Are You Ready? An Adoption Beginner’s Guide

Although much has been said about the way the landscape of international adoption has changed in recent years, one feature remains constant: There are many children worldwide who need loving families.


Do your research before choosing an agency. You and your adoption agency will be working together through a long journey!

Changing Faces

Many prospective parents initially step into the adoption process with visions of a young, healthy infant. The majority of children who need families no longer match this description.

An increasing number of healthy infants and toddlers are being united with adoptive families within their birth countries. This fact—combined with worldwide changes in how adoption is perceived and The Hague Convention’s focus on the importance of children growing up in a family instead of living in an orphanage—has opened a door allowing older children and children with special needs greater opportunity to be adopted.

Children who were once forgotten now have a real chance to grow up in a loving, permanent family.

Although the needs are compelling, don’t adopt solely to help a child in need. While it’s natural to feel a humanitarian pull, it should never be your only motive. Otherwise, resentment can build when difficult times come. Be sure to read a great article about motivations for adoption.

Dillon recommends considering the following as you ponder whether adding an older child or a child with special needs is right for your family:

  • Do my other family members and friends support my decision?
  • Do I have a flexible lifestyle that will allow me to make significant changes to accommodate my child’s needs, especially during the first weeks after they arrive home?
  • Do I have access to a good support network that includes reliable friends, as well as medical and educational professionals?
  • Do I have friends who are my child’s ethnicity?
  • Am I emotionally prepared to make significant changes and deal with possible challenges or ‘unknowns’ after placement?

How Flexible Are You?

Are you prepared to be flexible, persistent and patient? It’s another important question to think about before plunging into international adoption. This process is going to take fortitude. You’ll complete mountains of paperwork, and governments in two countries will have to approve it. There will likely be a few changes—in the form of additional document requirements, fluctuating waiting times, or unexpected additional costs—that will crop up on the road to your child. The families that successfully weather these trials are the ones that are resourceful, realistic and unwavering in their desire to adopt.

Ready, Set…Research!

Once you’ve determined you are ready to build your family through international adoption, it’s time to start researching.

Selecting your adoption agency is a good place to start and you’ll want to pick one carefully: You’ll be together a long time!

Here are a few questions to think about as you evaluate whether you’ve found the one that’s right for you:

  • Do their adoption programs and services meet my family’s needs?
  • How long has the agency been in operation? How much international adoption experience do they have?
  • Does the agency have the necessary licensing and accreditations to work within my state and the country from which I would like to adopt?
  • Does their staff answer my questions promptly and professionally?
  • Do they offer education to prepare my family before and after our child’s arrival?
  • Will the agency provide support throughout our child’s lifetime by offering post-adoption services such as counseling and opportunities for children to celebrate their birth culture through heritage events and birth country tours?

Prospective parents should also examine their family’s finances and prepare for adoption costs. Many agencies offer a fee-for-service schedule, making costs more manageable. The federal Adoption Tax Credit also helps offset expenses.

Private fundraisers, donations, adoption grants and loans and borrowing from retirement funds are other options families utilize to manage adoption expenses. The cost can be a detriment until you realize how manageable the amount can be when compared to fertility treatments and the expense to have a baby biologically.

The Process

Once you’ve selected a reputable agency and have a financial plan in mind, it’s time to dive into the process. This typically begins with an application and home study to evaluate your family’s readiness to adopt.

International adoption requires completing a dossier. This is what identifies a family to a foreign government and establishes legal avenues for entering the United States with a child who is not a biological relative.

The timeline to complete an international adoption varies. It will depend on factors including how long it takes your family to complete the paperwork and the country program you’ve selected. This is where those realistic and flexible expectations will come in handy. This handy chart will give you some guidelines.

The waiting time for your child’s arrival should be used for critical preparations.

It’s the time to attend the adoption training offered by your agency and educate yourself about all things adoption. The Hague requires that families complete 10 hours of pre-adoption training outside of the home study, but more is better.

It’s also the time to plan your adoption travel, prepare your home for your child’s homecoming and form a support network of friends and families who will lend a helping hand—or a listening ear—when things get tough.

And the tough days will come as your expanded family settles in to your new life together. (Remember that stuff about flexibility and realistic expectations!)

But it won’t always be that way. The rewards will be huge!

—By Susan Serrano

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