Overseas adoption: How to get started

International adoptions from the top 20 countries totaled 18,748 children in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of State. If you are considering adopting internationally, you may have many questions about what the process entails. We follow Ralph and Linda, a couple from California, as they take the required steps to adopt a baby girl from China.

Woman and Adopted Daughter

For Ralph and Linda G. of Corona, California, their decision to adopt took a little research — but the decision to go abroad to expand their family was an easy one, based on Ralph’s family background.

The Agencies

The prospect of researching and weeding through a world-full of adoption agencies can be overwhelming, so the best route is to get a recommendation. In February 2004, Ralph and Linda received a referral and chose Holt International. Or, if you do not have a recommendation, sites like www.adoption.org may help steer you in the right direction.

The Paperwork

The dossier that agencies send to the country in which you are adopting from is reviewed by the country’s adoption department (for China, it is the Chinese Center for Adoptive Affairs (CCAA)). The dossier contains information about:

  • financial status
  • health
  • careers
  • education
  • views on your families, each other, and on raising children
  • background checks
  • marriage and birth certificates
  • photographs of the two of you and your home

Expect to do a lot of running around, from doctor’s appointments, to notary verifications, to meetings with your social worker. According to Linda, “Preparing the dossier can be very stressful and intimidating, however with the step-by-step instructions they provided and their willingness to hold our hand and guide us through each step of the way made it so much easier.”

>> Overseas adoption: How to get started

The Waiting Game

The day finally came in October 2004 when the completed dossier was sent to China, and the waiting began. For Ralph and Linda, the process was expected to take six to eight months. “Even with that timeframe, the wait was almost unbearable. We had already waited for years for this child and now that we knew she would be coming soon, it felt as if this were the hardest part,” added Linda. 

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Emotional Support

For Ralph and Linda, online adoption groups were a huge support in the adoption process. Stories of other parents’ waiting for their bundles of joy from overseas helped the couple through their long eight months. Sites like cafemom.com and adoptionark.org offer online support groups for parents in every stage of the adoption process.

Hearing the Good News

According to the U.S. Department of State, the adoption process takes about 6-12 months to complete. Regardless of the time frame, waiting parents like Linda and Ralph know exactly where they were when they heard the good news. “The call came in late May and…I will never forget being at work and answering the phone to my husband saying, ‘Mike [our social worker] called and he said he has good news!'”

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Gotcha Day

The term “Gotcha Day” is commonly used by adoptive families to lovingly refer to the day they adopt their new child into their family. This day was on July 25, 2005, for Ralph and Linda, when they would first be able to hold their daughter in their arms. Four days prior, they traveled to Beijing to learn about the culture in which their child was born. This way, “as they grow,” said Linda, “we can pass on a healthy love and respect for where they were born.”

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From Beijing, the family traveled to Changsha, in Hunan Province, where they would meet their baby at the Civil Affairs office. “There was a quiet like never before (and like there would not be again for the rest of the trip)… our guide let us know…that one by one, they would call out our daughters’ Chinese names, that we would step forward, show our passports and adoption decree and then be handed our child. Our guide even pronounced our daughters’ names one by one so that we would know what it sounds like. [When we arrived,] we scanned the room to find [our daughter] and couldn’t take our eyes off of her once we found her. The moment I was able to hold her for the first time felt as if she had been mine forever.”

Bonding Time

For Ralph and Linda’s overseas adoption, the first 12 days after adoption day were spent in Changsha and Guangzhou, bonding with their daughter and learning more about the culture. Although the adoption was finalized the day after they held their daughter for the first time, in China, Guangzhou is the city that all adoptive families depart from, and where Ralph and Linda had their Visa appointment and really completed the process. Linda explains, “There is a short ceremony that takes place, making things ‘official’ and that is a very emotional experience.”

>> Message board: Adoption and other Options

Returning to the States

Although children adopted overseas become US Citizens once they arrive in the States, Ralph and Linda chose to obtain a US birth certificate to make some processes easier for their daughter in the future. The social worker visited them three more times throughout the first year, and they provided updates and photos to the agency.

The bond that formed between the adoptive families traveling together to meet their adoptive children was one that still remains. Ralph and Linda have stayed in touch with all 12 of the families they traveled with and have even vacationed with some of them.

But their story doesn’t end there.

In January 2006, Ralph and Linda began the process again to adopt a second child from China. By November of that year, their second dossier was completed and sent to China. During their wait, they soon came upon a “waiting child list,” where children with often minor and correctable conditions were waiting for the right family to open their hearts. Three weeks after deciding to adopt a child from the waiting child list, Ralph and Linda received the news that their son would soon be joining their lives.

“And now the fun begins…again. We are waiting for paperwork from our agency to sign, then hopefully in a few short weeks we will be preparing to travel,” said Linda. “We can’t wait and we know that the experience adopting our son will be unique and wonderful and different and special. And, perhaps after we are home for a few months, we will start the process again.”

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