New rules for foreign adoptions

May 11, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

Like many parents, Kathy Sargent and her husband, Glen, can't imagine life without their daughter Sophie, who joined the family six years ago.

Luckily, the couple had adopted Sophie long before recent rule changes.

If they tried to adopt another child from China now, they would probably be turned down due to recent rule changes by China that include age limits, Kathy Sargent said.

The number of foreign adoptions by U.S. families had been steadily increasing until fiscal year 2005, when the numbers started to slide a little, according to the U.S. State Department. The number of immigrant visas issued to orphans coming to the U.S. in 2006 was 20,679 compared with 22,884 in 2004.

The foreign adoption process involves mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy.

The U.S. government has been working more than 12 years on international standards for foreign adoptions under what is called the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, said Katherine Monahan, unit chief for Hague implementation under the auspices of the State Department's Consular Affairs Bureau. About 75 countries are participating in the treaty.


The Hague standards should protect children and make the adoption process more secure, predictable and transparent for adoptive parents, Monahan said.

Even with work on the Hague treaty progressing, there are still external factors that can affect international adoptions.

For instance, China recently issued new guidelines for families outside China looking to adopt Chinese children.

The guidelines include limiting adoptive parents to ages 30 to 50 and parents having a Body Mass Index that is not extremely obese, according to information at

The Sargents, who live near Funkstown, are in their 50s.

Why foreign adoptions?

Sandy and Chris Pizarro, who live south of Hagerstown, decided to pursue an international adoption in 2001 because they wanted to limit the chances of having their hearts broken, the couple said.

With domestic adoptions, there is a greater chance the birth mother might change her mind or the birth father might not agree to the adoption, the couple said.

"We wanted it to be permanent," Sandy Pizarro said.

They wanted that permanence for the child as well, Chris Pizarro added.

Most U.S. families who prefer foreign adoption over domestic do so because there aren't as many infants available for adoption in the U.S., said Sherrell Goolsby, executive director of World Child International, an adoption agency with offices in Hagerstown and Silver Spring, Md.

"Most people want to start building their family with a young child," Goolsby said.

The Pizarros, who have a biological son, Alex, 9, decided to pursue an adoption through South Korea because the Asian country didn't require them to travel and spend significant time away from their son.

What's required

Each country has different rules for foreign adoptions - something that will still occur with the Hague treaty.

Regardless of which country a family chooses, a lot of paperwork is required and the cost can run into several thousand dollars. The three families interviewed estimated their adoption costs, including travel, ranged from more than $15,000 to $27,000.

Couples must submit documents that generally include the couple's autobiography, results of physical exams, proof of employment/income, home inspection reports regarding fire safety and the health of the water and sewer systems, criminal background checks, and birth and marriage certificates.

Couples also usually meet with a social worker who evaluates the family and home setting, adoptive parents said. Psychological exams might be conducted for the family members.

"(The paperwork) was almost soul-searching," Sandy Pizarro said.

Four years after they adopted Samantha, now 5, the couple was notified that their daughter had a newborn half sister in South Korea. At that point Chris Pizarro was older than South Korea's age limit of 45 for adoptive parents, but the country waived the age limit in preference to Tasha being adopted by the same family as her older half sister, the Pizarros said.

Most countries require parents to spend some time in the country, whether it's to finalize the adoption and pick the child up or to go through a court proceeding, Goolsby said.

Visiting China was a wonderful experience that allowed the Sargents to learn about their new daughter's culture, Kathy Sargent said.

Mike and Pat Stocker of Hagerstown traveled to Colombia in February 2006 to adopt their daughter.

They first met her when she visited the U.S. through Kidsave, an organization that facilitates the adoption of older children, typically ages 7 to 16, because the chance of a child being adopted decreases as they get older, Mike Stocker said.

Kidsave's Summer Miracles Program brings children to the U.S. for a six-week period in the summer so they can meet potential adoptive parents and vice versa, Stocker said.

Typically, the average trip for adoptive parents to Colombia is five weeks, but Mike Stocker ended up staying 10 weeks due to a judge who was slow to process the adoption, he said.

The long stay was unexpected, but he was able to use sick leave from his government job to extend his stay after his wife returned home following the first two weeks.

Stocker said the delays were frustrating, but those frustrations soon faded as he arrived home with his new daughter, Lauren, now 14.

For more informationabout foreign adoptions:

· Contact World Child International's Hagerstown offices by calling 301-790-0863, or its Silver Spring, Md., offices by calling 301-588-3000. Visit for more information.

· Contact Kidsave's office in Washington, D.C., by calling 202-237-SAVE (7283), or go to for more information.

For the U.S. State Department's Web site about intercountry adoption, go to

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