Wednesday, August 24, 2011

...and we WAIT.

AGCI just made several referrals for infant girls, age 3 months-11 months.

I too am hoping our AWAA girl line will start moving along again soon - but we know that AWAA is a competent, ethical agency, and they are making sure to do their research beforehand so as only to refer out children who truly are adoption ready.

I know it's probably easier for me to say because we are at the very beginning of "the wait" ...but I hold fast to the knowledge that God has JUST THE RIGHT little girl in mind for each of the waiting families, and she will come into each of our lives in God's perfect timing.

We're hunkering down for a long wait. Ben (the hubby) and I were talking about the advantages of a longer wait yesterday evening, and for fun I thought I would share our little list:
-more time to raise funds
-more time to prepare our heart and home
-more time to pray for birth Mom
-more time to talk to other families and encourage them to pursue adoption (cuz remember, there ARE 5 million orphans in ET!)
-more time to practice doing corn rows on my friends' little girls' hair... I'll be GOOD at it by the time we bring our daughter home
-more time to learn how to cook injera and tibs
-more time to get healthier and into better shape so we will have the energy to run after our sweet girl!
-more time to paint adoption art for our home and the homes of other families
-more time to build that tree fort for our oldest son
-more time to pursue formula manufacturers and shoe retailers and other companies asking for donations for the orphanages (our dentist is going to supply us with a big box of tooth brushes and toothpaste!)

I know we are all hoping that the "more time" will turn into "less time" ... our arms and hearts all yearn to hold our sweet girls...but let's try to be positive.

What are YOU thankful about having 'more time' for while you wait?

~Dear Lord, please protect the joy in my heart, and grow us closer to you while we wait for our little girl. Please show us how to pray for her, and how to prepare our hearts and our home. Show us how to love and encourage others while they wait, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

International Adoption 101

A lot of people have been asking us if the fact that we have sent in our dossier means that we will be bringing our daughter home soon. I have to remind myself that most people have not spent hours pouring over adoption literature, and so are not familiar with the whole process.

To make the process a little bit more transparent and understandable, I decided to write a summary of the adoption process. I am writing specifically about adopting from Ethiopia, but the process is very similar for other countries, as well. In short, International Adoption 101:

1.) Finding an agency and deciding on a country program.
There are SO many different agencies and country programs. Research well - some agencies have different rules, different costs, different ethics... there is an adoption-agency-research yahoo group, and there are also a lot of other resources.

There are 2 approaches: Some families are in love with a certain country, and then search for an agency that has a program there. Other families will choose an agency first, and then choose one of that agency's programs.

In our case, we have some dear friends who have adopted, and who had a really positive experience with AWAA. We researched them, and requested their information package (as well as from another agency), and were very happy with how open and transparent they are. Of the country programs that AWAA offers, the Ethiopia program fit our family best.

2.) Fill out an initial application (sometimes called pre-application).
This is usually free, and is just to get a feel for whether you even qualify for the program you are interested in. Information you need to do this is you and your spouse's full name and birthday, last year's income, and maybe your basic religious affiliation if it is a Christian agency.

3.) Apply for a specific program within the adoption agency.
For this you will, again, need your vital statistics, your income info, info on how much $$ you currently have saved, and you will probably have to answer some questions about health, life style, how many children you have, religious affiliation, and give 3-5 references. There will be an application processing fee associated with this.

A note about savings: Don't be worried if you do not, at the time of application, have the money in the bank necessary to adopt. At this point they are more interested in seeing that you live within your means, and they may ask you about your plans for fund-raising, applying for grants, etc. - LOTS of families adopt without having all the money in the bank beforehand! The cost of adoption may look scary, but it's not all due at once, there ARE grants, and you will have about 2 years to fund-raise!

A few days after sending off your application and application fee, you will get a call, an eMail, a letter, or all three, from your agency. If you qualify (which you probably already know from taking the pre-application), they will congratulate you, and send you your contract. You will sign this, and send it in along with the initial program fee.

4.) Assignment of a family coordinator (for the dossier) and a social worker (for the home study).
AWAA has their own social worker do the home study in our state. Some agencies sub-contract, or even ask the family to find their own. Personally, I love that our social worker works exclusively for our adoption agency, so she knows all the specifics to our agency and our program.
A lot of the documents you have to collect for your dossier (more about what a dossier is in a bit) and your home study (I will explain this, too) are the same. Our social worker was ok with receiving copies of a lot of the documents we had to get for the dossier. Because of this, we were able to paper-chase for the dossier and the home study in parallel.

5.) Paperchasing. This usually takes between 3-6 months. Some families have finished in mere weeks, others take a year.

Dossier: This is the collection of original documents (you can see the list here) that is sent to Ethiopia (or whatever country you are adopting from). These documents will be the legal framework for your adoption. Your family coordinator will send you detailed instructions that are specific to your country program. If you are ever in doubt, always ask your family coordinator! That is their job, and they are happy to help.

Home Study: The same documents (or copies) as the dossier, to prove your identity, check your background, show your income and health. In addition your social worker will meet with you 3x (at least once in your home) to interview you (the parents) together and separately. You will be asked to write a biographical essay answering a specific set of questions. It will feel like you are being asked to bare all, but understand that this is being done to ensure the safety and happiness of your future child. Your social worker will also look at your home to make sure it is safe. This does NOT mean you have to disinfect every inch of your home - in fact, the social worker will be concerned if everything is spic and span because a child might feel like an intrusion into such order. Basically, make sure all the bedrooms have a smoke alarm, have a fire extinguisher, store cleaning supplies and medicine behind a locked door, and make sure knives and weapons are stored safely (ammunition and firing pins must be locked in a safe).

Remember that your social worker is ON YOUR SIDE. They want to help you bring home your son or daughter. It is their job to be nosy, but they are not out to get you! Be honest. Be yourself. And... RELAX!

In the course of your paper chase you will be asked to pay several more fees, to your agency, to your home study agency, to the USCIS, and possibly you will have to pre-pay your post adoption visits. Just make sure you get receipts and that costs are itemized. Our agency is very good about being open and transparent about costs. If your agency is being secretive, this may be a red flag. Don't be shy to ask questions.

Once your home study is finished, you will receive several copies of a home study summary from your social worker. You will send one copy to the USCIS (immigration), along with your I-600A application and some fees. Within 2-9 weeks you will have a biometrics appointment (aka be fingerprinted) at the nearest USCIS office. A while later (1 week for us) you will be sent the I-171H, which is the approved permission to adopt from another country.

6.) Send your dossier to your agency. You will probably have been asked to scan or fax all the documents before sending the originals so that your family coordinator can check everything and make sure all is as it should be. We had to request new proof of life insurance forms because our bank's notary's commission ran out too soon. Everything else looked good.

You will be asked to assemble multiple copies of your dossier, as well as the original. You will probably have to pay some more fees at this time, both program fees and the first installment of the international fee. Don't forget to include payment.

Take a deep breath.

Fed-Ex your dossier and copies to your agency, as instructed.

Your family coordinator will then overnight your dossier to the State Department for another level of authentication, as well as to the Ethiopian Embassy. Then they will send your dossier to Ethiopia via courier service. The date on which it is sent off by your agency is used to calculate your position in line waiting for your child. Our DTE date ("Dossier to Ethiopia") is 8/12/2011, even though we sent our dossier to our agency on August 1st. Once in Ethiopia, our dossier is translated into Amharric, and is presented to the Ethiopian government.

7.) Wait.

Rejoice in the fact that you no longer have to chase for documents.

And wait some more. According to our agency, the wait time for an infant girl is between 11-18 months counting from DTE.

Use this time well - you can organize fundraisers. You can read literature about adoption and bonding and attachment. You can learn more about the country you are adopting from. You can get connected with other adoptive families online or in your area. Pray for your child, and for his or her birth mother. Prepare your heart and your home for welcoming a new little blessing.

Wait some more.

Wait even more.

8.) Referral!
Right around the time when you think you can't stand waiting any longer, your family coordinator will inform you that you are among the top 10 on the wait list. This means you are "on deck" and could receive a referral call at any time in the next days/weeks/months. Referrals seem to come in clusters, probably due to the way paperwork is processed in Ethiopia.

When you receive THE call, your family coordinator will tell you they have a possible referral for you. They will tell you the gender and age, and the short version of medical and family history, and ask you if you are interested in finding out more. If you say yes, they will email you one or more pictures of the child, along with more detailed background info. You then have a few days to decide.
During this time you will think, pray, and probably meet with a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption medicine. You will probably look at the referral picture about ever 2 minutes, and I doubt you will be able to sleep.

The hardest part at this point is that you are not allowed to show anyone the picture! Literally only you and your spouse are allowed to see it. The child's identity must be protected, and showing others the picture can actually jeopardize your adoption!

9.) Referral acceptance.
As soon as you make the decision to accept the referral, you let your family coordinator know, and you sign a formal acceptance form. You will probably have to pay the second installment of the international fee at this point.

Your acceptance paperwork will then be processed in Ethiopia, and you wait for a court date.

Depending on how long you wait for a court date (currently about 8-12 weeks) you will receive monthly updates about your little one, including pictures, development and health info. Depending on your agency, you may be able to send care packages.

10.) Travel to Ethiopia for your court date!
At this time you also get to meet your son or daughter... and you will go to court to formally adopt your child within the Ethiopian legal system.

If you pass court, your child is given your last name, and you may now show your friends and family some pictures.

Many families don't pass court the first time around. This may be due to the missing MOWCYA letter (the Ethiopian Ministry of Women's Children's and Youth Affairs has to write a letter of recommendation, and is sometimes back-logged), or maybe the judge asks for additional documentation about the child. If this happens, the parents don't have to go to court again... they travel back home as planned, and the agency will use their power of attorney and go back to court for you. In some cases, a new court appointment isn't necessary, and the judge will sign off on the paperwork as soon as the MOWCYA letter arrives.

It is very difficult to leave your child in Ethiopia while her papers are being processed... but in most cases, she will be in an agency transition home, where she will be loved and cared for by wonderful nannies.

While waiting to pass court, a lot of families will post cute pictures of their child's hands or feet on their blog... since they have met and held their child, but still are not allowed to share pictures!

Once the family passes court, the adoption paperwork is forwarded to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa for processing. This can take anywhere between 2 and 12 weeks.

Also, once your family has passed court, you will be allowed to show pictures of your child, and depending on your agency's rules, may be able to sign a photo release form to have other families who travel to Ethiopia take pictures of your child.

While in Ethiopia for court appointment, there may be some opportunities to do some tourist-y things such as see sights, visit the birth village of your child, go shopping for souvenirs, eat local foods etc. - this may be different depending on your agency.

11.) Embassy appointment.
Once you are "cleared for Embassy" you will be given an Embassy appointment. This sometimes happens VERY short notice - one family in our agency was recently told ON FRIDAY that they needed to fly to Ethiopia ON MONDAY to appear at their Embassy appointment on Wednesday. They were able to book a flight and fly fly fly to their sweet baby.

On your Embassy appointment you appear with your baby, fill out some paperwork, possibly see an Embassy doctor, and then are cleared for travel. At this point you get to keep your little one with you at the guest house!

Then you fly fly fly home... and when you land in the US, your little one becomes an American citizen (there are some exceptions).

12.) Post placement visits and reports.
The Ethiopian government requires a series of post-placement visits by your social worker to ensure good attachment and health of your little one. Your social worker is also a wonderful resource for advice if you are facing some challenges. You will most likely have pre-paid for these visits when you completed your Home Study.
Several post-placement reports will need to be submitted to the Ethiopian government at set dates, up until your child is 18 years old. This is a measure to ensure that your child is being treated well and is thriving.

13.) Optional so-called Re-adoption in the US legal system.
As the title of this step indicates, this step is optional... but it IS recommended.

You have the option to appear before an American judge and to adopt your child within the US legal system. They are already considered your child after adopting them within the Ethiopian legal system. However, at this time you can make any name changes you wish to make, and your child's birth certificate is re-written with YOU as the parents. This can help ensure they are covered by inheritance law (if there are siblings), and is another layer of security for you and your family.
If age discrepancies have been found (the age of many orphans are estimates), the birth date may be adjusted at this point, according to a doctor's recommendations. This may be useful in terms of school later.

So that's all, folks. From start to finish, we expect our adoption to take between 20 and 30 months. I am hoping it will be on the short end, but we are hunkering down for a long wait, keeping in mind the possibility of the pleasant surprise of it taking less time.

~Don't be afraid of long wait times or high costs. God provides. If HE has given you a heart for adoption, HE will open the right doors at the right time!

Feel free to ask me questions, if you have any!

Monday, August 1, 2011

We FedExed our Dossier to AWAA today!

Today was a big day for us - we sent off our dossier to our adoption agency AWAA!

This means that after checking all our documents (they have already seen scans of them, and have approved them) our family coordinator will send everything off to Ethiopia via courier service. Here our documents and letters will be translated into Amharric, and we will officially be placed on the waiting list to adopt an infant girl.

The documents had to be placed in a certain sequence, so I spread out and sorted everything on our living room floor last night.

These are the papers that we had to collect for our dossier, in sequence:
-Family photo pages
-copies of our passports
-Power of Attorney (Notarized and certified by the Secretary of State)
-Dossier Cover Sheet (Notarized and certified by the Secretary of State)
-Application letter addressed to MOWCYA (Ministry of Women's Children's and Youth Affairs in Ethiopia), notarized
-Original birth certificates for Ben and me
-Original Marriage license
-Physical Exam forms and Doctor's letters for both parents (notarized)
-Proof of medical insurance for us, including notarized copies of our insurance cards and a letter stating that our daughter will be fully covered (notarized)
-Proof of life insurance for both parents (notarized)
-Employment letter for Ben (notarized)
-Letter of voluntary non-employment for me (notarized)
-Home Study documents (notarized)
-3 Letters of Reference (notarized)
-Notarized police reports for both parents
-USICS Approval I-171H (Notarized copy of original)
-Agency Recommendation (will be added by our family coordinator when she receives our packet)
-Agency post placement commitment (notarized)
-2 sets of passport photos for each
-Hague Adoption Training certificates for both parents

In addition we had to send a check for the next installment of fees. You can keep track of how much we have paid on the thermometer in the righthand side bar.

Here are 2 copies of our dossier, and the original. Ready to go.

To make it special, and to keep the papers from bumping around in the FedEx box too much I wrapped our dossier in this baby-printed tissue paper...

Mark and Sean both caught on to the excitement of sending off our dossier!

Collecting all those documents was hard work, it took us 3.5 months to get everything together. If it hadn't been for the USCIS wait we would have been done 1.5 months ago, but since they say that the paper chase takes between 3 and 6 months, we can't really complain about our timeline!

We will be given a "DTE" date shortly (Dossier To Ethiopia).

...and now we WAIT!