Prospective parents deterred from adopting from overseas due to lack of clarity over the process

18 October 2016

There are only around 350 cases of UK families adopting from overseas on average per year, as a lack of clarity over what is involved in the process and how to navigate it deters many from choosing this route, say Wilsons.

Wilsons say that the number of inter-country adoptions by UK families has remained very low in recent years despite high numbers of prospective parents looking to adopt in the UK. It’s estimated that in other European countries such as Spain, France and Italy there are ten times the amount of cases each year, as there are fewer legal hurdles and more available information about procedures.

Wilsons add that although the legal process for overseas adoptions can be more complex and costly compared to adopting in the UK, for families with the necessary resources and commitment - and with the right guidance - it could be an option worth considering.

Sarah Wood-Heath, Associate at Wilsons comments: “Adopting internationally can seem particularly daunting for prospective parents - made worse by confusion or misconceptions over what the process will actually entail - causing many to discount it unnecessarily as a possibility.”

Wilsons advise that, in order to minimise the complexities involved, prospective parents should consider the following five key issues at the outset:

1. Research prospective countries thoroughly and check eligibility

Wilsons say that the starting point is to check that you are eligible to adopt both in the UK and the prospective country.  Thorough research should be undertaken in terms of familiarising yourself with the prospective countries’ adoption systems, legal framework and their culture.  This will enable you to make the right choice about where to adopt a child from.

Prospective parents also need to check whether the UK has any country-specific adoption rules.

For example, some countries (such as Morocco) have more stringent rules than the UK. Additionally, the UK restricts adoption from certain countries such as Cambodia, Nepal and Guatemala. Adopting from a country that is signed up to the Hague Convention can make the process smoother.

Sarah Wood-Heath explains, “It’s incredibly important to do your homework before choosing a country to adopt from. There are obviously important cultural considerations such as the child’s background and heritage to take into account, but there could also be significant legal implications too – starting with the question of eligibility to adopt.”

2. Seek legal guidance – both in the UK and abroad

Getting the legalities of overseas adoptions right is crucial – but with two jurisdictions involved, there can be many pitfalls. Wilsons say that parents need good legal advice in the foreign jurisdiction, as well as in the UK, to help guide them through the process and ensure everything is done in compliance with both countries’ laws and regulations.

Sarah Wood-Heath explains: “There are many legal issues to consider in an overseas adoption - from parental responsibility and adoption orders, to eligibility and immigration.  Prospective parents should ensure they have good legal advisors to steer them through the process and enable them to focus on their new child. Failing to follow the correct procedures could result in them inadvertently committing a criminal offence.”

3. Don’t identify a child to adopt too early in the process

Wilsons advise against identifying a child to adopt even after the Certificate of Eligibility has been obtained (a document granted once all the required procedures in the UK and the adoptee’s country have been followed). This is because there is often no guarantee that the prospective parents will be approved or that the child will be matched with them.

Even where prospective adopters are related to the child, they must still go through the same process as unrelated adopters and demonstrate that the child is in need of adoption. “Getting too attached to a child before the process is well underway can lead to heartbreak for both you and them,” warns Sarah Wood-Heath.

4.  Don’t underestimate the financial costs involved

Wilsons say that unlike adopting domestically, the assessment process for international adoptions is self-funded and can typically cost £5,000 to £7,000. Prospective parents must consider whether they have sufficient financial resources before beginning the adoption process, factoring in the cost of flights, hotels, and legal fees on top.

5. Make sure you are committed for the long haul                                                                            

Wilsons point out that the overseas adoption process can be lengthy, demanding and often intrusive so prospective parents need to ensure they are fully committed. For example, intercountry adoptions can often take over two years, with a number of stages to go through, which include the child coming to live with the prospective parents for several months before being able to apply for an adoption order.

Wilsons add that many children who have been in foreign orphanages will be unused to one on one attention so it can take some time for them to adapt to their new environment. It’s also not uncommon either for children adopted from abroad to have physical or mental health problems, so parents must be prepared for this eventuality.

Sarah Wood-Heath comments: “Although international adoptions can be complex, with many issues to consider, for those that choose this route and the children they adopt, they are also extremely rewarding.”

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