Every year hundreds of Canadian couples and singles set off for countries on the other side of the globe with nothing but a dream and return home a few weeks or months later with a family. That, in a nutshell, is what overseas adoption is all about.
Despite the added costs, overseas adoptions account for the majority of adoptions in Canada today. More children are available overseas, which means the chances of finding a baby are much greater. And quicker.
International or inter-country adoptions are probably the most complicated adoptions. That’s because there’s so many layers involved – provincial adoption laws, federal immigration laws, and the laws of the child’s country of origin. Not to mention language and cultural barriers.
International adoptions are arranged through the help of private agencies. Unlike domestic adoptions in Canada and the US where you have the option of searching for a child yourself, with overseas adoptions you have to leave everything up to your agency. Many provide a full range of pre- and post-adoptive services, and work with more than one country.
Before choosing an agency, you need to choose a country from which to adopt. Keep in mind that although new doors are opening all the time, not every country overseas allows foreigners to adopt from within its borders. In recent years, the most popular source of overseas infants for Canadians has been China, Russia, Vietnam, and Korea.
After choosing a country, your next step will be to choose a child. Among other things, you’ll need to decide what’s important to you. The baby’s age? Sex? Race? Health? For instance, let’s assume you want a girl. Does it matter that she’s three years old? Or that her medical condition may be problematic? Depending on which country you choose, you may be able to choose the sex of your child. If you already have a boy and you want a girl, for instance, you may decide to go to China, since almost all the children available for adoption are girls.
Although the adoption requirements and process will vary from one country to another, the basic steps are as follows:
- Get an information package from an adoption agency explaining adoption program.
- Attend the information sessions.
- Complete a home study.
- Prepare your dossier of necessary documentation.
- Send your dossier to your agency, which will make arrangements for your dossier to get translated, notarized, legalized by External Affairs and authenticated by the Embassy of the country chosen.
- Send dossier to adoption authorities in child’s country of origin.
- Complete immigration paperwork to sponsor the child to come to Canada.
- Contact your physician for immunizations.
- Receive offer of child by agency, including medical report from Canadian government-approved doctor in child’s country of origin.
- Send a written acceptance to the country of origin.
- Receive a notice to travel from adoption authorities in child’s country of origin.
- Book flight and process a travel visa.
- Fly to country to pick up child.
- Process and finalize adoption in child’s country of origin.
- Process the immigration papers.
- Return home with the child.
- Undergo post-placement supervision with adoption practitioner.
- Obtain birth certificate and adoption order from provincial court.
Depending on the country selected, you have the option of being matched with a child from:
- a selection of photos
- a selection of applications available at your agency
- a central registry maintained by your child’s country of origin
Although some adoptions need to finalized in the child’s country of origin, others can be completed in Canada. Every placement will require some form of travel, if only to bring the child into Canada. Some countries may insist that as part of the placement, you spend time there getting acquainted with its culture and customs. Always be sure that your passport is up to date since you never know when you’ll have to hop on a plane. All adoptions are unpredictable in their own way, but not like those from overseas. They’re in a class of their own.
An international home study takes about six months to a year to complete. Depending on which country you choose and how quickly you can get your application ready, you can count on waiting a few years before bringing your baby home.
Expenses vary greatly and run from about $25,000 and up. As a prospective adoptive parent, you’ll be responsible for all the administrative and legal costs, as well as translation, notarization, travel and medical expenses. The costs could be more or less, depending on how much time you spend abroad.
Despite their complicated nature, International adoptions tend to get completed faster than others. Many of the children are abandoned or live in orphanages so you don’t have to worry about the birth mother changing her mind and opting to raise her child herself. And since there are more children available, the competition is less intense.
For non-traditional applicants such as older couples or couples with children, international adoptions have fewer constraints than other types of adoption. Many agencies and birth mothers in Canada and the US, for instance, prefer working with traditional married couples.
With international adoption, the rules are somewhat looser, less rigid. Prospective parents who don’t fit the standard profile or who would be normally shut out of the process are as eligible as the next person to become a parent. All they need is a valid home study and they’re on their way.
The other big advantage is that depending on which country you choose, you may have the option of selecting a child of a specific age, race and sex.
If you’re thinking about adopting a child from overseas, be prepared for lots of red tape, delays, as well as a increased potential for fraud. In choosing your country, try to select one that is politically stable. The last thing you want is for the government to change hands midway through your application and have to start the process all over again.
If you’re interested in newborns only, overseas adoption isn’t for you. All of the children are infants–six months old or more. Although most are healthy, a good number of them are considered high risk, having spent their formative months or years in orphanages with substandard living conditions. As a result, they will likely have experienced a lack of stimulation, poor nutrition, and physical and/or sexual abuse. The result is that they’ll suffer from developmental, social or emotional problems similar to those of children with “special needs.”
It’s estimated that institutionalized children lose one month of linear growth for every three months in an orphanage and many have serious attachment problems. Also, because of their circumstances, their family and medical history may be limited or unreliable, if it exists at all. When choosing your child, remember that older children have a harder time adjusting to a new culture and language.
That’s not to say that these challenges can’t be overcome. With the right support and conditions, children with developmental delays can catch up, and go on to live healthy, happy and productive lives. However, there are limits to what a parent can do. Contrary to what some people may believe, love doesn’t conquer all. High risk children will require extra help and attention and will severely test your parenting skills.
Also, keep in mind that just because the identity of a child’s mother or father is unknown doesn’t mean they never existed. Many children adopted from overseas experience the same sense of loss and grieving as children who have lost a parent. So the fact that your child’s birth parents live in another country or are nowhere to be found is no guarantee that your child won’t wonder what happened to them or decide to search for them one day.
Finally, don’t forget the other big factor in overseas adoptions: race. In some cases, your child’s may be different than yours. And so may his/her culture. Be prepared to go through a period of adjustment. Joining a support group can help you deal with many of these issues. While you still have the time, you might want to consider immersing yourself in books about your child’s country, customs and history. Remember that when you adopt a baby from another continent, you also adopt his/her culture.
Ten Common Mistakes Adoptive Couples Make When Adopting Overseas
- They don’t realize that while there are some parts of the process they can’t control, there are many more they can.
- They underestimate the amount of paperwork involved.
- They blame any delays and snags on their agency, not realizing that it’s their child’s country of origin that establishes all the rules and regulations.
- Their expectations are too high or too low.
- They’re too impatient.
- They’re too inflexible.
- They don’t realize the importance of meeting deadlines.
- They emphasize their child’s culture too much or not enough.
- They aren’t prepared for the racism and ignorance of others.
- They underestimate the children’s health issues and their ability to cope with them.