Starting the Adoption Process, What Say You?
July 30, 2008 8:59 PM   Subscribe

When you are beginning the process of adoption, how in the world do you go about sorting through all of the options? Choose the right agency to work with? Most importantly, where do you get the most accurate information about requirements?

My husband and I are very seriously considering adoption. This isn't new, we've discussed this possibility since early on in our marriage over seven years ago. We had our 2.5 year old daughter biologically and want to adopt our second child.

I've already seen this AskMe question, but I'm beginning to work more specifically/tactically at this point.

We plan on having conversations with other friends and acquaintances who have adopted and have already initiated conversations with adult friends who were adopted about their adoption experience. We only know people who have adopted from China, Guatemala and domestically. Domestic adoption is still a possibility, China's wait times have increased dramatically, and Guatemala's program is currently closed. So we are looking at other countries.

Tonight, I began to research agencies and started a spreadsheet of requirements of different countries (including US) for adopting a child. With just the first country I researched (Korea), I started finding conflicting information. For example:

-The first agency said that neither parent can be over 42.
-The second said that neither parent can be over 44, and the wife cannot be more than 6 years older than the husband.
-The third agency said that neither parent can be over 44 and the difference in ages of the parents cannot be more than 15 years.

These small differences make a big difference to us, as I am 42 and my husband is 34. Very frustrating!

Is there an ultimate authority on these guidelines for each country? Perhaps a governmental one? Anyone have any recommendations or stories to share about the lessons learned from entering this process, anything that you wished you had known back then?

We're in Chicago if that makes any difference. Much, much thanks.
posted by jeanmari to Human Relations (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We had our bio son over 4 years ago and decided to adopt from China well over 2 years ago. Now here we are 2 years later and still many years from being able to adopt from China since they had such a dramatic and sudden decrease in their number of referrals. Now this is significant for everybody involved in Int'l Adoption b/c it has forced many of the China families to switch countries or do a concurrent adoption (which we did....we brought home our wonderful daughter from Vietnam 1 year ago - which is now closed to new families).

My main advice - Int'l Adoption is going through a hard time right now. You have to ask yourself if you can handle the roller coaster of a ride and wait for years on end. Programs in other countries happen regularly. Right now Ethiopia is popular thought it's coming under more scrutiny; Kazakhstan is an option (if they're open again - they were shut down a while - but it is expensive and takes 2 months in country which isn’t feasible for most people. Russia is still open but has gone through changes. South Korea has always been stable, but they are slowly having less need for Int’l Adoption so I’m not sure of the wait times....though it is much less for boys which is true across the board in Int'l Adoption. And generally speaking Korea has more strict rules than most other countries. As to why you are receiving different answers from different agencies, you have to remember that agencies can have their own rules in addition to the Korean rules.

If you click on this link of the US Dept of State:
and scroll to the bottom you can get the general requirements of each country.

And here is another website that makes it a little easier to read (though take wait times with a serious grain of salt):

And here is another article that has some interesting information:

Good luck and let me know if you have more specific questions.
posted by texas_blissful at 10:00 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I are in the process of adopting domestically - we've been waiting about 10 months at this point. We originally wanted to adopt internationally, but as texas_blissful notes, international adoption is a tough battle right now, for a number of reasons (China reducing the number of referrals, countries like Guatemala and Nepal closing down their programs, etc). We decided to go with domestic, as the timeline was a better fit for us.

There's several things to think about in making this decision:
- What sorts of uncertainty are you comfortable with? How much do you want to know about your child and his/her birth mother's history? For domestic adoption, this can vary widely. For international adoption, in many countries you will know little or nothing.
- How old do you want your child to be when they join your family? A domestically adopted baby will be newborn (unless you go through the foster system, which is a separate discussion) whereas an internationally adopted child will be 1-2 years old. (Korea is an exception here)
- How do you find an agency? If you're adopting domestically, you'll probably have one agency that handles everything - your home study, paperwork, helping find your baby, and the post placement. If you adopt internationally, it's possible, depending on where you are, that you'll have one agency handling the domestic stuff (your home study, etc) and another working with your international paperwork. We called a few places and tried to get a feel for whether they were people we trusted. We also got references from the agency and talked with them about their experience.
- How much are you willing to spend? Internatonal adoption tends to be more expensive, and some countries (such as Kazakhstan) may require both parents to spend a nontrivial amount of time in the country.
- The processes are fairly different. With international adoption, you put in your application and are paired with a child by a government agency. You'll know little or nothing about the mother, and likely have no contact. With domestic adoption, you prepare a brochure that is provided to prospective birth mothers and the birth mother chooses the adoptive parents. You may or may not have contact with the birth mother as your child gets older.
- In the case of international adoption, there are more children than adoptive parents - many children are not adopted and grow up in orphanages. In the case of domestic adoption, there are typically more parents than children (at least for healthy babies) - nearly all babies wind up being placed with adoptive families.

I don't mean to claim that one is better than the other - you need to decide for yourself what makes sense for you and your family.

Our agency (Adoption Connection in San Francisco) had several open discussions with parents who'd gone through different sorts of adoption; it was really helpful to talk with them and hear their stories. It made it much easier for us to determine what choice was right for us. A good local agency should also be able to answer your questions about age, stability of different country programs, and current waiting times.

good luck as well! let me know if there's anything I can help with!
posted by chbrooks at 11:33 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

The adoption boards at ADL might be a good resource for you. There are any number of families who have adopted or are adopting there, and several from Chicago.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:55 PM on July 30, 2008

Can I please tag onto this discussion? Anyone know about US domestic adoption for non-US nationals (Canada/UK) without green cards?

We're here with my work and expect to be in the US for 4-5 years - would that preclude social services from doing follow-up and hence not consider us?
posted by arcticseal at 7:23 AM on July 31, 2008

I have an odd perspective which may or may not be useful: my younger sister put her daughter up for adoption 11 years ago. Sis was 20, not with the kid's father, and in a bad space in her life.

It was an open adoption, and the adoptive parents (an older couple, I would guess mid-40s at the time?) spent quite a bit of time with sis before the birth. They and I were with her when she gave birth.

They haven't been particularly close since then -- among other things, sis moved -- but my niece knows that she's adopted, and is remarkably well-balanced about it. (Mom & I visited with niece + parents not long ago, and she's just the most awesome kid. Giving her up was probably the smartest thing my sister has EVER done.)
posted by epersonae at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far, they are really helpful. Especially the linked resources.

It's interesting to realize that different agencies have different rules and now we're trying to sort through which agencies do a quality job of handling the best interests of everyone involved (birthparents--if they are involved, children and adoptive parents). We don't want to pick just any agency or make any decision lightly.

We know that there are pro's and con's to all of the decisions for us, but we also want to prioritize the pro's and con's for the children and birthparents involved. Anyone who says to someone else, "just adopt!" probably has never adopted children.

We're wrestling with the logistics of adoption choices (such as wait, the age requirements for adopting, cost is less of a factor--we don't have unlimited funds but we are prioritizing this). And, we also realize that it is important to acknowledge the additional responsibility you have as an adoptive parent when you adopt transracially.

So, any information from adoptive parents as to how they made these types of decisions--how they chose their agency, chose their type of adoption, etc.--would be most appreciated. If you feel uncomfortable sharing here, my email is in my profile. Any insight from transracial adoptees would also be welcome.

Many, many thanks.
posted by jeanmari at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2008

My wife is executive director for an adoption agency.

As you've noted, international adoption is a huge mess right now. This situation stems from the ratification of the Hague Treaty. Every country is struggling to get a handle on their adoption programs. China and Guatemala shutting down has been a huge blow.

There are no state rules governing age when it comes to domestic adoption. Many agencies, though, filter potential couples based on age factors merely because the older the couple is, the more difficult it becomes to place a child with them. Some agencies simply don't want to waste resources on home studies and background checks if there is a chance the couple isn't going to get selected by a birth mother. Sadly, a lot of this is done to increase the agency's success rate, so they can claim "98% placement rates" or whatnot.

My wife's agency takes any age couple, but they DO counsel older couples to accept special-needs and minority babies. Sad as it may sound, many couples today still want only healthy white babies. Being open to other possibilities simply makes your odds better.

Adoption is crazy expensive. A lot of the money goes to legal expenses. Some goes to cover living and medical expenses for the birth mother. And, of course, some goes to cover agency costs.

The agency my wife works for maintains a website by/for adoptive couples to share their adoption stories, answer questions and offer support. I won't pimp it here, since I'm not here to spam the place. If you would like the url, MeMail me and I'll pass it along.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

A bit more:
When we were talking international adoption, we found this book very helpful. It lays out the whole process, talks about the different countries' requirements, and the different decisions to be made. The waiting times and country status are probably out of date, as that stuff seems to change all the time, but there's links to websites as well.

For international adoption, there seems to be two cases:
- You want to adopt from a specific country because of some connection (ethnic background, past travel, etc). In that case, you want to find an agency with established ties in that country; they probably won't be in your geographic area, so you'll also need a separate agency to handle the domestic stuff. Ask how many adoptions they've successfully completed in the past year - you don't want to be the guinea pig for their new program in a country. Also, talk to parents who've adopted through this agency. This will also be useful once the adoption is completed; you may want a support network as your child grows up.
- You don't care about a country, but want to adopt internationally. In that case, I'd focus on finding a good agency in your area and then going with a country that they have a stable, ongoing relationship with. It's worth mentioning that you have to choose a country pretty early in the process, so if you go with (for example) Vietnam and then they close their program halfway through, you may have to start over from scratch. Your local agency should also provide services such as workshops about transracial adoption, parenting classes, and post-placement networking and support groups.

As to your original question about requirements, they seem to be very idiosyncratic. In general, Asian countries seem more comfortable with older parents than Latin American countries. Some countries will also have other unusual requirements - Nepal used to require that the parents be infertile, and China has an upper limit on BMI, for example. Same-sex couples are out of luck almost everywhere except domestically. If I recall correctly, Korea is particularly unusual, as they don't establish a uniform policy, but enter into relationships with specific agencies on a state-by-state basis.

For us, we read a lot, asked ourselves the hard questions about age, race, special needs, and then followed our instincts. Go with what feels right for you.
posted by chbrooks at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2008

I found Labor of the Heart, by Kathleen L. Whitten, to be an excellent book on the "big decisions" of adoption process,.

She is a developmental psychologist, as well as an adoptive parent.

Here is a quote:
Labor of the heart will be especially useful for first-time adoptive parents, because it discusses the transition to adoptive parenthood and the challenges of making decisions during the adoption process.

It includes special techniques to help parents resolve their feelings about infertility and their emotions and uncertainties about adoption.

The book explodes negative myths about adopted children with positive scientific findings.

The chapter on commitment gives parents concrete guidance on one of the most important decisions they will ever make--whether to adopt a particular child.

Waiting is widely recognized as a difficult part of adoption, so the relevant chapter shows parents how to use that time to begin giving their child a secure, loving home to come into.


This book includes exercises in a workbook format. These are based on reliable and valid psychological measures.

Labors of the Heart does not include adoption logistics. This information can be found in other books and on the Web--the best source because the legal requirements and countries policies on adoption change rapidly, especially in international adoption.
It includes great information about the various ethical and practical issues of transracial adoption, which is (in my opinion) rare in favor of the "color-blind" bull that you hear from a lot of people.

It has information and exercises that will help you pick an agency, decide how old you want your child to be, find out whether you can handle a child with special needs, and other "Life-changing decisions", as she calls them.

I wholeheartedly recommend it, as someone who is considering adoption in the long-term, and as someone with an interest in adoption and foster-care social work.

Best of luck!
posted by sondrialiac at 2:22 PM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Regarding the decision making process in adopting, for us it was quite easy. We already had a child and were not infertile so I didn't want to do domestic b/c we would practically be "competing" with other couples who maybe are I didn't want to do that. When I was looking at the International countries, I felt a very strong pull to SE Asia so I focused on the countries open to IA there. Vietnam was just re-starting up and I didn't feel comfortable with something so unknown; we strongly preferred a girl (for many reasons - I don't want to start up that controversy though), so China seemed like the most logical choice. Then we got caught up that whole slow-down mess; an online friend said her agency working in Vietnam had more babies than they could find families for, so it was an easy decision to switch. (We're still in China though - taking a wait and see attitude).

But I know a lot of families when they are starting to research it will attend informative meetings held by nearby adoption agencies to get a feel for what the options are.

Regarding finding the right agency - that is VERY important. I can't stress that enough. But it's hard to find good information out there b/c people are so afraid to speak out against their agency. In fact adoptive parents AND the owner of the message board have been sued by adoption agencies for badmouthing them (libel/slander?) But there are places where people are more willing to talk:

Agency Research - International
Agency Research - Domestic

Good luck!
posted by texas_blissful at 9:24 AM on August 1, 2008

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