a sense of the length of time you may wait before you'll complete your adoption.
How much does international adoption cost?
There are two sets of fees that you will need to pay to adopt: the fees to your U.S. facilitator and the U.S. government, to cover the cost of a home study, background check, and the agency's services in preparing your paperwork; and fees to the foreign government to cover expenses for paperwork and care for your child. You will also pay some travel expenses—either for you to travel to your child's home country to meet her and complete the adoption, or for your child to be escorted to the U.S., if you adopt from Korea or Ethiopia. The total cost of an adoption can run between $15,000 and well over $60,000. But keep in mind that the adoption tax credit, currently $13,360, can help offset some of those expenses.
What does a Hague adoption mean?
When you hear the word "Hague" in connection with adoptions, it refers to Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the treaty signed by 88 countries governing international adoption. "The Hague Convention really provides a safe, ethical, and transparent adoption process, to help protect children and parents and biological parents," says Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs for the U.S State Department.
Adoptions between countries that follow the Hague Adoption Convention treaty must meet stricter guidelines:
- The adoption agency or facilitator must be approved by the U.S. State Department to manage adoptions in that country. The agency or facilitator must fully disclose fees and expenses up front—and has limited opportunities to change fees down the line.
- The child's country must ensure that the child is indeed an "orphan," with no one available to adopt and care for her in her home country.
- The adoptive parents must complete several hours of training to help prepare them for potential issues their child may face, such as developmental delays due to less than optimal orphanage care.
- The paperwork required changes slightly, to include a new Hague adoption certificate and a new type of visa that's issued in these cases.
Some countries, including Haiti and Uganda, still haven't implemented the Hague Convention, and adoptions from those countries don't have all of these requirements, such as the training and the additional paperwork—or the accreditation of the adoption agency or facilitator.
Should we be worried about corruption?
Most international adoptions are conducted ethically, but there have been documented instances of corruption within some adoption programs, occurring before the Hague Convention treaty was signed. "In some of the countries—especially in the poorer countries—we've seen instances of government officials and adoption service providers engaging in unethical practices," Ambassador Jacobs says. "There's a lot of money involved in international adoption and sometimes that amount of money can corrupt."
In China, several people were convicted in 2005 for trafficking children into orphanages in Hunan province, and concerns surfaced last year about children being forcibly taken from their families and sold to the orphanages; in Vietnam, the adoption program was closed because of instances of trafficking and even kidnapping."If we suspect any kind of fraud or bribery or inappropriate financial gains, we will investigate very carefully," Ambassador Jacobs says. "When it happens, we put a stop to it as quickly as we can." That can lead to restrictions on adoptions from a particular country, delays in finalizing your adoption, or, in severe instances, closing the program altogether. But in Hague-compliant countries, there is less room for corruption to take place.
What should we be looking for in an adoption agency or facilitator?
If you're planning to adopt from a country that is governed by the Hague Convention treaty, there's a list of adoption service providers on the State Department website that are authorized to guide you through adoptions from that country. In non-Hague countries, you don't have that central authority reviewing each agency's practices. But here's what you should consider when you're looking for the right agency. Be sure your adoption service provider:
- Has approval to facilitate adoptions in your state.
- Provides clear and specific information about all fees and procedures surrounding your adoption, including a sample contract.
- Allows you to contact several families who have adopted through their program to obtain references.
- Gives you information about your options, should the adoption program you choose change their requirements or close to new adoptions before you complete yours.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.