Archive for the 'International Adoption' Category

Free Adoption Seminar in Northern Virginia

It’s that time of year again! To kick off National Adoption Month, The Vaughan Firm is holding a free adoption seminar on Saturday, November 2 at 10:00 a.m. in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. If you live in Northern Virginia, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about adoption from start to finish and get your questions answered. We always talk about how to choose the right adoption type for your family, how to get started with the process, the timing and cost of adoption, and much more. In addition to an adoption lawyer (my charming self), guest speakers will also include a birth mother and a consultant on making a compelling adoptive family profile. For more information and to register, go to the seminar registration page. Hope to see you there!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adoption Types Quiz

If you have met me and talked about adoption for more than 2 minutes, you have probably heard me say “there is no right way to adopt – only the right way for your family.” But how do you know what the right way is for your family? It’s based on a number of factors, and each family will weigh them differently. Below is a series of stories about different families (as you might guess, these are made-up stories, not real clients! You won’t catch me telling real client stories on the blog). Can you guess which type of adoption I would suggest for each one? When you’re done, click here to see the answers. If you need help getting started making the adoption-type decision yourself, contact the firm for a free Adoption Decisionmaking Toolkit.

1. Ellen and Mike
Ellen and Mike are an older couple – both in their late forties. Ellen runs a small, part-time sewing business from home while Mike works full time. They have no doubt in their minds that they want to adopt a healthy newborn, but they are flexible on other factors (race, gender, etc.). Mike describes himself as laid-back and easygoing, while Ellen is anxious and has a lot of worries about adoption.

2. Ashley and Jim
Ashley and Jim have decided to adopt after a long struggle with infertility. They both have high-powered jobs and travel a lot, so they don’t have much time to devote to the process of adoption. Because of these high-powered jobs, they have a generous adoption budget and aren’t concerned about cost. After all the infertility treatments and stress, Ashley and Jim just really want someone to handle the whole process for them.

3. Tamara and Miguel
Tamara and Miguel are a young couple, just married for a few years. They met in the Peace Corps and enjoy traveling the world and experiencing other cultures. They’re particularly interested in adopting a child from Colombia, where Miguel’s family is from, or possibly from Haiti or Ethiopia, both of which they have visited.

4. Sarah and John
Sarah and John are another young couple. John is an accountant, while Sarah is a freelance writer who really dreams of being a stay-at-home mom. Like they do with most new things that they take on, Sarah and John have done a lot of research about adoption. They are highly organized and like to be in control of situations to the extent possible. They also like to know exactly how their money is being spent.

Ready to see my answers? Click here!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Celebrity Adoption Profile: Jillian Michaels

Talk about a busy new mama: After waiting almost two years to adopt, former Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels brought her two-year-old daughter Lukensia home from Haiti just days after Michaels’s partner Heidi Rhoades gave birth to the couple’s baby boy, Phoenix, on May 3. With two little ones under age three, Michaels might not have to hit the gym to stay in shape for a while! Congratulations to Michaels and Rhoades on their beautiful family.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

“It Will Happen For You” — Encouraging or Unwelcome?

I was interested to see a post today on Adoption Voices, where a member wrote that it’s very upsetting to her when people say “don’t give up! Adoption will happen for you if you hang in there.”

Lara writes:

While I know it’s meant to be encouraging, I’ve come to really hate these statements – because nobody can honestly guarantee an adoption will happen. Even with a match, we’re all painfully aware there are no guarantees, until a judge declares it final. We can’t trust an agency, lawyer, or fate. We just hear what we want to hear – from those who have been blessed with adoption. But for how many of us does it NOT happen?

Lara’s post surprised me, because I have often heard (and sometimes given) this advice in the adoption community, and I think it is basically sound. After all, if you don’t stop trying, it’s true that eventually you will adopt successfully. However, Lara is perfectly correct: for some people, “giving up” is the right decision. If you have reached your emotional limits or the adoption journey is just too hard on your family, it is healthy and appropriate to stop. I can think of other situations, such as financial difficulty or a serious illness in the family, that also might be perfectly good reasons to decide that adoption is not a good fit for you after all.

I still think that saying “you will be able to adopt if you don’t give up” is a true statement, but as all things in life, it’s important to think before you speak. If someone has made the difficult decision to stop trying to adopt, telling them that they could have a baby if only they were more persistent is likely to hurt them more than it helps. But for those who are on the long road to adoption and just feeling tired and discouraged, it could be just what they need to hear.

What do you think? Has anyone ever said this to you about adoption? How did it make you feel?

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Wall Street Journal on Adoption from Ethiopia

The Wall Street Journal has done a thorough and thought-provoking piece on adoption from Ethiopia. The article highlights the serious ethical problems that can arise when there is not careful oversight of adoption. For example, the WSJ interviewed an Ethiopian father who was told by a middleman that if he placed his daughter for adoption in the U.S., she would send money back to the family. Stories of families being pressured to relinquish their children, or even of child abductions by foreign agencies and middlemen, have caused authorities in Ethiopia and the U.S. alike to scrutinize international adoptions more carefully. Ethiopia is not a signatory to The Hague Convention, an international treaty that puts safeguards in place to ensure that adoptions are conducted ethically and in the best interests of children.

Of course, this is not to say that all adoptions from Ethiopia are unethical! However, it certainly highlights the need to proceed cautiously and with the help of an agency that you trust. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what safeguards are in place to make sure that the adoption was ethical from start to finish. The more adoptive parents demand integrity in adoption services, the more agencies both at home or abroad will provide them.

I believe that an ethical international adoption is one where:
1. The birth parents gave free and informed consent to the adoption because they truly felt that they could not parent,
2. Efforts were made to place the child in his or her country of origin,
3. The parties were given the option to have an open adoption, and
4. Efforts were made to obtain a thorough medical history, and this history was disclosed to the adoptive parents.

What do you think? Is there anything you would add to or subtract from this list? Post in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

You can read the Wall Street Journal article here.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

International Adoption: Choosing a Country

Some families who have decided to adopt a child already have a specific country in mind. Perhaps a particular country speaks to their hearts because of their own cultural heritage, or perhaps a natural or political disaster has made them feel called to open their home to a child from a particular country. Other families know they’d like to adopt internationally, but aren’t sure which country interests them. Whether you know which country you’d like to adopt from or you are just beginning to learn about international adoption, it’s important to understand the laws that will impact your adoption.

The Hague Convention

The most important factor you’ll encounter when choosing a country is whether that country is a member of The Hague Adoption Convention (for a list of Hague Convention countries, click here). Adoptions from Hague Convention countries have several additional requirements that are designed to protect children. An adoption from a Hague Convention country can only be done through an agency that is licensed by the U.S. State Department to conduct such adoptions. Adoptions under the Convention have many more bureaucratic requirements, but it’s important to know that the requirements are intended to protect children from trafficking and to try to find them homes in their own countries before sending them abroad for adoption. Thus, the fact that a country is a Hague country is not a reason to rule it out! It simply means that the adoption must take place through a Hague-accredited agency and will have more legal steps to complete.

The Laws of the Country of Origin
Each country has different laws about:

  • Who may adopt a child Factors such as age, marital status, health, and number of children already in the household affect which country you may adopt from.
  • Who may be adopted The age of the child and how long they have been eligible for adoption are the most common factors affecting what children may be adopted internationally. It is rare to be able to adopt a child under 18 months of age from any country.
  • Characteristics that the adoptive parents may choose Some countries allow adoptive parents to request a certain gender or ethnicity, while others do not.
  • Travel The number of visits to the country and how long you must stay each time will vary depending on the individual country’s laws.
  • Information shared Some countries are notorious for giving very little or even false information about the medical and social history of adopted children, while others share such information fairly readily.
  • Wait times and red tape Each country has different documentation requirements and different wait times for an adoption to be processed.
  • Common health and psychological problems Some countries have a higher prevalence than others of health issues such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, attachment disorders, malnutrition, etc.

More Information
The best source of reliable, up-to-date information about the requirements for adopting a child from another country is the U.S. Department of State. At their website, they list information about each country, a guide to understanding the Hague Convention, and up-to-the-minute alerts regarding changes in a country’s adoption requirements. There is also information about obtaining a visa for your internationally adopted child. A reliable agency or adoption attorney can also give you information about the laws and requirements of different countries and help you to choose the right adoption type for your family.

Have you adopted a child from another country? What was your experience with the process like? Share in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

What Does Your Attorney Do For You?

This blog is to provide helpful and interesting information to the adoption community, and I try not to spend many pixels here tooting my own horn. But today I was drinking my coffee and thinking about client service and how proud I am of what my practice has to offer. Here are just a few of the things I offer my clients on a daily basis. Does your lawyer offer these services to you? If not, maybe you should ask them!

  • Explaining the different types of adoption and how to choose the best type for your family
  • Lending out books from my lending library
  • Referring clients to social workers, counselors, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, support groups, other attorneys, and more (did I say babysitters? A lot of people ask me for good babysitters!)
  • Explaining how to protect children with a will and/or guardianship
  • Advising about insurance coverage for a child in the process of being adopted, including medicaid
  • Helping families who want a private adoption to make adoptive family profiles, websites, “Dear Birthmother” letters, and other materials to find a child to adopt
  • Advising families who are adopting or have adopted internationally about immigration issues
  • Educating people about the scientific research on attachment in children and child psychology
  • Explaining the laws regarding gay and lesbian parents in Virginia
  • Referring people to grants and loans for adoption, as well as explaining the Adoption Tax Credit
  • Acting as a “mailbox” between adoptive families and birth parents if they don’t want to exchange addresses but do want to exchange pictures and letters.
  • Helping adoptive families and birth parents negotiate a post-adoption contract, if they want one.
  • Handing out tissues, because the adoption process can be emotional for both adoptive parents and birth parents!
  • Returning client calls after business hours, because there are some adoption questions that can’t wait until morning.
  • Good adoption lawyers do far more than simply file court papers. What do you think? What other services does your adoption lawyer provide, or what services do you wish they provided? Leave a comment or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    A Home for Artyom

    I was happy to read this follow-up article from NPR about Artyom Savelyev. As many of you remember, in 2010 Artyom was sent back to Russia by his American adoptive mother, Torry-Ann Hansen, who put him on a plane alone bearing a note that said he had severe psychological problems and she no longer wished to parent him (if you don’t remember, you can read more about it here). I think about Artyom often when I’m counseling prospective adoptive parents, and have always hoped that he had found his way to a loving family that could help him sort out his emotions rather than making him feel unlovable.

    It seems from the article that Artyom has found just such a family, in one of Russia’s “Children’s Villages,” where orphans and children who have been removed from their parents’ care due to abuse or neglect live together with foster parents in a family setting. The children go to regular schools and daycares, so it seems the main difference between the villages and American foster care is that the foster families live together in one designated neighborhood. I was heartened to see that Artyom’s foster mother really seems to “get it” about children who have been through trauma and loss. Unlike his adoptive mother, who reacted with horror and rejection to Artyom, the foster mother says “All our children have psychological problems — not psychiatric disorders, but psychological problems — because they were torn away from their mothers.” There appears to be good support in place for the children’s special needs there. I’d be most interested in learning what kind of support services are in place there, and how the United States might learn from them how to better prepare and support adoptive parents in dealing with children’s emotional and psychological issues.

    I was also very happy to learn that important changes have been made to Russia’s adoption agreement with the United States. I was especially glad that the adoption treaty now includes the exchange of more information with prospective adoptive parents so they are prepared for the issues they might face in adopting children who have been through profound trauma. Proper counseling and education of adoptive parents is a critical need, and I believe it could have prevented Artyom’s heartbreaking experience.

    I’m curious what my readers think of the “Children’s Villages” described in the article. Are these a great way to provide supportive family settings for children in need, or does it make vulnerable children feel more “different” from their peers? I’m also interested in hearing from those of you have adopted from Russia or attempted to do so. Chime in using the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    A True Adoption Story – Part I

    When you are beginning your journey to adopt a child — especially during the seemingly endless waiting times — it can be helpful to read stories of those who have already been through the process and lived to tell the tale. My dear friends Susan and Mike were in that anxious period just a few years ago, waiting and wondering if they would ever have a child. Today they are the proud parents of two-year-old Leah through open, domestic newborn adoption. Their joyful and devoted parenting style and their commitment to a healthy open relationship with Leah’s birth mother are an inspiration. Susan has generously agreed to share her adoption story on Adoptivity in a four-part series. Today, meet Susan and Mike and learn how they came to choose adoption for their family.

    Part I: Meet Susan and Mike

    Hi everyone! Many thanks to Elizabeth for inviting me to write an article for her blog, a site I find inspiring and informative to all parents, pre- and post- adoption. My name is Susan and my husband Mike and I are adoptive parents of Leah, who is 2 years old.

    In June 2008, my husband and I set about the odyssey that is adoption. It’s impossible to believe it’s been three years, and how radically our lives have changed. I hope in sharing some of our journey, I can express to you the importance of several key factors in pursuing an adoption of any kind: flexibility, openness, patience, and strength.

    To give you some background… We had tried unsuccessfully for nearly 7 years to start a family. During that time, it became more and less important as various events in our lives occurred: periods of unemployment, moving to an entirely different state and part of the country, new careers, family responsibilities. It finally occurred to us when we bought our home, which of course came with lots of bedrooms that we intended to fill, and our car, a station wagon Mom-mobile, that there was probably something going on that we weren’t getting pregnant. We decided to undergo medical testing, but we also agreed that if there was “something”, regardless of what that something was, we were going to pursue adoption. And of course, just a couple of weeks later, we found out there was indeed something, and immediately joined Resolve, the National Infertility Association ( I was thrilled to discover after joining that they were holding a seminar on adoption near our home, and signed us up to attend.

    Mike and I talked about what we wanted in an adoption plan. For years, I’d been watching Adoption Stories on the now-defunct Discovery Health Channel, and always had in mind that I’d adopt someday. Based on the stories I’d seen, I felt comfortable that we should adopt internationally, given that I did not want contact with the birth family, and I felt that probably no one in the US would accept us as the adoptive family to their infant. Why? Because Mike is multiply disabled, being both totally blind and partially deaf. We could not imagine that there was a birthparent out there who would look at us and say, “I want them!” despite the fact that once our baby arrived, we did intend for me to quit working, as Mike’s career track and income made that more than possible.

    Be sure to come back tomorrow to learn how Susan and Mike’s expectations changed as they learned more about adoption, and how they chose between domestic and international adoption.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Voluntourism: Doing Good for Kids?

    I recently heard this interesting show on my local NPR station about “voluntourism,” the trend towards devoting all or part of one’s vacation to volunteer work. Like this 2010 NPR piece on voluntourism, there was a particular focus on whether volunteering in orphanages is a good idea. The consensus: Probably not. Although at first blush it seems like a noble idea to go abroad to help needy children, there are several serious problems with foreigners volunteering in orphanages.

    • Attachment issues Orphaned and abandoned children are already at extremely high risk for attachment disorders and separation trauma. Less clinically put, the heartbreak of getting attached to and separated from multiple caregivers can damage children’s mental and physical health for life. This is especially important for those who are thinking of volunteering in another country before adopting there. While this may seem like a good idea on its face, please consider that you might be causing more trauma than you are doing good, as all the children you do not adopt see you come, choose a different child, and then leave. A well-meaning foreigner who brings attention and affection into a child’s life only to leave after a few weeks is, in a very real way, causing more harm than good.
    • Lack of oversight Most people who try “voluntourism” truly do have good intentions. But many, myself included, find it extremely disturbing that anyone can go volunteer in certain orphanages abroad, without a background check or other oversight. Being orphaned and in need should not make a child exempt from protection from predators.
    • Corruption It’s tempting to believe that all orphanages are run with good motives, but the reality is that this is just not true. Many countries are infamous for orphanages that coerce birth mothers into relinquishing their children, or even outright kidnap them. Such organizations may try to extort money as well as time out of well-meaning volunteers, who should devote neither to such organizations.
    • Economics Orphanages that rely on volunteers to keep running are less likely to hire from the local community, which can perpetuate economic hardship in some places.

    What do you think? Is orphanage “voluntourism” ever a good idea? Post your thoughts in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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