Although a home study by an adoption agency is mandatory when adopting internationally, some families choose to do some of the legwork of actually finding a child themselves. I think that this is an extremely risky proposition, especially with implementation of the Hague Convention adoption requirements, which can be quite complex. Agencies understand what needs to be done, but few individuals can wade their way through the morass of rules and regulations. Except in very rare cases, it's best to leave it up to the experts.
When an agency does find a potential child for you, obtain as much background information as you can. Here are some questions to ask:
- How much time has the child spent in the orphanage? (The longer, the worse.)
- What is the child's birth history, including birth weight, head size, length of pregnancy, and any birth complications?
- How has the child's development been, particularly speech and language? Does the child hear? See? Does she interact with other children and the caregivers?
- How does the child compare to other children of the same age?
- Does the child have any medical problems or allergies? Has she had any surgeries or been on any medications? Has there been any history of hospitalization?
- Is a videotape of the child available? Can you receive this tape along with medical records?
- Why is the child available for adoption? Were the parental rights terminated voluntarily or involuntarily?
- Is there any history of mental illness or physical illness in family members?
- Does the child have any siblings? If so, where are they?
If you're adopting a baby internationally, bring diapers and baby bottles when you go to pick him or her up. If possible, find out the child's weight and height ahead of time and bring along clothes as well. For infants and smaller children, a Snugli carrier is helpful for carrying the child around, while also enabling the child to be close to you and helping you both develop a closer bond.
When a child is assigned to you, contact the State Department to request a visa for the child. Of course, you should have your own passport ready as well. Don't wait until the last minute to apply for your passport!
Whenever possible, travel with other couples or singles who are also adopting. You may find each other's help invaluable! Also, contact other couples who have traveled recently. Find out whether there are any travel services they used that were particularly helpful—or that should be avoided. Get the latest information you can find.
Before you leave, be sure to find out whether any shots are a good idea. Often you may need injections for tetanus and hepatitis A and B. You might also need shots for cholera or other diseases. Anyone who accompanies you should be injected as well; for example, excited grandparents who will be traveling with you should definitely get their shots, too. Other household members should consider being immunized for hepatitis B, in case the child turns out to be a hepatitis carrier. (Hepatitis is contagious by blood and body fluids.)
Bring any medications you need and bring at least an extra week's supply in case you are delayed. Be sure to bring clothes for the child, and if she's an infant or toddler, bring bottles and diapers!