I’ve been asked this question a few times, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain a bit about the process of international adoption. The general flow of this is probably consistent with lots of different countries, but things can vary quite a bit. What I’ll explain is what we’ll be doing with Justin’s country, affectionately referred to as “Eastern Europe” or simply as “EE” as well as with Reece’s Rainbow, “RR”. Reece’s Rainbow isn’t a typical element in international adoption, but they are definitely playing a role in ours.
Our first step after deciding we wanted to adopt Justin was to contact Reece’s Rainbow and commit to him through their organization. They are a non-profit that helps place children with special needs and seeks to help families alleviate the financial obstacles to international adoption. Since Justin’s country does not allow private adoption agencies, we have to work directly with his government. To do this, we utilize one of Reece’s Rainbow’s facilitators who will basically be a life saver while we are in country-arranging housing, chasing papers, coordinating transportation, and translating EVERYTHING for us. Our commitment through RR does not give us any legal claim to Justin. His country doesn’t know that we intend to adopt him yet. Until we travel and accept his referral and start the legal process, we will have no official “claim” to him, and will receive no further information about him. Normally, when people adopt from this country, they do not have any specific child in mind. Our case is different because of Justin’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
Currently, we are working on our international homestudy and we have our social worker coming to our house this week! This step is moving quickly for us since we already had a recent domestic homestudy in order. We are also working on gathering other documents that will need to be sent to Justin’s country, such as proof of home ownership, state police clearance, tax return, and medical forms. We send all of these to our stateside helper with RR so she can tell us if we need to redo anything.
Tomorrow, we are planning on getting a bunch of forms notarized in the morning and then I (with my little man, Ben) will hopefully make a quick drive up to the Secretary of State’s office in Helena to have all of those documents further authenticated (also called apostilled, which basically is just the state saying that the notary is valid). Then I’ll ship those off to our facilitator in EE. When our homestudy is complete, which should happen before the end of the month, we’ll notarize and apostille that, and ship that overseas as well.
Another copy of our homestudy will go to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) along with an Advanced Petition for Orphan Adoption form. Once they receive those, they’ll schedule a federal fingerprinting for us in Helena and once that is done, they can start to process our request to adopt Justin. Once they have all 3 pieces, it’ll probably be 6-8 weeks for them to approve our petition and send us the coveted I-171H form.
We get the I-171H, put it together with a third copy of our homestudy, along with maybe 50 other forms we have to gather. This stack of papers is called a “dossier.” Every single thing has to be notarized, then I’ll make another trip to the capitol and have every single item apostilled (I could mail them, but we’re trying to move quickly and doing it in person is faster). Then, the dossier should be ready to be sent to the facilitator in EE!
Our facilitator will translate every doc and then submit our dossier to the government. They are usually pretty fast (maybe this would take a couple of days). From what I’m seeing with other families, I think it’ll take Justin’s country a couple of weeks after receiving our dossier to issue us a court date. My guess is that we’ll be traveling to Justin’s country approximately 6 weeks after submission of our dossier, but all of that could change.
Our first trip is when we will receive Justin’s referral and get to meet him! Then we will have a court date in his region and a judge will decide if we are allowed to adopt him. They will probably ask us some questions as to why we want to adopt him, especially with his diagnoses (I had to just look up the plural of diagnosis…so that isn’t a typo!) While we are there, we’ll hopefully get to visit Justin once or twice a day in his orphanage for a few hours. And then in our spare time, we’ll apply for a new birth certificate and passport for him. We also hope to get to do a little visiting in his country and get him some items to connect him to his heritage.
If we are approved to adopt him, there is a 10 day waiting period to allow someone to contest the adoption. It is possible for this to be waived, but it is unlikely. We will decide whether we should both come home or if one of us should stay during the wait. We have no idea what we will do, but fortunately/unfortunately we have time to figure it out. Only one of us needs to come for the second trip (or stay for the second half of the one long trip). Once the 10 day wait is over, we can pick up Justin and head to the capitol where we’ll have an apartment, get him to a doctor to check up on him and get his passport. Then we’d get to head home where the fun really begins!
So, I could have some of that wrong, since I’m still navigating all of it myself, but this is how I understand it right now. I hope it answers some questions! Quite the process, but it’ll be worth it to have this Mother’s Day be Justin’s last one without a mother.