Tips and explanations for the dossier and I-800A.
The international adoption process has a vocabulary all its own. For that matter, adoption has a vocabulary all its own. So when it comes to preparing for your own adoption or perhaps supporting a friend’s adoption, you might hear words like dossier and I-800A. What is a dossier? What is an I-800A, and what do you need to know to prepare them?
INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION HAS A LOT OF PAPERWORK
First, if you don’t know already, our family is in the midst of an international adoption. I long for the day that I can tell you that we have a match, and I can’t wait for the day that he or she is finally in my arms.
I think long and often about that little baby on the other side of the world who will one day be my son, my daughter. I think about the fights we will have, the memories we will share, and the strange and unique experiences we will encounter.
Any adoption, whether from foster care, domestic private placement, international, or even embryo, is full of paperwork. You might even hear the term “paper pregnant.”
Adopting couples might refer to themselves as “paper pregnant” during the waiting stages of adoption: after the paperwork is complete but before the child has come home.
And, having carried that massive stack of home study and dossier paperwork around multiple counties, I can tell you that the weight of it is very similar to all the weight I gained while pregnant! (But, it didn’t give me bacne or extreme fatigue!)
(Yes, you read that right. I have 3 biological children and am still choosing to adopt. Read more about it here.)
Adoption has lots and lots of paperwork. And, international adoption or intercountry adoption has even more than the standard domestic adoption.
PREPARING INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION PAPERWORK FOR MULTIPLE GOVERNMENTS
Why? Well, in short because you are dealing with more than one government. In fact, you are not only dealing with more than one country’s government, you are dealing with more than one form of government.
While domestic adoptions (barring an ICPC arrangement that we won’t discuss here) are predominantly handled by the state governments, international adoptions have a federal component. Thus, in an international adoption, you must prepare paperwork for your state government, the federal government (Immigration), and the placing country.
What’s more is that for any country that has ratified The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (The Hague Convention on Adoption) you also must prepare documentation that complies with the United Nations Treaty.
Before you are overwhelmed by the paperwork remember that there are more than 15 million orphans worldwide who have lost both parents and who are in need of a home. (https://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html). Thus, don’t be deterred from giving a child a forever home simply because there is a little (ok, a lot) paperwork involved.
In fact, let’s dive in and see if I can help make your paperwork prep a little easier.
First, let’s talk about the I-800A or The Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country
This rather simple but powerful document is the bridge that lets you cross from the home study side of the river to the dossier side of the river.
In other words, approval of your I-800A is the gateway to finally submitting the paperwork that will go to the placing country.
Remember how I said that unlike a private domestic adoption, international adoptions require approvals and paperwork for the federal government rather than just the state? Well, this is it. This is likely the first (depending on your circumstances of course) of a few different immigration forms that you will need to complete before the federal government will approve you to adopt.
WHY IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INVOLVED IN INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS?
In 2008, the United States effectively ratified the Hague Convention on Adoption. As part of that convention, the United States had to agree to regulate international adoptions.
The entire aim of the Hague Convention on Adoption is to protect children. Its ultimate goal is to eliminate gruesome practices like child-trafficking, to support families in-country, and to preserve ethnic, racial, and cultural ties for children.
One of the ways that the United States regulates international adoptions is by reviewing and approving the applications for adoption by US citizens. The US is required to make a determination that a prospective adoptive family is eligible and suitable to adopt a child.
This means meeting certain, age, ethical, and social requirements. Although your home study is governed by the state where you reside, the home study must also meet certain Hague Convention requirements that are then checked by the federal government.
So, an integral part of submitting your I-800A is not only submitting the form but also submitting your Hague compliant home study completed by a Hague accredited agency. (For more details about what is necessary for a Hague home study, check this out.)
Are you still with me? Had enough of the legal jargon and background?
COMPLETING THE I-800A
Tread cautiously as you enter into I-800A territory. For there is both an I-800A and an I-800. Prior to submitting your dossier, you are only concerned with the I-800A, so be certain that you have the correct form. Find it here.
PARTS 1 and 2 of the I-800A
If you are a married couple adopting, you will both fill out a single I-800A. Do not submit a separate I-800A for both of you. The document is separated into a few sections, but the first and second section are first for the applicant and second for the applicant’s spouse.
Fill in your basic identifying information, and if you have any questions on what sections to fill or what sections to skip, you can review the oh-so-comprehensive-and-a-bit-too-descriptive instructions here.
PARTS 3 and 4 of the I-800A
Parts 3 and 4 are a little bit trickier. Section 3 requires information related to your personal home study. Do not try to fill this out without reviewing it with your adoption placement provider.
You must ensure that you have a completed and approved (or submitted for approval to the appropriate state agency) home study before your I-800A can be processed.
Further, today, unlike pre-Hague, more and more adoption providers are forgoing the opportunity to be Hague accredited. Still others are letting their accreditation lapse due to complicated and expensive requirements to keep up with the ever-changing Hague.
So, your placing agency might be different than you home study agency. Typically you will want to have your placing agency listed on your I-800A as this will be the agency that actually corresponds with the sending country rather than your home study agency.
Be very careful to follow your placing agency’s directions carefully when filling out section 3. Better yet, have them review it prior to sending it off to that secret lockbox facility that we will come back to later.
Just a few more lines of affirmations, certifications, and signatures, and the I-800A is complete. However, DON’T NEGLECT THE ATTACHMENTS.
As I said, the I-800A is actually a fairly simple document. But, you must prove the statements contained in it. Thus, you must include proof of your citizenship via a birth certificate, passport, consular statement, or naturalization statement.
You must prove your marital status and even termination of marital status via marriage certificates, divorce decrees, or death certificates, if applicable.
And, you must prove that other people over the age of 18 in your household are also suitable for the adoption. This will include an additional biometric scan, background check, proof of citizenship, and filing Supplement 1.
Finally, do not forget to send a copy of your completed, Hague-compliant home study. This will include the home study, proof of compliance with Hague and state laws, as well as USCIS (immigration) statements needed for any Hague Convention international adoption.
And, let me further recommend that you send in optional supplement 2. As an attorney, I always appreciate when my clients fill out the consents to disclose information for applicants. The I-800A has a supplement deftly called “Supplement 2” that allows you to give permission to the US government to discuss your approval and application with your adoption agency. I recommend that you fill it out. You can find Supplement 2 here.
Your adoption agency is much more adept at understanding the immigration jargon, and allowing them to help with the process may help keep it going more smoothly.
Before sending your I-800A be absolutely certain that you have clear copies of each of your supporting documents and supplements.
HOW THE I-800A IS PROCESSED
Wait wait…there’s more.
So, you completed the I-800A, you added the supporting documents, and you sent it off.
But, do you know that these documents don’t go straight to the processor? Nope, instead, your fee (which is conveniently listed in the corner of the I-800A form and is regularly changed), your application, and all of the supplemental information including the home study travel to a processing facility. After that you will be scheduled for biometric scans and finally given a determination of whether it is approved or not.
Historically this process has taken a matter of weeks. However, recent events have put processing WAY behind due to government shut downs and pandemic distancing. Thus, I can give you very little indication of how long this process should take.
However, you are now on your way to preparing your dossier.
PREPARING FOR YOUR DOSSIER
Together with your home study, your dossier is your presentation of yourself and your family to the sending country’s adoption board. It is your interview on paper, your adoption résumé, and even your references.
The dossier is your best foot forward that also includes opinions by private agencies, state government, and federal immigration that you are suitable to adopt.
Further, your dossier lets that sending country’s adoption board know your preferences for adoption: age, special needs, number, etc. In essence, your dossier is your case to the adoption board (or other placing agency in a foreign country) that you are fit to adopt a child that matches your approved criteria.
Therefore, you want to pay particular attention to your dossier.
HOW TO PREPARE THE DOSSIER
The best advice I can give you for your dossier is to make sure that you are doing it as you prepare your home study information. Conveniently, much of the information that is in the dossier is the same that you provide in the home study. So, tediously, you will fill out the same information multiple times and feel like you are repeating yourself endlessly.
But, don’t make the same mistake that I made: even though both processes may require the same information, they may not require it on the same form. PLUS, they may BOTH require originals. And…watch those expiration dates.
Remember how I said that when you are dealing with an international adoption, you are dealing with multiple governments at multiple levels. Well, the home study and the dossier are the perfect pictures of why that is an issue.
Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky can’t get on the same page about adoption criteria and best home study practices. So, you better believe that the United States, Kenya, and Thailand can’t either. Every state, every country has its own adoption criteria, parameters, and requirements. So, be mindful that the rules can change and do change frequently.
Your country program will have its own requirements for the dossier.
In other words, your particular country will have very particular requirements for your particular situation.
So, your dossier must be country specific. There are many bits of information that are required pursuant to the Hague Convention on Adoption. BUT, there are plenty of other bits of information that are required only by the sending country.
For example, our sending country requires religious references on our behalf. (If you are interested in some other unique criteria that are important for adoptions, read this.)
Many countries limit by age, religion, marital status, and even number of children in the home. So, in order to comply with those restrictions, your dossier must include country-specific information.
WHAT IS IN YOUR DOSSIER?
Although you MUST COMPLY WITH YOUR PROGRAM’S DOSSIER REQUIREMENTS, here are some of the things that you will certainly have to include:
- Information about you, your home, and your family: This will likely include pictures, names, ages, descriptions and videos of your home, and even information related to your personal finances, debts, or income.
- Information about your legal status and ethics: This might include your proof of citizenship, residence, local, state, and federal background checks, and references from employers, friends, family, or other local leaders.
- Information about your desire to adopt: You will likely need to include an adoption application, which will no doubt contain personal narratives and your home study.
- Information related to the child you hope to adopt: You will need to include information that allows the placing agency to select or suggest a child or children that are appropriate for you. This may include making selections related to the child’s birth history, social and medical background, age, gender, and more.
- Proof of training: The Hague Convention on Adoption requires that prospective adoptive parents complete a number of trainings. No dossier is complete without dozens of hours of trainings, worksheets, and interactive sessions. You will need to complete these trainings and submit proofs of completion with your dossier.
When your dossier is complete and approved, your placing agency will deliver it to your sending country. Then, after they have received it, they will review and approve its contents.
PREPARING FOR THE WAIT
The front end of adoption is so paperwork heavy. It is full of strange vocabulary, interactions with multiple forms of government, and mountains of documents. However, completing a stack of paperwork does not a parent make.
In fact, you may still have weeks, months, or even years of waiting in front of you. Strangely enough, no matter how glad you are to have the paperwork behind you, you might wish that you had some other task to complete or binder to put together.
Of course, you will need to be certain to keep your documents up to date, to inform your placing agency of any changes in your circumstances, and to report any life events. However, after you complete the I-800A and the Dossier, you are in the waiting room.
Making sure that you have clean, clear, and complete records and proper forms will help make your adoption smoother. Be sure that you keep your own copies of the I-800A as well as the dossier so that you can provide updates or other information quickly and easily.
DON’T LET THE PAPERWORK KEEP YOU FROM ADOPTING
Finally, I fear that this long and complicated explanation of 2 of the central steps in an international adoption might deter you from pursuing it yourself. However, don’t forget that nearly 15 million children are out there waiting for a family, and your fear of paperwork pales in comparison to the needs of those children.
So, if you think that adoption might be right for you, throw yourself head first into the mountains of paperwork. I am absolutely certain that you will have to do some things twice, will miss one of the documents, or will simply find yourself overwhelmed some days.
But, keep going. Keep slogging through the documents, the paperwork, the legal jargon. Have your “why” readily available so that you know exactly why you are willing to put yourself through this chaos!
Honestly, that is where this blog really came from! I need a “why” as well as public accountability for making sure that my priorities are in the right place. If you need that too, follow here!
Or, maybe you need something more tangible. In that case, check out these books for adults related to the adoption journey.