So you've decided that international adoption is the right path for your family? Here are the steps you need to take next, from choosing a country to preparing paperwork.

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So you've done all your research on international adoption, and have decided you'd like to extend your love to a child currently living overseas. Getting started with the exciting process of international adoption can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. We broke down the process into a step-by-step guide to help you get on your way to happily ever after.

Step 1: Choose a Country

Once you've decided that you'd like adopt internationally, you'll need to decide which country you're interested in, find an agency that works in that country, and then begin the long, arduous task of assembling paperwork and making arrangements.

How can you decide which country you'd like your child to come from? Some people have no preference, and others do. Perhaps you're hoping for a child with a similar ethnic background to your own. Maybe you traveled to a certain country and feel a special affinity for its culture. Or you might have been touched by a news story about children in a particular part of the world.

You can make the process easier by checking out which countries have stable political situations and well-established adoption processing mechanisms in place with governmental oversight. The U.S. State Department can be a starting point for identifying those countries, since it provides a country-by-country guide to adoption processing in more than 60 countries. It even offers a simple "Learn About a Country" search tool

In general, the fewest international adoption scandals have occurred in countries where the government has centralized authority over adoption processing. Adoption fees tend to skyrocket in countries where there is little governmental oversight and many non-governmental intermediaries involved throughout the adoption process.

Step 2: Evaluate the Cost

This process is going to be expensive so make sure you get good legal and medical help, counseling, and other services for your money. Don't be shy; ask for referrals, read a good book, do all the things you would do when selecting a doctor or making any other big decision in your life. First and foremost, get educated and you'll do better. People think nothing of spending months in birthing classes and learning all about the babies they're going to deliver, but for some reason balk at learning about the adoptive process before they take that road toward building a family.

It will probably cost between $15,000 (if you're very lucky, do good homework and don't require a lot of foreign travel) and $30,000. Suffice it to say that, in most cases, the professionals involved are truly trying to do their jobs right; there are subsidies and tax credits available; and years from now, the money (assuming you can afford it in the first place) will seem like an unimportant part of it because you won't be able to imagine your life without that child.

It's worth saying that people decide how and where to adopt for a host of reasons. For those who want to help a child in need but can't afford the process I've just described, there are thousands of children in foster care who need permanent homes and are available for adoption for free.

Step 3: Find an Agency

Once you have narrowed down the countries in which you would like to adopt, you can contact agencies working in the particular country. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of working with a large, national agency (which may have larger numbers of children to place and longer waiting lists of applicants) versus working with a smaller, local agency (which may have fewer children to place but shorter waiting lists).

Evaluate the agency's accessibility and past working relationships with applicants. Once you have a list of agencies, call them to ask about their services. Some agencies have contracts or contacts with foreign adoption programs, institutions, and/or lawyers, while others can only do a home study and process the paperwork in the United States. Look carefully at the agency's relationship with its foreign contact and evaluate the foreign contact's proven track record.

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.

While most private agencies are reputable, some are not, and it is vitally important to select an experienced, licensed one. First, call the state licensing specialist to verify that the agency is licensed and find out if complaints have been filed against the agency. In some states, you can arrange to review complaint files. Then, check with the state's Office of the Attorney General, again to see if there are complaints on file. If you can, talk to members of adoptive parent support groups local to the agency to check their reputation. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau local to the agency (check to get a contact phone number) to see if complaints have been lodged against an agency.

Most agencies have some minimum requirements for prospective parents (often related to marital status, age, income, and perhaps infertility). In some cases, agency restrictions reflect the laws of the child's country of origin or requirements of the agency in that country. Inquire about applicant restrictions to ensure that you are eligible to adopt with the agency's programs. Determine whether the agency conducts its own home studies, which countries it works with, how many children it places, its requirements and fees, and what types of postplacement services it provides. Request written materials and references from past clients. Ask agencies to provide itemized lists of expenses and fees, keeping in mind that some costs, such as travel costs, cannot be predicted in detail. If possible, attend orientation meetings at all agencies that interest you, while continuing to ask other adoptive parents about their experiences. Consider not only the range of services the agencies offer, but also their client satisfaction and your level of confidence and comfort with their staff. Then choose the agency that best meets your needs. Most agencies do not allow applicants to work with more than one agency at a time.

Step 4: Learn the Policies and Procedures

Once you have arranged to work with an agency, the agency will assign a social worker. The social worker will discuss your preferences, provide information on source countries, and explain the agency's policies and procedures. At this point, you may be required to pay the first installment of the adoption agency fees. Some agencies will prorate their charges according to your income.

You should avoid programs where you are required to pay all the fees in advance. Most programs have a fee payment system that allows payment as services are rendered. Find out what fees are refundable if you withdraw from the adoption process or the agency withdraws its services after a service agreement is signed.

Every adoption requires a home study, which involves a series of interviews with a social worker and/or group sessions with other applicants. The home study helps applicants think through their desire and ability to adopt a child from another culture. The social worker wants to ensure that you will provide a safe and nurturing environment for a new child. A home study is usually completed in a few months.

The final, approved home study documents your suitability as adoptive parents and provides a description of the prospective home to the foreign source. Home study fees may or may not be included in the overall fee. When a home study is approved, your case is assigned to a particular foreign adoption agency, orphanage, institution, or private attorney.

Step 5: Gather the Right Documents

You'll need to compile a variety of documents for the home study and the document dossier for the foreign court. The required documents usually include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Birth certificates of both prospective adoptive parents
  • Marriage license, and, if applicable, divorce decrees or death certificates from previous marriages
  • A letter from a physician confirming the prospective parents' good health
  • Financial statements, including tax returns, statements of assets and liabilities, and letters from your bank describing your accounts
  • Letters from your employer(s) confirming position, salary, and length of employment
  • Letters of recommendation from friends and associates
  • Police records
  • Child abuse clearance
  • Psychological evaluations

Most agencies ask that you have these documents signed and notarized and provide multiple copies. In addition, some countries will require authenticated translations of the documents.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

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