Congratulations! The wait is over; all the planning has paid off; and you’re ready to start your new life together as a “forever family.” Now, there’s a whole new set of paperwork and considerations to address!
Your adoption placement agency can help. Many agencies do offer post-adoption services, and you’d be wise to take advantage of those.
Here’s a look at some of the initial to-do’s, along with links to more information on these:
The transition: Do take your time about integrating your family into the world. Both parent and child face adjustments. “Imagine the challenges for children who, in a few days or months, find themselves separated from everything that was normal and living in a new country with unfamiliar customs, food, and language. It can be overwhelming,” says “Intercountry Adoption from A to Z,” a guide available online from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (www.adoption.state.gov.)
“In the first few days,” it adds, “you’ll probably want to focus quality time on getting to know your child and establishing a home culture that will restore stability in your child’s life. It may be good to take your time when introducing your child to family, friends, and your community. You have many years ahead of you to explore the world together.”
Medical evaluation: Do move fairly quickly to have your child evaluated by your pediatrician and/or an international adoption clinic. It’s important to have an adoption-competent doctor do this evaluation. He or she will be able to interpret often incomplete or misleading medical records from your child’s birth country, will understand the growth and other expectations for a child who has been institutionalized (as most from FRUA countries have been), and can recommend specialists who can help with any issues identified in the evaluation.
Health insurance: Check your health insurance policy to see when you need to add your child to the policy. Many specify that adopted children must be added within a certain period of time, often a relatively short time after adoption.
Early intervention program and other services: Find out what’s available to your child, and ask the medical professionals evaluating your child to assess the need for services to help your child overcome developmental delays or physical, behavioral, language, or other problems stemming from institutionalization, deficient prenatal care, or environmental issues. Your pediatrician or an international adoption clinic should be able to tell you. States typically offer early intervention services through school districts, hospitals, or other providers. The sooner you can start to address these challenges, the better off your child will be.
Post-placement reporting: Comply with birth country rules requiring regular reports on your child’s progress after the adoption. Reporting requirements differ by country. Be sure that you understand from your adoption placement agency what those requirements are, and cooperate with them. “Post-adoption or post-placement reports are designed to track the child’s development and progress in adjusting to a new family and life in a new country,” says the State Department in its “A to Z” guide. “They also provide assurance to officials in the country of origin that children, for whom they may have a legal responsibility, are receiving appropriate care and protection.”
Adds the State Department: “The failure to submit these reports has had a negative impact on other Americans seeking to adopt.”
Adoption or re-adoption: Some countries allow full, final adoptions of children, but others instead grant adoptive parents legal guardianship, which permits the child to leave but requires final adoption proceedings here in the United States. “Once back in the United States, it is important to finalize the adoption as soon as possible so that your child is eligible for U.S. citizenship,” says the State Department’s “A to Z” guide. “Not completing the adoption and the requirements for U.S. citizenship can negatively impact many areas of his/her future life, including family travel, eligibility for education scholarships and grants, employment, and voting,” it notes. “In some cases, your child might actually be subject to possible deportation.”
If you were granted full, final adoption of your child in his/her birth country, should you re-adopt? Some adoption legal experts say yes to ensure your child’s future rights in inheritance and other cases. In some states, re-adoption is required to get a certified birth certificate, which will be a huge help in the future with school enrollment, marriage, and other issues mentioned above. In some cases, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may require re-adoption, and some states will not recognize the foreign adoption decree as final -- if, for instance, one or both parents did not see the child before the immigrant visa was issued for travel to the United States. Take the time to carefully research the legal custody issues in your child’s birth country, your state’s requirements, and the requirements of USCIS.
If you either must re-adopt, or want to re-adopt, talk to your placement agency and other parents in your state about the process. Some states will allow you to represent yourselves in court, potentially reducing the legal expenses involved.
Citizenship: It’s important that you see to it your child becomes a U.S. citizen. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 makes the citizenship process easier and eliminates extra costs. Under the Act, children adopted abroad can automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if: at least one parent of the child is a U.S. citizen; the child is under the age of 18; the child is admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence; and the adoption is final. Because of the Act, many parents are no longer required to make a separate application for their children to be naturalized. If your adoption doesn’t meet these requirements, though, acquiring citizenship for your child will require an additional process and additional fees. Check with the USCIS, your adoption placement agency, and/or an adoption or immigration attorney to determine your child’s status. Don’t jeopardize his/her future scholarships, voting, and work and other opportunities by overlooking this key step.
Social Security Number: You will want to get one for your child, in the near term so that you can claim your child as a deduction on your tax returns and down the road for the child’s sake. You can check with the U.S. government’s Social Security Administration for the requirements, which will include proof of citizenship.
Wills: Particularly in the early days, when your adoption may or may not be final but, in any case, is very new, make sure your wishes concerning your child’s inheritance and legal guardians are clear. Update your will, or make one if you don’t already have one.
Passport: Particularly if you intend to travel out of the country, you will want to move quickly to get a U.S. passport for your child. In the event of problems during travel, your child will clearly be recognized as a U.S. citizen and given help and support by the U.S. embassy or consulate if the need arises. You will need proof of citizenship or naturalization.
Adoption issues: Adopted children can struggle with a variety of challenges as they mature. These include dealing with loss and the grief of never knowing or being separated from birth parents and/or siblings, and bonding, attachment, and identity issues. Some children are able to make the key transitions in childhood with a little help from understanding families. Others need some counseling at one stage or another, and still others struggle a lot, with corresponding effects on parents and siblings. Read adoption literature, attend seminars and conferences, and talk to others in adoption support groups about what to expect as your child grows. If you know the signs, you can help your child or get help.
Other issues in children adopted from institutions and/or from traumatic backgrounds: The adoption community and related specialists have done extensive research and developed reams of information on language acquisition, developmental delays, learning differences, behavioral issues, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and other challenges that some of these children can face. Educate yourself; don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will never happen with your child. If you know the expectations, the signs, and where to go for help, you can get your child the help he/she needs sooner rather than later. Be a prepared parent.
Your own well-being: Experience has shown that adoptive parents can develop post-adoption depression, just as a birth parent can after the birth of a child. Try to be sensitive to your feelings, and your partner’s, and don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell your pediatrician, your own physician, a relative, a friend, or another adoptive parent about any feelings that concern you. There is help out there. The sooner you get it, the sooner you will start to feel better, bond with your child, and begin to enjoy your new life together as a “forever family.”
In the end, the advice that applies to the pre-adoption waiting period applies to the post-adoption adjustment: Learn everything you can about what’s required, what’s likely, and what’s possible; get support through groups like FRUA, other adoptive families in your community, or families you meet through your adoption agency; and be willing to ask for and accept help.Good luck!
To give you a sense of the vast store of information about post-adoption issues, here are several sources for further information. FRUA doesn’t endorse these resources but offers them as examples of what is available to you. Take some time, talk to others, and browse the internet, your local library, or a bookstore for additional resources.