International Adoption 101

We are happy to debut the first in a series of new video podcasts from our Inquiry department, called AGCI Connections.  This episode covers International Adoption 101, providing a basic overview of what you can expect when you are adopting.  View the video, or read the transcript below.

Julie: Hi, welcome to AGCI Connections. This is a podcast that is designed to connect with our families and really talk about some hot topics in adoption and orphan care. We are going to be talking about different questions. Today we are titling it Adoption 101, which I’ll share a little bit more about with you in one minute.

I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Julie Salwasser and this is my friend and co-worker Lindsay. Lindsay, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do at All God’s Children?

Lindsay: Alright, thanks Julie. I am a part of the Inquiry Department here at AGCI and I talk to families at the very beginning of the process and love to answer their questions and talk about what their next steps of adoption will be.

Julie: If you don’t know about All God’s Children International, we are an orphan care agency. We are going to be talking a lot about adoption today. That’s basically a branch of orphan care. We do a lot of different things in the different countries that we are working in and we really want to meet the needs that are existing in that country.

For some of those countries, there are many children that their best option is to be adopted and so we want to be a part of that in that country. We are going to talk about that. Today like I said, it’s Adoption 101 and what we want to do is we want to highlight those milestone moments in a family’s adoption process. Families sometimes, they look into adoption and they don’t really know where to start.

They don’t even know maybe some terms that they are hearing like dossier, what’s that? We want to highlight what those are so a family better understands how to get started and what that process will look like for their family. Why don’t you go ahead and get started and tell us a little bit about what the first step is for a family?

Lindsay: The first step is going to be choosing an agency to work with and partner with for an adoption. We are an agency that can definitely do that so when families visit our website, allgodschildren.org, they are able to fill out a pre-application form which provides information such as their age, income, marital status, information that countries will be looking at for prospective families. When we get that information in the pre-application, we are really able to determine whether they are pre-eligible for adoption and even which countries might be a good fit for them.

Once a family completes the pre-application, an Inquiry Coordinator like Julie or myself will give families a call to talk about their next steps in the adoption process, what options they have and even help them narrow down which countries might be a good fit for them and answer any questions that they have. That’s really the first thing that families can do.

Julie: The formal application is really how a family gets started and that’s $300. It’s on our website, you can do it online or we do have hard copies, and that really helps take that eligibility one step further. We dig a little bit deeper.

Our goal is to really make sure that when a family starts in the process, that it’s going to be really smooth in terms of eligibility once they’re in that program, that nothing is going to come up. Each country really does have some unique eligibility requirements so we want to look at all of those.

Sometimes in the application phase, there is a need for some additional information so that can take a little bit of time, but we’re really happy to walk families through that process. When that family is approved, they’ll get the orientation packet and that packet will have the contracts and other information really for that specific program, either country or program.

What we tell families is that, when filling out the application, it’s usually a good idea to be ready to start the process within about a 3-month period because that application is good for 90 days. We want to make sure that everything is really current on the application when families get started. Why don’t you talk about families, so once they fill out those contracts, what’s really the next step for them?

Lindsay: You mentioned the dossier at the beginning, a term that families are going to hear a lot throughout their adoption journey and it’s something that a lot of families aren’t familiar with.

Basically the dossier is a packet of paperwork that is required by the country that they are choosing to adopt from so it’s going to include documents like copies of birth certificates and verification of their employment and really different documentation that the country wants to look at to assess the prospective family.

Another part of the dossier is going to be the home study and that is pretty much going to be the most lengthy part of the process. That’s when a social worker is going to come visit the family and write down some information on them to assess how the family is going to be for an adoptive child prospectively in the future and assess the environment that they’d be entering into.

It’s really a good way for us to get to know the family so that we can make a good match with a child and learn about what different parameters of child they are open to and what they are approved for.

The home study is going to include some information about what age range would fit in their family, what gender of child and what medical conditions might fit into their specific family. Our paperwork coordinator here at AGCI is really great and she is here to help families through the process. She knows all of the forms they need to fill out, timelines, things like that so she is really great and helpful throughout the process.

That process usually takes between 4 and 6 months to complete and after that, all of the documents are sent to be translated into the country’s language and authenticated. Why don’t you tell a little bit about the next step?

Julie: That’s so great and I always, when talking to families they’re like, “What is that home study look like? That social worker coming into my home, what are the questions she’s going to ask or he’s going to ask? Are they going to have the white glove to see if there’s too much dust under the bed?”

It’s actually a very natural process and it’s actually really great. You touched on this but it’s really valuable in terms of the preparation, education, that’s definitely a component of it and it’s an opportunity to talk to a social worker about your family and bringing a child, adding to your family.

We just love that. Then once that is done then, yes, the dossier is completed, we are going to start waiting for a referral at that point. That’s a 4 to 6 month part of the process, of the paperwork, that is really the same no matter what country the family is adopting from.

When the timelines start to vary is really this wait for a referral and part of that is because each country’s process varies a little bit. In some countries, you’re going to talk a little bit more about this, but in some countries the government is very involved in that process and that impacts the time frame.

Then in other countries, our program director is able to be a little bit more involved. The wait definitely depends on the parameters of a family and how that lines up with the need that is currently existing in that country in terms of children.

We have some countries that we have children waiting in so if we have a family that has the parameters are open to those needs of that child or the age of that child, then that wait for referral is very fast but there are some countries that it’s a little bit longer.

It’s going to range anywhere from 8 months to 12 months, all the way up to 2 to 3 years for that wait for a referral and again it really depends on the process as well as that current makeup of our families in terms of what they are open to.

Lindsay: Absolutely. The referral process also varies by country. Sometimes the country’s government is really involved in it, sometimes our program directors here are doing more of the matching process so that really varies.

Whenever a family does get a referral for a child, they’ll get all of the medical information, social background information that we have, photos, all of the information that we can provide to a family that is really going to help them make the decision whether they’d like to move forward.

At the same time, there is also going to be the opportunity for an international pediatrician review. This review is really great because the documentation we get from foreign countries might look different than what pediatricians here in the US are used to seeing.

The international pediatricians have experience in interpreting those gaps in information and knowing what questions to ask, whether there is concerns and what looks normal for a child that’s been living in an institution for all or most of their life, so that’s something really valuable for our families while they are considering their referral. Once they do decide to move forward with the adoption the next step is travel, which is a really fun part of the process.

Julie: We love getting families ready for the travel to the country. Sometimes in each program, sometimes it’s a 2-trip travel process. What that means is that the family, shortly after accepting their referral of a child is actually traveling to the country to meet the child.

There are going to be some process related things that need to be taken care of there but they are going to probably be able to go to the child’s orphanage, spend time with them there, where the child is currently living and the length of time for that first trip, it depends. It could be 5 days, might be a little bit longer. Then they’ll come back to the US for a period of time, maybe 3 months. Again, depends on the country.

Lindsay:  As always.

Julie: As always. Then they go back for their second trip and really that second trip is when they are able to bring that child with them to their hotel until they are able to come back. We love preparing families for the travel because that’s some really precious and sweet times with the family and their first moments together.

Obviously there are some unique things that we prepare families for. This child actually speaks a different language and doesn’t know these 2 people as mom and dad so we are really able to prepare families for that and some of those things that can pop up so families are prepared going into it.

We realize that families are coming from a range of travel experiences. We have travel coordinators and staff that are there to receive families and to support them but our goal is that we really want to keep these trips simple because it is all about this child and their family coming together.

That’s really what it’s all about. We love that and some countries, they do have   the one trip travel and that length of time varies. We have one actually, Columbia, where a family has the opportunity to travel there for 6 to 8 weeks if they can do it. That’s such a valuable time to spend that much time in the child’s birth country.

When they come home, that’s really when the adoption is completed at that point, which is awesome. They really go into the post-adoption phase. What does that look like for them?

Lindsay: In the post-adoption phase, there will be some reports that are required by the country, because the country really cares about the children that are coming to live with their new families in the US and want to keep up with how they are doing and learn what that looks like when they come home with their family.

There will be some post-adoption reports by a social worker again, similar to the home study and also, depending on the visa the child has there might also be some other paperwork that needs to be done when they get home.

Another piece of it is some really great support that we are able to provide to our families with our family support specialist, whether families have been home a month or a year or 2 years, we are really here to help them if there is any concerns or if they want to share that their family is doing great. Whatever support we can be, we have a listening ear any time. We love to provide that to them once they are home as well.

Julie: It’s such a great thing. Sometimes it’s even hearing about what’s working well for other families and their maybe similar experiences being that connector point for families, it’s really a neat thing that AGCI can do.

Thank you so much for being a part of AGCI Connections. We love being able to connect with families in a different way and like I mentioned earlier, we do want to provide these periodically. These are really wonderful but what’s really great is to be able to connect with you personally so please feel free to email us or give us a call to talk about your family’s hope for adoption, your questions.

You can reach us at inquiry@allgodschildren.org. You can also go to our website which is allgodschildren.org and communicate with us that way, as well as view our waiting children. Certainly, we love talking with families and we look forward to our next AGCI Connections.

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