Saturday, February 28, 2015

Adoption 101: The Process

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 20

If you are an adoptive family or are familiar with the process this will be old news to you and you might just want to come back on Monday. I have had a lot of people ask about what the process to adopt is and also ask why it all takes so long when I say that we may not bring our daughter home until 2016. I thought I would try to explain exactly what is involved in the adoption process. I will use the process for China because that is the one I am currently familiar with, other countries will have a different process though the homestudy and immigration steps will be the same. I will also add a '$' after each step which involves writing a check.

Here we go...

Step 1: Decide to adopt. A family will either find a child first on a waiting child list or they will sign on with an agency  and wait to be matched with a child. Because we started with an identified child, I will explain that process.

Step 2: Find a placement agency ($). This is the agency who is responsible for communication with China and who provides guides in country to complete the adoption. It is very important that this agency be chosen carefully. (Adoption ethics - Finding an agency)

Step 3: Submit your Letter of Intent to China (LOI) ($). This is the letter which asks China (specifically the CCCWA which is the government department in charge if adoptions) for permission to adopt a specific child. Along with a letter, there are financial statements and proof of the parents ability to care for a child which need to be submitted.

Step 4: Receive Pre-Approval from CCCWA (PA). This is the letter giving the parents provisional approval to adopt a specific child. With PA the parents then need to submit a completed dossier to the CCCWA within 6 months. The dossier is the collections of official documents which show a family's ability to be good and able parents. The wait from LOI to PA can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. We received PA for Tina very quickly.

Step 5: Find a homestudy agency ($) and complete the homestudy ($). The homestudy agency may or may not be the same as the placement agency; it depends on the states you and the placement agency are in. The homestudy is a document required of every family who wishes to adopt regardless of the type of adoption. A homestudy will consist of the following: multiple visits to your home and interviews with a licensed social worker; interviews of each of the children in the home; copies of financial statements (tax returns, savings accounts, checking accounts, retirement, life insurance), statement about water quality, employer letters, health reports on every person and animal in the family, letters of references from family and friends, birth certificates, marriage licenses, 12 hours of adoption training (or four hours per additional adoption), FBI fingerprinting of everyone 18 and older ($), and state child abuse clearances for every state everyone 14 and older have lived in from the age of 18 on. (This is the step which is currently hanging us up. We are now on week 9 of waiting for IL to run our child abuse clearances... can't complete the hoemstudy without them.)

The social worker takes all this information and compiles it into a document and determines if the family is approved for adoption. The homestudy will also include a statement from the social worker stating the number of children, age, sex, and special need the family is approved to adopt. In most states the homestudy is now complete. In a handful (including IL), the homestudy then goes to the state to be approved. You know my opinion on that by now, I'm sure.

The homestudy process can take anywhere from an extremely fast couple of weeks to many months depending on the speed of the family collecting documents, the speed of the social worker writing the study, and the various approval processes. We completed everything but the clearances in one month.

Step 6: With the homestudy completed the family now begins the immigration process for the child. The first step is to submit the preliminary application (I800A) to US immigration (USCIS) ($), the first step in the visa process. The I800A consists of a lengthy application which must have various documents attached... birth certificates, marriage licenses, and the homestudy (there may be more) and a hefty check to pay for fingerprinting.

Step 7: Wait for the fingerprinting appointment and then be fingerprinted again. If you are paying attention you will see that this is the second fingerprinting which has happened in the process. This is because government agencies don't play well with others and do not share fingerprints. So the FBI gets one set and USCIS gets another. Even better is this double fingerprinting happens every single time you adopt. Because fingerprints change, you know. (Where's that sarcastic emoticon?)

Step 8: Compile dossier while you wait for provisional immigration approval. The dossier includes an approved homestudy, birth certificates, marriage licenses, financial statement, employer letters, letters of recommendation, police clearance letters, and medical reports, as well as a set of family photos.

Step 9: Receive provisional immigration approval from USCIS. This is the final document to be included in the dossier. USCIS approval can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks assuming they do not ask for any additional information.

Step 10: Certify and authenticate the dossier. Certification involves taking the notarized documents to the Secretary of State's office so they can certify the notary ($). If a document was generated in another state, it will need to be mailed to that state for certification. Some states required a county certification before the state certification can be added. Once the dossier is certified, it must be authenticated by the Chinese Consulate ($). There are several consulates around the country and each authenticate documents generated in certain state. It is possible you will need to use multiple consulates, usually paying couriers to carry the papers. Depending on a variety of factors this step can take one to two weeks.

Step 11: Overnight dossier to agency for review ($). After spending so much time and money on this stack of papers you do not want it to missing. The agency reviews it and puts it in order. If everything is fine it will then be sent to China. This step is commonly referred to as DTC, or Dossier to China. This step can take up to two weeks.

Step 12: The dossier is reviewed and the logged-in to the CCCWA's system and you are given a log-in date. From being DTC to having your dossier logged-in can also take one to two weeks.

Step 13: Receive Letter of Acceptance from the CCCWA (LOA). This is the official permission granted to a family from China to adopt a specific child. Current waits for receiving LOA (counting from the log-in date) are running anywhere from 70 to 90 days.

Step 14: Apply for immigration permission to bring a specific child into the country by filing the I800 application with USCIS. This application includes information on your specific child with details of their orphan status. It is this step where the US government determines that the child fits the criteria of the US Government to be classified as an orphan. Once granted, this is the first part of the child obtaining their US visa. Currently this step is taking anywhere from 11 to 36 days. Amazingly this step requires no money.

Step 15: Now the rest of this visa-stuff is a little complicated and full of acronyms and time frames which really only matter to the families who are waiting. What you need to know is that the National Visa Center communicates with the CCCWA and send important papers and emails back and forth which all result in the family getting closer to travel. All of this back and forth business takes about a month.

Step 16: CCCWA issues an invitation to the family to travel to China to adopt their child. (TA). But don't buy plane tickets yet, there is still one more step. The placement agency then needs to make a consulate appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou. With this date, the agency works backwards and arranges the adoption date and the family can now buy plane tickets ($). Getting a consulate appointment can take a day or two. Once the family can begin to make travel arrangements, they will probably travel within one to two weeks with all arrangements being made within that time.

Step 17: Travel. Some families choose to go a couple of days early, do some sightseeing and get over their jet lag. Some agencies plan orientation days in those days before as well. For the actual adoption, the first item on the itinerary is the child's province. This is where the family meets the child, pays the orphanage donation ($) if it wasn't wired ahead of time, and completes more paperwork. Some families will need to also travel to the child's hometown to complete the child's visa. From the province everyone then has to make their way to Guangzhou where the US Consulate is. More paperwork is done as well as the visa physical and the consulate appointment. Usually about 24 hours after all this is done, the visa is issued an the family is free to leave to go home. The time spent in country is usually two weeks. If a family is adopting more than one child and those children are in different provinces, the time spent will be close to three.

Also, sometime between LOA and travel (depending on which consulate you use), Chinese visas ($) will also have to be applied for. This doesn't really have an significance to the time frame, but it is yet one more set of forms to complete, money to pay, and something to stress about.

Step 18: You would think that is all, huh? Well, after a family is home, the paperwork continues. China and each state require a certain number of post-placement reports ($) on the child. In China's case, we are required to submit reports for the first five years the child is home. Families will also want to apply for a US birth certificate  or Certificate of Foreign Birth for their child ($). Social Security numbers also need to be applied for. This can be dragged out for a long time... I still need to get H.'s US birth certificate, but somehow just never seem to have $1000 (thank you IL) just lying around. We'll probably do H. and Tina at the same time.

Step 19: Buy a fireproof safe to keep all the documents in and every few months panic that you've lost them and compulsively check their presence.... or is that just me?

So does everyone have all that? Crystal clear and very straight forward with absolutely no redundancy, right?


Tanya said...

I'm so grateful for this post! Thank you! We just started looking into adopting.

c smith said...

Very informative! I'm curious about what happens if you don't complete the post-placement reports, they can't very well take back your child, can they? Say you moved to a different state, is there an agency that would even go to the effort to track you down?

thecurryseven said...

In response to the question about compliance. There are a couple of different reasons why a family would comply with the post-placement reports, and yes, you're correct that your child is yours and no once will remove him because of this. (Please read my tone and informative if I'm sounding a bit terse.)

1. Because the parent signs a paper agreeing to send reports.
2. Placement agencies require a $1000 or more deposit before the adoption is completed to ensure their submission. At the end of five years, if all your post-placement reports have been submitted, you will get a hefty chunk of change back.
3. If you ever want to adopt again, you had better submitted the reports on your current children.
4. Parents who don't comply threaten the state of adoptions from that country. Sovereign governments do not have to agree to adoption. If they feel that parents are disregarding what they have set out as being important, they don't have to continue allowing children to leave their country.

Yes, they are a pain and for the ones requiring a social worker to write them, expensive. I was so happy when Vietnam changed their requirements and we no longer had to submit annual reports to the age of 18. But it is part of the deal and you accept it along with all the other bothersome paperwork... because you love your child.


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