Guide to International Adoption
for Gay and Lesbian Families

by Katharine Swan

As adoption has become more and more socially acceptable in recent decades, the demand on adoption agencies has grown, making the wait to get a child longer and the likelihood of getting an infant smaller. As a result, there has been a growing trend toward international adoption: in 2003, 21,616 of U.S. adoptions were international, according to China remains the most popular country to adopt from, followed closely by Russia. Many adoptive parents also choose to adopt from Guatemala, South Korea, and the Ukraine.

Is international adoption right for you? The decision you and your partner make is personal, but being well informed about the subject can help you make a decision you are comfortable with.

Adoption International

The Pros and Cons of International Adoption

International adoption is attractive because of the many advantages it offers over the United States’ overstressed foster and adoptive care systems. A family’s chances of adopting an infant or toddler are considerably higher in international adoption, as the vast majority of the children available for adoption in foreign countries are under five years of age, whereas most children available for adoption in the United States are older than five. Likewise, international adoption offers less competition for children. The wait time is often shorter in an international adoption, averaging 12 to 18 months; additionally, the fees to adopt internationally may be slightly lower, depending on the country the child is being adopted from. International adoption is also more likely to be successful, with less chance of birth mothers changing their minds or the courts ruling against removing the child from his or her home, giving adoptive parents who pursue international adoption a little extra peace of mind.

However, there are also some disadvantages to international adoption. Most children available for adoption in foreign countries are in orphanages, and some have suffered some rather distasteful conditions, such as a lack of nurturing or mental stimulation. They may have been given up at birth due to the stigma placed on unwed mothers; in poorer countries, they may have been given up or taken away because the parents could no longer afford to feed and clothe them. Some children adopted internationally may also have health problems, as well as incomplete or nonexistent medical records. However, for many adoptive parents, these conditions indicate not that international adoption is a bad idea, but how badly adoptive parents are needed for these children.

Another disadvantage of international adoption that gay and lesbian adoptive parents face is dealing with not only the prejudices in the United States, but in foreign countries as well. Some countries may have restrictions against gays or lesbians adopting their children, requiring gay and lesbian adoptive parents to find not only an agency that is comfortable with their sexual orientation, but also a country that does not have regulations against placing their children in nontraditional homes.

The International Adoption Process

International adoption can be a more involved process than domestic adoption, despite the fact that the process is generally shorter. Because you are working with adoption agencies in both the United States and another country, and because there is so much paperwork involved in adopting a child from a foreign country, the process can seem somewhat intimidating without a good agency to help you through it.

Although finding a good agency is an important part of adopting internationally, first it helps to do a little research. Because each country has different restrictions on international adoption, and not all agencies facilitate adoptions from all countries, you’ll need to find out what countries you could – and would want to – adopt from, and then look for agencies that work with those countries. For instance, India only places children with couples aged 25-45 who have been married for at least three years and have a combined income of $30,000 a year, or single women of the same age who make a minimum of $25,000 a year. A family who qualified to adopt from India would need to find an agency that is authorized to work with the adoption agencies in India.

Once you have chosen several countries that you would be comfortable adopting from, you will need to find an adoption agency. It is important to choose an agency that has a good reputation, both with the U.S. government and the governments of the countries you want to adopt from. Because prejudice against gays and lesbians can have a bearing on the success of your adoption, it is also important to choose an agency that has a track record of placing children with nontraditional families. If you know of other gay or lesbian families who have successfully adopted internationally, find out what agency they used – personal recommendations may be your best bet.

It is also important to find a pediatrician who has experience working with families who have adopted internationally. Certain medical conditions can prevent a child from getting a visa until the condition is resolved; other conditions may not be detected by the initial medical exam, but will still need attention. Because the child you adopt may have seen some rather distasteful conditions, it is especially important that he or she has access to good health care once you bring him or her home.

Of course, there is much more paperwork involved in an international adoption than in a domestic adoption, mainly because you have to meet the requirements of two separate countries. The additional paperwork is also due to the fact that you are arranging for you child to become a U.S. citizen. Although it can be a headache to fill out all of the necessary paperwork, your agency should be available to answer any questions you might have.

Additionally, you will have to arrange for your child’s trip to the United States. In some cases you might need – or want – to pick up your child yourself, in which case you will need to arrange for airline passage and accommodations. Some countries also provide an escort to bring your child to the United States. In either case, you should consider giving a gift to the orphanage or caregiver to show your appreciation.

For more detailed information about the process of international adoption, consult your adoption agency or visit the U.S. State Department website here.

Creating a Family

If you decide to pursue international adoption, don’t forget that the child you get may never have heard a word of English in his or her short life – not to mention he or she has probably experienced conditions that would be unacceptable by American standards. It can be scary to suddenly be in an environment where everyone speaks an unfamiliar language, looks different, and dresses differently – even the youngest of children may be sensitive to these changes. Do your best to help your child acclimate to his or her new home, especially if he or she is older: playing children’s videos or music in his or her native language or taking a foreign language class to learn a little basic vocabulary can help ease the transition for both of you.

International adoption may be a little more work in some regards, but other ways many families find it preferable. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that whether your child is an American by birth or because of the paperwork you spend hours laboring over, by adopting you are creating a bond that supercedes all of that. You are family.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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