Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of Adoption from Ukraine

So this blogpost is for all you newbies out there who may be wandering about the process of adopting from Ukraine.  You can do a google search and get loads of info on this topic.  So please do not consider this some sort of official standard.  I want to speak from my experience; not from any sort of legal standpoint.  My experience includes adopting a 10 year old boy and 15 year old boy from 2 different regions in July 2008; adopting a 16 year old girl in February 2010; and an SDA appointment for September, asking for permission to adopt a sibling group of teens aged 13-17. 

Ukraine is not part of the Hague Convention, which means you do not have to use an adoption agency.  Agencies do not have lists of children available for adoption in Ukraine to match you with.  Instead, you go to the SDA, a government agency in Ukraine, and ask permission to adopt one of their children.  ( SDA stood for something at one time.  The name has changed to Department for Family and Children and some have begun referring to it as the DFC. I will stick with SDA for now). Children must be at least 5 years old before they are available for intercountry adoption.   Older children, sibling groups and children with special needs are readily available.  You can go to Ukraine blind or you can ask permission to adopt a specific child you have met through hosting or some other avenue.  Just know that no one (not a facilitator, not a hosting organization, not the SDA) can "hold" a child for you at any time.  Just because you have hosted or asked permission to adopt a certain child, there is no guarantee that child is or will be available when you get to Ukraine.  In fact, there is no guarantee that child is even registered with the SDA unless you go through official channels to obtain this information.  

Before you can go to the SDA and ask for permission to adopt, you will spend 3-6 months preparing what is known as your dossier.  This, first and foremost, includes your homestudy.  So your first step in adopting from Ukraine is hiring a social worker who preferably has experience in preparing homestudies for Ukraine, as it has specific requirements unique to Ukraine.  Talk to people who have adopted from Ukraine.  Join facebook pages and yahoo groups.  Hire your social worker and get to work.  (beginning July 2014, your social worker will have to be part of a Hague-accredited agency.) It is wise to ask your social worker to approve you for more children than you think you want to adopt as there have been numerous instances where families get to the SDA and find out that there is a sibling of a child they are seeking to adopt.  

In addition to your homestudy, you will have a stack of documents that have to be notarized and apostilled.   These include things like criminal background checks, marriage certificates, medical exams and proofs of income.  You can obtain this list from other adoptive parents or start your search here 

As you talk to other adoptive parents, you are going to be hearing a lot about their “facilitator”.  Everybody who adopts from Ukraine has one.  He or she is the person in Ukraine whom you pay to translate your dossier, act on your behalf during the adoption process, and take care of you during your stay there.  Some have loved their facilitator.  Some have hated him.  But everyone has strong opinions about him.  Next to choosing your child, this is the most important decision you make when adopting from Ukraine.  You will have a miserable or happy experience depending on your relationship with your facilitator.  There is more to facilitating than getting the job done.  Most will do that. But there are many other factors to consider and I would talk to as many people as possible about their facilitator before choosing.  Once your facilitator is chosen, he or she can guide you in compiling your dossier. One note of caution, a hosting program cannot force you to use their facilitator.  You can use him or her.  And often it is wise.  But if a hosting organization tells you that you MUST use their facilitator, they are acting unethically.  Likewise, be cautious of anyone in a hosting organization that profits from your adoption.  If you need help in compiling your dossier, above and beyond what your facilitator can provide, hire an agency who is not involved in introducing you to specific children.  Or better yet, talk to the many families who have gone before you.  Most will offer you free advise.  A red flag should go up if a hosting organization introduces you to a child then offers to help you compile your dossier for a fee.  

The situation is Ukraine is constantly in flux as regards the adoption timeframe.  We started our homestudy in March.  Based upon how things were going at the time, I thought we would have an appointment with the SDA in Ukraine in late August.  Even after we submitted our dossier to the SDA July 9th,  I still felt confident about that. However, things have slowed down in Ukraine right now.  The SDA says this is due to summer vacations and just getting behind.  Whatever the case, it is late August and we just received notice of our appointment date.  Our dossier was “approved” on August 1st.  In the past, they would have given us an appointment date on the same day.  Instead, 3 weeks later, we learned that our appointment will be on September 30th.  That means that currently, there is a lapse of 3 months from submittal to appointment.

This often-changing nature of the process in Ukraine is the kind of thing that can lead some people away from adopting from there.  However, in spite of delays, changes in procedure and even occasional shut-downs, I have found Ukraine to be a very fair and straightforward country from which to adopt.  It is not America.  And you can’t go into Ukraine, or any other foreign country for that matter, expecting their government and judicial system to operate as ours; nor can you march over there demanding rights that maybe you are used to.  But if you are patient, willing to submit to their way of doing things, are willing to adopt older or special needs children, and are at least a tad adventurous, you really can’t go wrong with this beautiful country and its beautiful children.   

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