I knew a dossier was an official document related to international processes before we began the adoption process. I did not know if we would be required to complete one for our adoption, nor did I know how much stress this one word could place on a person. I heard about all the paperwork involved in completing an adoption, but I thought it would be integrated with our home study (which, thanks to our case worker and agency, was a complete breeze). Turns out, every international adoption requires a dossier. The purpose of this post is to answer questions about our place in the process, and hopefully clue in any potential adoptive parents.
The domestic adoption process is significantly different from the international process. There is a similar home study (pretty much every detail of your childhood and marriage/relationship/child rearing skills), but you may have to write it yourself, depending on the adoption agency. From our limited experience, this seems to be a fairly different process for domestic than international. For a domestic adoption, you collect pictures of your family, your house, likes/dislikes and put them into a book for the birth mother to look through when choosing families. In our home study, we had forms to complete but our case worker met with us three times to help fill out our biographies and write about our relationship and home environment. That written study is then submitted for approval. Once approved, there was no biography picture book for us to fill out, just the dreaded paperwork. Contrarily, completed homestudies for domestic cases can then move to agencies to be potentially paired with a child.
After reading of some requirements from countries other than Ethiopia, I realize we may actually have less paperwork. We have lots of documents that have to be originals, some we have already collected for our home study that we have to obtain and complete again. Almost all of these forms have to be notarized and most have to be original “certified” copies. Looking at the list, I have a mini panic attack, but we soldier through and have been steadily working through the list, checking off forms one by one. I want to take my time, ensuring we do it correctly the first time, as it can delay the whole process. Then the tricky part comes in; all forms have to be no more than 6 months old at the time of submission. Some of the forms leftover from the home study have exceeded that time frame by now. Which means we have to obtain them a second time. It is an all-together frustrating and stressful time of the adoption. However, this is the bulk of the pre -child paperwork for our adoption. There will be paperwork in the future, but not this much and not at one time.
I’m trying to step back, breathe, be as organized as possible. Take it slow instead of rushing to get it all turned in, like my Type A personality would usually approach tasks. Adoption is a challenging process for everyone, period. It’s a lot of politics, paperwork, and emotions all wrapped into a helping a child. Since we don’t have a referral for a child yet, so we don’t have a specific person to focus our motivation on. We constantly need to remind ourselves that this is worth it. All the stress and red tape is worth a child’s life.
In our particular situation, the fact that I could go into labor any minute adds to the already stressful circumstances. Getting the nursery ready, having showers and working full-time distracts us from completing a good amount of the paperwork. Finding time is difficult. Most of the documents we’re waiting on are ones we have to send off or complete during our work hours. This is awkward to manage while I save up time-off for maternity leave. Our goal is to get everything in by the end of July, within our 6 month window for most of our paperwork, the homestudy particularly. If you’re reading this and you were considering adopting, it’s important to read and consider the necessary steps before you make a huge commitment like this. If I hadn’t had friends that just went through the process and a church family with answers, I would be incredibly lost. I felt it could be helpful to others to compile a list of all of the paperwork we have to complete for the dossier:
Note: This is for our agencies, foreign and domestic, and Ethiopia, not a comprehensive universal all situation/countries list.
1. Letter of intent: This is a letter, written, signed and notarized to the Ethiopian authorities stating why we are adopting, why Ethiopia and what kind of life we can provide for a child here in America.
2. Original, certified birth certificates: Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that I was adopted by my stepdad and have had to track where they keep my birth certificate.
3. Original, certified marriage license
4. “Good Conduct” letters from the Local Police Department: This is a signed and notarized local background check from your hometown. (This is after doing a national background check, with fingerprints…twice, and a state background check.)
5. Original medical report: This is also notarized by a doctor during a physical exam. The agency sent us a pretty general form to get them to fill out.
6. Two original copies of our home study, which also have to be notarized.
7. USCIS approval (I-171H): This is our immigration approval. We had to fill out paperwork and get fingerprinted for the second time, to be approved to bring a child into this country.
8. Letter of employment verification stating hours, compensation and years work signed and notarized for both parents.
9. A letter from our bank stating we are in good standing with them, signed and notarized.
10. A financial statement form signed and notarized: This is a standard form the agency sent us to find out our debt-income ratio.
11. Letters from each health insurance agency stating we have a policy.
12. Letters from our life insurance agency stating we have policies on all members of the family.
13. Three letters of reference: We already turned in three letters of reference for our home study, but these should be new. They should be from friends and family favoring our position to adopt, also notarized.
14. Obligation of adoption-reporting commitment: This is a standarized form the agency included for us to sign and get notarized.
15. Three original Power of Attorney forms, signed and notarized.
16. Color copies of passports
17. Passport photos of both parents
18. Tax returns from past 2 years. 2012 and 2013 for us
These are all the paper forms we have to include and send to our agency through Fed Ex, who then sends it to the Ethiopian agency’s US headquarters (West Sands), who then sends it to Ethiopia. If we have even a small, minuscule mistake they will send it back to us and our referral will be delayed that much longer. Once the dossier is approved, we are then in the looooooooooonnnnggg waiting period for a referral. Waiting for a referral for a child can be anywhere from one to two years, provided Ethiopia does not close to international adoption (see Russia, Congo, Guatemala). I’ll refer to this time as the “raise as much money as humanly possible for our waiting child and try not to freak out” period. Essentially, we may be driving everyone crazy with our fundraising ideas (more on the cost of our adoption and how we’re financially planning to conquer costs in a later blog post).
If the process so far sounds overwhelming and stressful, you understand our pain. If it doesn’t sound overwhelming, dive right in and show us how it’s done. Top that with a new baby (any day now) and two full-time working parents and our stress level is through the roof. But, this is such a small amount of our lifetime joy with this child. This paperwork will bring a child with no family to love and care for them, into a loving and caring home. This process will hopefully show this child, as well as others around us, what lengths God went to for His children and the beauty of the Gospel. I am stressed, yes, but I am also excited and nervous to enter this new phase. I feel like once we begin the waiting process, we are officially adoptive parents. That referral means a new member of our family and that is worth every bit of stress.