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Agency-Initiated or Parent-Initiated Adoption?

By Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen

There are two major types of legal foreign adoptions: agency-initiated adoptions and parent-initiated adoptions (also known as direct or independent adoptions).

In an agency-initiated foreign adoption, prospective parents work with a U.S.-based international adoption agency, which handles paperwork and communications and assigns a child to a client through a child-placing agreement or contract with a foreign source. This is the most common type of international adoption. Upon the assignment of a child, the foreign child-placing entity sends the U.S.-based agency copies of the mother's release or the decree of abandonment and the child's birth certificate. The U.S. agency, in turn, presents these documents to the adoptive parents. In addition, the foreign source will send medical and biographical information and a picture and/or video of the child for the U.S. agency to share with you. Once the adoptive parents have accepted the referral, the U.S. agency coordinates their adoption trip. The agency and its bilingual representatives take responsibility for assisting you with the child, your lodging, and obtaining the final adoption decree and the child's passport and exit visas. They will also provide the documents required for the orphan visa by the American Consulate. (A more detailed description of the different types of agency-initiated adoptions is given in Chapter 7.)

Parents do not have to travel to some countries. For example, Korea arranges proxy adoptions and allows for escorts to bring the child to you. The U.S. adoption agency is the guardian of the child until you adopt about six months later. Guatemala also permits adoption by proxy; when the final decree is issued, the child can be brought to you.

This type of escort service has a down side. The most obvious problem is that the child becomes a part of your family sight unseen. Parents usually have very little idea about the behavior of these children until they are in their new home. The other problem with escorting is that it takes longer to arrange than it would if you traveled there yourself, and it is not substantially cheaper.

In a parent-initiated adoption (also known as an independent or direct adoption), prospective parents obtain a home study from a licensed adoption agency or social worker. After this point, they are on their own as far as filing with the INS and preparing a dossier of documents for the court abroad. The adoptive parents are solely responsible for selecting and securing a foreign lawyer or agency who will, in turn, refer a child to them.

The foreign agency, government staff, or lawyer arranges for the adoption hearing in court and tells the adoptive parents when to take their adoption trip. After that, the parents are again on their own. They must take full responsibility for the child as well as obtaining the proper documentation for the child’s adoption, passport, and orphan visa.

While independent international adoptions are certainly possible, the risks are much higher than in agency adoptions, which are regulated by the state. In addition, many foreign countries do not allow independent adoptions. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, the risks of an independent adoption include involvement in the black market; loss of confidentiality; infringements upon the child's privacy; inadequate medical information; the possibility of outright fraud; and the lack of proper documentation of the child's status as an orphan.

The safest way to adopt a foreign child is to involve a licensed adoption agency or social worker (if individually licensed) in your state of residence and adopt the child through an international adoption agency or public welfare department abroad.

Over the years, we have heard of many sad cases in which a missionary or foreign lawyer, rather than an international agency abroad, assigned a couple a child but was unable to obtain the birth documents needed for a legal international adoption. The prospective adoptive parents send money overseas for years in the hope that the child can be legally freed for adoption. We usually meet them when they have given up hope and want to start over with an agency-initiated adoption.

Book review | Author interview

How to Adopt on AmazonJean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen are the authors of How to Adopt Internationally, a hands-on book loaded with practical information for families who seek to complete an international adoption. The Erichsens are the founders of the Los Ninos International Adoption Center in Texas and the parents of four children adopted from South America.

Copyright ©2000 by Mesa House Publishing. All rights reserved.  This article was originally published in How to Adopt Internationally, by Jean Nelson Erishson and Heino R. Erichsen. Used by permission of the publisher.
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