Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Ethiopian Adoption Process

Another question I am asked frequently is about the adoption process itself, what is entails and why it takes so long.  While the process may vary in specific details and requirements, there is an overall sequence of events that most adoptions have in common.  The two most common types of adoption are domestic (adopting a child from one's home country) and international (adopting a child from a country other than one's own).  Since we are adopting internationally, and specifically from Ethiopia, I will document that process and try to explain what is required at each step along the way.  I will also include our personal time line in order to bring the process to life.
  1. Research adoption and consider all options that may work for you.  Be sure to be realistic and honest with yourself in acknowledging your family structure, home,  and resources.  Make a list of the pros and cons of each option.  Contact various adoption agencies, attend information seminars, and READ, READ, READ!  We prayed over this part of our journey from 2005 until 2009, approximately 4 years.
  2. Apply with the adoption agency of your choice.  (Note:  There is sometimes the option to do an independent adoption.  This is where you work to adopt a child yourself, without the use of an adoption agency.)  We applied and were accepted to American World Adoption Agency's Ethiopia program in August 2009.
  3. Read over the requirements and begin the "paperchase".  For international adoptions, there are two main categories that you will need to gather information for: (1) The Home Study and (2) The Dossier, pronounced Doss-E-A.  Our entire paperchase, including Home Study and Dossier took about 7 months.  The average amount of time needed to complete this part is 6 to 12 months.
    • Home Study:  At first look, the most daunting part of the home study might seem like the numerous visits the Social Worker pays to your residence.  However, that is actually the fun part.  The Social Worker does not care if your house is in pristine condition with everything neatly organized, and certainly does not conduct a "white glove test".  Rather, he/she is there to help guide prospective adoptive families on this journey, to help them learn more about themselves and their household, and to help educate and prepare them for life as adoptive parents.  We thoroughly enjoyed these visits and learned a great deal about our motivation to adopt through them.  The arduous part of the home study process was the amount paperwork and background checks required BEFORE the Social Worker could even come for the first visit. From background clearances to autobiographies to government issued documents, the amount of paperwork involved in the home study is enough to make your head spin.  (Please keep in mind that home study requirements vary by state, adoption agency, and the type of adoption you are pursuing.)  Our Home Study process, to include document collection, visits and receiving the approved report took approximately 3 months.
    • Dossier:  A dossier is a collection of documents needed to legally process adoptions in countries other than one's own.  Think of this step as going to the DMV with two cranky toddlers multiplied in intensity by 100!  When compiling your dossier be sure to follow the rules exactly as they are given by your adoption agency.  Oh, and just like dealing with any government agency, the rules are subject to change at any time, with our without your knowledge.  Most documents in the dossier need to be original, less than one year old, and notarized.  Some need to be state certified or authenticated.
  4. Submit an I600-A (petition for orphan) application and all scheduled payments to USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services).  After the application is received and processed, you will receive a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment.  Once approved,  you will receive a I171H in the mail stating that you are approved to adopt a child of specified age and gender, from specified country.  We mailed our application packet and fees to USCIS in early December 2009 and received approval in March 2010.  The I171H is usually the final document needed for adoptive families to complete their dossier.
  5. Submit completed dossier to adoption agency and begin the "wait".  The current wait time for a little girl in our age range is 8-11 months.  Our dossier was sent to Ethiopia on March 18, 2010.
  6. Receive referral phone call from adoption agency.  This phone call is the much anticipated part of the journey as it is the day we will see a photo of our little girl for the first time and also be able to find out more about her history.  We received our referral in August 2010!  This was one of the happiest days of our lives. 
  7. Accept referral.  We accepted our referral in August 2010
  8. Travel to Ethiopia to attend a court hearing and declare our intent to parent our daughter.  If we pass court, she will legally become our daughter.  At this time, we will be allowed to share photos of our precious angel.  After one week spent in country, we will sadly have to travel home without her as the US Embassy conducts a background investigation and issues her birth certificate.  4 to 8 weeks after receiving and accepting our referral we will travel to Addis Ababa, ET for our scheduled court date.
  9. Travel back to Ethiopia.  Approximately 4-12 weeks after the first trip, we will travel back to Ethiopia to BRING OUR DAUGHTER HOME.  The time in between visits is needed by the US government to conduct their investigations.  They cannot do so until the US adoptive family passes court and become the legal parents.
  10. Bring our daughter home.  As part of the new Ethiopian adoption process (effective May 2010), our daughter will be issued an IR-3 Visa and automatically become a US citizen when she steps foot off of the plane on US soil.
  11. Complete post-placement home study visits and reports.  These reports are completed at 3, 6, and 12 months post placement and sent back to Ethiopia.
  12. Do it again?!?!  :-)
While it is true that most adoptions take longer than the gestational period of an elephant (nearly 2 years), the way God works during this process and the wait is amazing.  We continue to connect with other adoptive families that share invaluable insight and advice, our love for the Lord and His orphan's continues to grow and deepen, we have time to prepare our home and hearts for our daughter, and God teaches us the importance of patience and being still.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Because I know who is leading and directing our adoption, I am able to rest and know that just as God is preparing our hearts for her, He is also working in her heart to prepare our worlds to join.  We serve an amazing and wonderful God!

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