According to statistics from the U.S. Department of State, 4,728 visas were issued in 2007 to children coming from Guatemala. By 2011, that number had dropped to 29. In essence, Guatemala has closed itself to foreign adoptions, says Rudy Rivera, attorney with Anderson, Schmidt & Rivera. “There are not that many places to adopt internationally now because the rules have become so cumbersome and countries have found it too hard to comply.”

Those rules stem from the Hague Adoption Convention, an international treaty that sets forth a standard of practices for international adoption. The convention applies to all adoptions between the United States and countries that have agreed to participate, dictating requirements such as a central authority for adoptions in each country, according to the State Department. While the purpose behind the Convention is to safeguard foreign adoptions and prevent corruption and commercialization of children, Rivera sees the rules as overkill. “They should have prosecuted the people who committed fraud, instead having a knee-jerk reaction—it’s like killing an ant with an atom bomb,” he explains. “It creates so much red tape in the foreign countries, and in the meantime, you have kids sitting in orphanages who could be legitimately placed in adoption.”

The additional regulations also mean additional costs, which many countries cannot afford. “If we have to keep cutting from our social services in the U.S., what is a country like Guatemala going to do? It just becomes more expensive for the families to adopt,” Rivera says.

Those extra costs have affected adoption agencies, as well. In order to work with Hague Convention countries, American agencies have to be licensed and accredited by the State Department, costing thousands of dollars—one of several expenses that have dictated the closure of some agencies, says Rivera, who seldom handles international adoptions anymore.

While families still can work with non-Hague agencies to adopt from non-Hague countries, the hazards of doing so are up for debate. “By adopting from a country that is not Hague-approved, you’re taking a lot of risks because you’re not protected by the Convention,” says the Adoption Exchange’s Jennifer Beavers. “You’re counting on an international agency to meet all your needs, and if they don’t follow through, there’s no legal recourse.”

On the other hand, Rivera believes it’s riskier to adopt from a Hague country. “There are so many rules that you have to follow, and the country you’re working with could suddenly close and you won’t get your child.”

While Beavers and Rivera differ on the risks of the two options, they agree that it is important for families to thoroughly research and understand all components of international adoption before pursuing it. “You need to find an agency and make sure they have experience and savvy in the country you want to adopt from,” Rivera says. “Some agencies may have coordinators who are assigned a country, but they don’t have the in-depth knowledge and contacts needed.”

Beavers also cautions awareness of the cost. “When you start the process, an agency may give you one dollar figure, and as time goes on, the price continues to increase—there are always unknown expenses.” In addition, the adoption tax credit of up to approximately $13,000 for qualified adoption expenses and special-needs adoptions is set to expire at the end of 2012, unless Congress renews it, according to

While the financial aspect is daunting, so is the time frame for an international adoption, taking a year or longer. A Hague-approved adoption in Mexico can take up to five years, while a non-Hague adoption from Haiti can take two years, Rivera notes. “Families need to be prepared that it’s going to take a long time and there are going to be ups and downs.”

If an international adoption does go through, families still have to take steps to acquire a visa for their new child. While Rivera explains that U.S. embassies are usually quick about processing the paperwork, he stresses the need to carefully follow all rules and steps to prevent any denial of the visa.

If a family succeeds in the foreign adoption process, they need to be aware of the potential emotional and behavioral issues that the child may face, just as with domestic adoptions, Beavers says. “A lot of times, people will travel to a country and see this cute little baby, and they don’t realize these children may have been abused or neglected—often, that information is withheld.”

And if a family is leaning toward international adoption because the birth family will be out the picture, that is a disservice to the child, Beavers says. “Every child I’ve ever met who was adopted has some kind of longing to know where they came from. That doesn’t just disappear because they move 10,000 miles away.”

Despite the complicated and difficult process, international adoption still is an opportunity to give a loving home to a child in need. The proper considerations will help determine what the right course of action is for each family, Beavers says. “People should learn about the different options—from international to domestic adoption—and decide what’s best for their family.”

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