Adoption from abroad: process, requirements and fees

family of four

by Emily Thorpe |

Not every child is lucky enough to live in a loving and stable home and every country in the world has children who cannot live with their parents or immediate family, with Unicef estimating 15 million orphaned children in the world.

If adoption from abroad is something you've been thinking about, we spoke to Satwinder Sandhu, CEO of IAC - The Centre for Adoption, the UK’s only dedicated international adoption charity, to find out more about what it entails.

Why is adoption from abroad necessary?

England has a well-developed foster home system, but this does not exist in all countries and many countries' orphanages are often under resources and overcrowded.

Children growing up in institutions fare far worse than children growing up in families and whilst addressing poverty and women’s rights are important connected issues, the reality is that children already living in institutions should be in families.

Governments, therefore, look at placing children with adopters because research has shown that these children fare much better. Many countries do not have enough people coming forward though, so over the years, international cooperation has led to international protocols around adoption which allow for governments to legally place children abroad.

We have a highly diverse population in England and often people who may have African, Asian or South American heritage are choosing to adopt from the countries they are connected to, as they may not be matched with a similar child here in England. Additionally, children may be younger at placement than they might be in the UK.

Fundamentally, IAC believes that children belong in families and not institutions, so they work to ensure prospective adopters are screened, assessed as suitable and then prepared and supported to make sure their children understand their adoption story, heritage and identity.

IAC also place children from the UK care system too as sometimes families are a very good match for children waiting here.

What are the requirements for adopting a child from abroad?

The requirements are twofold. Applicants have to legally be a resident in England and meet the application and assessment criteria here. The basics are that they have to be over 21, have no convictions of violence or against children and they have to have space in their homes. Anyone can apply regardless of gender, sexuality, marital status etc.

Applicants are then assessed for suitability to make sure they understand that any adopted child will come with some support needs due to the separation and loss they have experienced at a young age, and sometimes harm and abuse too. Applicants also need to demonstrate they are healthy, supported and have a stable lifestyle.

Applicants have to also meet the criteria for the country they are choosing to adopt from. IAC have no control over this as obviously every country has the remit to decide on their own criteria and whether they even participate in international adoption programmes. IAC’s Information & Advice team can help applicants to determine eligibility.

What does the adoption from abroad process involve?

The process in the UK is regulated into three stages: The enquiry stage where applicants gather information and determine eligibility; the preparation and checks stage, where applicants formally apply, enabling IAC to prepare them via workshops and undertake police checks, references etc., and finally, the assessment and approval stage when IAC work with applicants to assess their suitability and hopefully secure their approval.

All applicants are allocated their own Social Worker who is highly skilled and experienced in this type of work and will support them through each stage. IAC offers a range of other formal and informal ways to get support through groups and workshops and encourages all applicants to do as much as they can.

Once approved papers have to be verified by the UK government and then sent abroad where applicants usually join a waiting list.

When a match is identified, IAC works with applicants, their Social Worker and our Medical Advisor to determine if they wish to proceed and then the next step is to travel to the country and meet the child. Usually, prospective adopters will stay in the country for a short period to be introduced to their child and acquire custody, followed by a legal adoption in court.

How long does it take to adopt from abroad?

Waiting times vary enormously and can range from a few months to five years. The assessment process itself should only take around six months once applicants are ready to apply but every case is different in nature.

As this is a complex, sensitive and legal process, documents have to be checked and legalised after approval before they go abroad so that takes time as does the matching process. Again, each country is different, and IAC advise on this at the earliest stages, so applicants know what to expect. There are no shortcuts unfortunately as this is the safety and welfare of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Are there any fees for adopting from abroad?

Unfortunately, there is no central government funding for international adoption, but applicants cannot do it without meeting the regulatory requirements, so IAC delivers these services to enable this to happen, but they have to charge applicants directly for this as there is no other way to fund the work. An average adoption from enquiry to having a child home with you can cost around £25,000.

Which countries are restricted to adopt from?

Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal, Haiti and Ethiopia are all restricted. Nigeria has additional checking criteria pre-application in place. The reasons for special restrictions usually arise when there are concerns about the processes or irregularities in place in the country. Intercountry adoption laws are in place to ensure children are legally in need of adoption and are not subject to exploitation or trafficking, so when there are any concerns, these need to be managed before a country can be unrestricted again.

For more information about adoption abroad, visit IAC's website.

IAC turned 25 in March 2022 and are really proud of the work that they do. They believe that adoption can transform the lives of children who need families, but adoption is also changing. They know a lot more about what it means to be adopted from the lived experiences that adopted adults are sharing so as they look to the next 25 years of international adoption, they know that these experiences need to shape what they do which is why they have launched ‘The Adoption Reconstruction’ which is the start of a new programme to inform IAC’s services through listening, learning and changing. They are kicking this off with a special virtual conference in June which they are really excited about. More details are available here.

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