I have had 5 people in the last two weeks approach me and ask if they can talk to me about adoption. So I thought I'd outline the process here for those of you who are interested.
Keep in mind, many things can differ depending on the country and agency you choose. I'm only closely familiar with Ethiopian adoption. The following is just a general overview of the major elements in the adoption process. And If there's anything predictable about adoption, it's that it is completely unpredictable.
The first step in International Adoption is to find a homestudy agency in your state preferably one within reasonable distance as you will be required to travel there numerous times. The homestudy is a process which proves that you are qualified to be able to adopt by your state's standards. The process can take 3 or more months to complete. Your homestudy social worker will look closely at you and your family: your health (mental and physical), finances, home, marriage, parenting style/approach, background, family history, all those skeletons in the closet, etc... A background check including fingerprinting is included. Training in issues of adoption and transracial adoption (if you are adopting a child of a race different from your own) will be required as a part of your home study qualification.
While you are in the homestudy stage you can be researching adoption agencies although some have chosen their agency before they begin the homestudy. Most agencies will work with you regardless of where you are located so there's no need to stick with agencies within your state. The process of choosing an agency can be overwhelming. You will want to narrow them down by a process of elimination. Here are some questions to consider asking them besides the usual questions about cost, travel, and timeline: How long have you been working in the country of choice? What humanitarian aid projects do you have set up in that country? How many returning clients do you have? What do the fees go to? What type of facility are the children in and what is the quality of care they are receiving? What is handled for us once in country? What type of post-adoption services do you offer? How much background information will we receive on our child?
If you haven't chosen a particular country yet, now is the time to do so. This will determine which agency you work with as not all agencies work in every country. If however, you find an agency before you decide on this, they can help you decide which is the best country to go with.
Qualifications, length of travel, cost, personal preference, cultural interest, etc... can all play a part in this decision.
Once you've decided on an adoption agency, you would send in your application and initial application fees. Once accepted you continue with the homestudy process. There are a plethora of documents needed to complete the homestudy many of which need to be notarized or apostilled. Once your homestudy is complete, it gets approved by your adoption agency and you will begin working on your dossier. This is just a fancy word for a huge amount of papers which get sent to the country you are adopting from. You will also fill out a form stating which types of medical conditions you are willing to accept.
Once your dossier is completed, you will be officially waiting for a referral. Referral is just a fancy word for being matched with your child. This can be anywhere from 0-3 years depending on the age of the child you are requesting and the country/agency. At some point you will need to fill out a document called the I600A, which is an immigration document that states that your are eligible to bring an orphan into the country. This can take a long time to process so it is a good time to get started on this during the wait time. It requires getting finger prints done at your region's United States immigration office. However, if your wait time is long, you may want to hold off on this because these expire within 18 months. See uscis.gov for more information.
There are many country specific steps in the process that may vary from what I have described here. Your adoption agency will walk you through them.
Once matched with a child, you will have the chance to go over the information with your doctor or an International Adoption Clinic and accept or deny the referral.
You will then wait for your child's case to go through the court in his/her birth country. Once through court (the length of this time varies greatly even between agencies in the same country), more official documents such as the child's birth certificate and passport have to be gathered. Once all documents are in order, you will be given clearance for travel. Some choose to have the child escorted, although I would strongly encourage anyone to travel to glean as much as they can about their child's birth culture. It is an important part of the process and you will not regret it.
You will then need to finalize the adoption in your state so that your child's name is official and so that you can apply for a social security card and US birth certificate.
Here is our timeline:
Applied to Children's Home Society and Family Services at the end of January 2007.
Homestudy completed through the House of Samuel by the end of March.
Dossier accepted April 7th.
Received referral November 7th.
Made it through court January 5th.
Traveled February 7th and returned home as a forever family on Febuary 15th 2008.
Adoption Finalized October 2008.