How to Prepare before Adopting Internationally

After only six months, a Tennesse mother put her adopted 7-year-old son on a plane by himself on a one-way trip back to Russia. The child carried a note that said the mother no longer wished to parent the boy because he was unstable and violent. This sparked international outrage and adoptions to American parents were temporarily suspended. Dr. Phil, along with developmental behavioral pediatrician Dr. Lisa Alberts-Prock, president of the Joint Council on International Adoptions Tom DiFilipo, and Sue Gainor, chair of the support organization Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, offer tips on how to prepare yourself before an international adoption and how to get through the adoption process the right way:
  • Use a licensed agency in your state and country of adoption. Never do an independent adoption. "These agencies aren't perfect, but if you're flying solo, if you're doing this independent, bad idea. You need all of the help that you can get," Dr. Phil says.
  • Ask how many hours of training you're going to receive. You have to consider all of these children have some special needs.
  • Research your agency. Find out how many adoptions your agency has done in that country and how much they know about the environmental influences and social challenges. What has been their experience with taking a child out of their culture, away from their language, into a foreign country?
  • Know current health, political and child welfare conditions. Know what information and medical records the country provides " they are all different. Depending on the country, you can request further in-country medical testing.
  • If you feel pressured, don't rush. You can say no.
  • Work with a social worker. It is important to find out your capacity as an adoptive parent. Not all parents are prepared to take on the challenges that come with an international adoption. Sometimes, the adoption process is so long that parents get desperate and give in to older or special-needs kids and then feel unprepared.
  • Talk to other adoptive families. You need to hear both positive and negative experiences.
  • Attend conferences. Find conferences addressing the long-term issues that you will be facing.
  • Identify local resources. Be aware that many resources may not be available in your area, if at all. If local resources are not available, think seriously about this decision.
  • Understand healthy attachments. "Probably 20 percent of our population doesn't have healthy attachments, so you need to find out what that really means and how you can facilitate that," Dr. Phil says.
  • Join a parent group. Don't stay isolated in your struggle.
  • Have an emergency cheat sheet. Have a list of who to call when you need help and what resources are available.
  • Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Food, love and family isn't always enough to get these kids healthy. Be flexible, with respect to the expectations of the child. You can't ever be fully prepared, but you need reasonable expectations. Be prepared to accept whatever happens and move forward. There are no guarantees with any child, adopted or biological.
  • Take care of yourself. "Moms, you've got to take care of yourself because you can't give what you don't have," Dr. Phil says.
For more information on bonding with your adopted child, read:

Mending the Broken Bond: The 90-Day Answer to Developing a Loving Relationship with Your Child by Dr. Frank Lawlis

For more information on international adoptions and resources, please visit: Joint Council on International Children's Services Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Dept. of State

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