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Adopting from Korea - A Parent's Guide to Korean Adoption






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Put your fear aside and warm up your photocopier...
you're in for an interesting, sometimes frustrating ride.

Some people call it hell. (Perhaps that's an exaggeration. Perhaps not.) But you're now in the thick of the adoption process. With a little work, persistence, and a sense of humor, this can actually be a time of thoughtful exploration between you and your spouse (if married), and your desires and expectations as adoptive parents.


What is a Homestudy Anyway?

So you've selected your agency. You've filled out the initial application and paid the initial fee. At this point, you'll most likely have had your first post-introductory (sometimes called an intake) interview.

Now the real work begins.

To adopt internationally, you must have an approved homestudy. Your agency will assign a social worker to you who will work with you during the process. The homestudy consists of gathering specific documents (see below)... interviews with you, your spouse, and any children living in the home... in-person or telephone interviews with your references... and a home visit or two.

The long and short of it? Your social worker, working on behalf of your agency and the children it represents, wants to know only one thing -- are you going to be good, capable parents? The good news is that most of us do pass the ultimate test. So hang in there and pace yourselves.

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PAPERWORK!Let's talk PAPERWORK!

During your initial interview with the agency or at your first meeting with your social workers, you'll also receive a large, hefty packet of forms that need to be filled out: personal and financial information disclosures, fingerprint cards, USCIS forms, and lots more. Don't be alarmed. You can do it.

Your Documentation List

Every state has different document requirements so your actual list may look different than the one below. You may need originals or certified copies rather than simple photocopies. The number of copies per document required may also vary. But, for the most part, it will look something like this:

PERSONAL INFORMATION

  • Adoption decree(s) on children already living in the home
  • Birth certificates for spouses and children already living in the home
  • Marriage license
  • Divorce decree(s), if applicable

FINANCIAL INFORMATION

  • Employment verification by letter and/or current pay stub
  • Income verification, usually W2s or income tax forms
  • Proof of life insurance
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Statement of current assets, including savings accounts, money market funds, mutual funds, stocks, etc.
  • Proof of mortgage or rent payment
  • Proof of good health, usually a medical exam is required

MISCELLANEOUS

  • State-mandated fingerprint clearances
  • Written approval of public health inspection
  • Written approval of fire safety inspection
  • Photos of the couple, any children, and front of the home
  • Copy of previous homestudy, if applicable
  • Written personal references

FORMS YOU MAY RECEIVE AT YOUR FIRST POST-APPLICATION MEETING

  • State-Mandated Criminal Clearances
  • Police Clearance
  • Child Abuse Clearance
  • Motor Vehicle Driving Records

Many of these forms will require signature verification by a notary public. Your bank can usually provide this service to you at no charge. (Sometimes they have a limited on how many documents they'll do at a single sitting.)

(Personal Story: You're going to get to know the notary really well. During our first adoption, our notary became so interested in our journey, she decided to adopt, as well. About 18 months later, she and her husband were the proud parents of a beautiful little boy from the Philippines!

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Are we having fun yet? Wait! There's more...

Meet the USCIS I-600A Form

At your initial meeting you're also most likely going to receive several forms required by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service (USCIS). One is a blue I-600. Don't worry about that one right now. The other is far more important at this stage in the process:

I-600A - Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition

This salmon-colored form gets the ball rolling well in advance of completing your homestudy and receiving an assignment of a child. Decide on who will be the "Prospective Petitioner" and continue to use the same person on all USCIS documents. Can be husband or wife if both are US citizens. If not, then the spouse who is the US citizen must be listed as the petitioner on all documents.

Want to save time? You can now download the I600A and I600 forms right from the USCIS website. No fuss, no muss, no waiting! (Note: some USCIS offices have been kicking back perfectly fine forms because they were printed on white paper. Save yourself a hassle - if you can, print the I600A on salmon pink paper and the I600 on light blue paper.)

Here are the documents you'll need to accompany your I-600A application:

  • Two sets of fingerprints from each prospective adoptive parent and any adults over age 18 living in the household. Fingerprints will be taken at your regional USCIS office.

  • Proof of US citizenship of the Prospective Petitioner (I'd include a copy of the spouse's information, too) -- birth certificate, naturalization certificate or valid US passport. Photocopies okay.

  • A marriage certificate. (Photocopy okay.)

  • Divorce decree or death certificate if previously married (Photocopies okay.)

  • Certified check or money order in the amount of $460 (plus $50 fingerprinting fees for each adult over 18 living in the household), payable to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (Although some USCIS offices will accept personal checks, many won't. So to save yourself a lot of hassle and do go the certified check or money order route. Best bet is a postal money order.)

Bear in mind:

  • Rules change constantly. Always check with your agency regarding the latest USCIS and other governmental information.
  • Send your completed application by traceable means, certified mail with return receipt requested, UPS or Fed-Ex. I like the two latter choices because you can track their arrival dates yourself online.
  • Get this form and its attachments completed without delay. It takes 60-90 days for this application to process without any problems. Imagine how long it takes when you run into a snag. Get it done now and save yourself a lot of headaches.

USCIS ACCEPTS WALK-IN TRAFFIC, but... each office is going to have its own rules about when and how. Call ahead (or ask your agency) the best days and times to go to your regional USCIS office for fingerprinting and in-person I600A application processing. Remember to bring a certified check or money order with you for the full fees amount, application and fingerprinting.

  • Exception: Applicants and petitioners residing abroad who are fingerprinted at a United States consular or military installation abroad do not need to be fingerprinted by the USCIS and are exempt from the $50 fingerprint fee. These applicants and petitioners must file their completed card at the time their application or petition is filed.

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The Homestudy Interviews

Your state and/or agency may have different requirements, but we had one joint interview, one individual interview each, and one home visit with our social worker. I found it to be a somewhat lengthy, but interesting experience. (If you like to talk about yourself, you'll probably have an easier time than someone who tends to be uncomfortable talking about personal matters.)

Generally, you'll be asked about your childhood, your relationship -- past and present -- with parents and siblings, your school days, and previous marriages (if any). You'll be asked about the health and status of your current marriage, your attitudes about parenting, and corporal punishment.

And if Korea is your program of choice, a lot of time will be spent exploring your attitudes and beliefs about parenting a child of another race (if you're not of Asian ancestry yourself) -- and the affects of becoming an interracial family on your immediate and extended families.

You'll also be asked about the kind of child you're willing to consider.

  • Are you open to either boy or girl? Some agencies won't allow a gender choice since the great majority of families looking to adopt internationally, at least when starting out, prefer girls.**
  • Will you consider a baby born before 38 weeks gestation and/or low birth weight?
  • What is your preferable age range?
  • Will you consider a child with physical, emotional or developmental special needs? If so, what can you comfortably handle, what not?

For both of our adoptions, our criteria remained the same - boy or girl 0-18 months of age, born 36+ weeks, with mild, easily correctable physical special needs. What we didn't feel capable of handling was a child exposed in-utero to drugs or alcohol or with moderate to severe special needs of any sort.

Here's what we got: Spencer was a healthy boy born at 38 weeks, good birth weight, with a mild foot displacement (which was corrected in Korea and required nothing more in the US by our own pediatrician.) Piper was born full-term, good birth weight, no health or physical issues.

** Let's hear it for the boys. I'm going to make another plug here for being open to adopting a boy. Truth is, most families enter international adoption with the idea of adopting infant/toddler girls. That leaves beautiful, healthy boys at a distinct disadvantage. (And boys with special needs can wait far longer than their female counterparts to find loving adoptive homes.)

Our personal story: I'll admit at the very first thought of adoption, we also thought girl. I don't know why that is either. We already had a beautiful daughter at home. But we did think girl first. But when we discovered the wait for a girl could be considerably longer and that more boys needed homes, we didn't hesitate to be open to a baby of either sex. We were truly thrilled when we saw our son's photo for the first time.

A few months after Spencer arrived, we were asked to do one of our agency's monthly intro meetings where they feature a newly adoptive family. We all went. The meeting room had a table in the middle. My husband sat at the table with Spencer next to him in a clip-on seat attached to the table. I sat behind them and did most of the talking and answered questions. Some of them were about raising a boy. Some of them addressed my husband's feelings about raising an adopted son. (Those hubby answered himself.)

Now you have to envision the scene where my big grey-haired husband is sitting with his smiling, gleefully drooling 7-month old son with the big laugh. All eyes were on them. Spencer was a total delight and thoroughly enjoyed all of the attention he was receiving.

At the end of the evening, as we were getting ready to leave, one of the agency directors told us that Spencer had been even a bigger hit than we had imagined. Not a few families who walked in thinking "girl" told her they were now open to "boy" having seen Spencer and his daddy interact with each other, with great love and open joy.

Of course, I think all my children are wonderful. I'm their mom, it's my job. But we decided early on that since we couldn't pick the sex any child we'd make together, we weren't going to pick the sex of any child we adopted. We'd remain open to the possibilities.

For more "Let's hear it for the boys" stories, see Boys, Oh Wonderful Boys, The Joy of Boys. and 10 Myths About Boys.

Having preferences doesn't make you a bad person. Your agency wants you to be upfront and honest with them. But the more flexible you are - especially about gender - the faster you'll get a referral.

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Writing Your Autobiographies

Scared yet? In keeping with the tone of your initial interviews, here's your chance to really express yourselves on a lot of personal topics. Your social worker will probably give you an outline to follow. Our outline read something like this:

Your Family Describe your parents, siblings, and your childhood home. Your parents as a couple? Areas of agreement and disagreement?  Ways your parenting style is/isn't similar to your own parents?
Growing Up Describe your feelings about school life, favorite subjects, friends, etc. Teen issues? Religious orientation? Dating?
Courtship & Marriage Describe how you and your spouse met, courted and married. Relationships with in-laws? Mutual interests? Areas of strength and disagreement? (Reasons why previous marriage/s) didn't succeed?)
Children If you have them: describe your children, their personalities, and their feelings about adopting a sibling.

If you don't: describe your experiences with children

For both: what is your philosophy about childrearing, discipline, and punishment.

Adoption Describe your reasons for adopting. How will the child fit into your family? Childcare issues? Cultural issues and concerns?
Employment Describe your job. How do you feel about your work? Satisfactions and annoyances?
Community Describe your house and your community. Describe your community involvements.
General Strongest influences in your life? Greatest disappointments and achievements?

Don't like to write? Get over it. Besides, you won't be judged on how you write, just what you have to say. My husband's was five word processed pages. Mine was 10.

I'd say that if you can truthfully say what needs to be said in 3-5 pages, you'll be fine. Worse comes to worse? Dictate it into a tape recorder and have someone transcribe it for you later.

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Choosing Your Personal References

So who is going to say, in print and in person, how wonderful you are, singly and together? For the most part, those you ask will be incredibly honored.

But do start thinking about it now. Your social worker will ask for a few references for each of you. (Generally a family member isn't eligible for this honor.) Have a few good friends who've known you a long time? Good. Your priest/rabbi/pastor is also a good choice.

Try to include at least one reference who knows you as a couple. And if you already have children, you might ask if one of their teachers might offer a reference, as well. (My husband and I did this. My feeling was the best way to gauge our effectiveness as parents was to ask someone who has gotten to know our child well for many years.)

All the references you choose will be asked for a written reference. One or two of these references may be called for a more in-depth interview, or your social worker may want to meet a reference in person. So think about who'd be willing to go that extra mile.

Here are some of my personal recommendations for the homestudy process:

  • Be honest! A lot of information will be unearthed in your background checks, so make sure you're forthcoming about anything in your background that could seem even remotely dicey or problematic.
  • This isn't therapy. So be candid while keeping your written and spoken remarks on track with your goal of showing yourselves to be capable, loving parents. Also, too, if you have children in the home, your social worker will want to speak with them. It's a good idea to start talking with your children about adoption prior to the social worker's visit.
  • Don't kill yourselves cleaning for the home visit. What your social worker wants to see is a safe, relatively clean home with enough room to accommodate a child. You don't have to have the baby's room ready either. (And no one is going to look in your closets or white glove the top of your refrigerator.)
  • Your social worker wants to approve you! So give her/him what s/he needs on a timely basis. Get the documents in quickly. Get what needs to be notarized, notarized, etc. Make appointments and keep them. Sit down and get those autobiographies written.

Once your homestudy is approved, your agency will forward it to the USCIS to be included with your I-600A application. Upon completion of its review, the USCIS will then send you a notice stating your I-600A application has been approved. You can then fax or mail a copy of it to your agency to be added to your file. You keep the original.

Homestudy times vary widely. They can take as little as 30 days or as long as six months (our homestudy took three months from start to finish.) Remember, it's up to you to keep things moving along.

Note that the Korean adoption program doesn't require a separate dossier of documents. Korea accepts the American homestudy as sufficient documentation. If you're adopting from another country, you'll most likely be compiling documents for the country dossier.


Next stop, waiting for your referral!

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HIGHER USCIS FEES

Effective 10.26.05, fees for the I-600A/I-600 Orphan
Petition INCREASE from $525 to $545 and the N-600/N-600K fees INCREASE from $200 to $215 for a foreign
born adopted child.

If you've been foot-dragging, now's the time to get your initial paperwork completed and submitted.


Forms Processing Times by USCIS Office