A year ago, at the end of May, Big Papa and I started our adoption journey. I suppose the exact anniversary date is a bit hazy. It’s a bit like trying to pin down when a romantic relationship started. First date? First kiss? Everyone seems to have their own unique way to define when “it” all began.
I find that most everyone is amazed by how long international adoption takes and how much sweat equity is involved. When I’ve shared the news that we’re adopting people are incredulous when, some months later, they ask if we’re close to getting a kiddo and I tell them the blessed event could still be a year out.
We’re now at the stage where our dossier is in Armenia, translated and sitting in the Prime Minister’s office waiting for approval, which could take months. To get to this point, we had two major hurdles to vault, our Home Study and our Dossier.
Adoption Home Study
Everyone who adopts has must have a Home Study, which is a thorough background investigation by a licensed professional (generally a social worker) to determine whether the prospective adoptive parents are suitable to adopt. Big Papa and I filled out pages of answers to questions about our backgrounds, our family, our beliefs, our strengths and weaknesses, why we want to adopt, our relationship, a chronological history of each of our lives, jobs, hobbies, education…and much more. Between us we wrote twenty-six pages. We also attended a ten-hour training class which is required for anyone adopting from a Hague-convention country.
Then, our social worker interviewed us individually and twice as a couple, once in our home. I can’t tell you how many people make sure their homes are spic ‘n span, bake cookies, and primp and prepare for this moment. We tried not to obsess too much. I didn’t think our social worker was going to show up and perform the ‘white glove’ test. Where the rubber meets the road is the list of documents you collect:
1. Birth certificates for each and every resident of the household
2. Marriage certificate
3. Copy of three most recent Federal Tax Returns
4. Two most recent pay stubs confirming employment
5. Proof of insurance: health, life, other
6. Physician’s Report for each member of the household
7. Guardians: The complete name(s) address and phone number of the guardians of this child in the event of the death(s) of the applicants, and how this has been established
8. Five references, only one of which can be a family member
9. Child abuse clearances from every state and/or country you’ve ever lived in
10. Criminal clearances for all adult household members (this includes fingerprinting at the local police department)
Whew! I get tired just rereading the list. Completing the Home Study process took us about four months. Next, we filed our I-800a, which requests U.S. government permission to adopt an international orphan. This process took three months from submission to approval. We had to get FBI fingerprints and clearance for this stage. While we were waiting, we got busy putting together our Dossier.
The dossier is a large packet of documents that the adoption agency submits to the country in which prospective parents are adopting from. Most of these documents also need to have both notary signatures and apostille seals (subject for another post!). Here’s a list of what was in our dossier, which was shipped late February:
1. Letter to Prime Minister requesting adoption of child
2. Copies of Passports
3. Authenticated Birth Certificates
4. USCIS Approval, also known as the I-171H or 797C form
5. Home Study (notarized agency license attached to back)
6. Personal Residence Description
7. Three blank white sheets of paper with signature
8. Employment Verification Forms
9. Letter of Recommendation
10. Letter of Recommendation
11. Letter of Recommendation
12. Letter of Recommendation – Pastor
13. Financial Statement: Liabilities and Assets
14. 1040 Form Copies – three years
15. Medical Exam Reports
16. Local Police Clearance
17. Marriage Certificate
18. Power of Attorney
19. Photo Page (Family, home, work, church, pets, vacation, nursery)
Yay for us! Our dossier is signed, sealed, delivered and speaking Armenian. It’s been one heckuva year, and Big Papa and I know we’re in for more of the same over the coming year. Adoption is a phenomenal paper chase. The accompanying waiting game is the mother-of-all-waits. The entire experience tests your metal and stick-to-in-ness.
Now when we see a family with, what appears to be, an adopted child, I smile and nod knowingly. We’ve walked in their moccasins.