Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Angelina and Vietnam adoptions

Dear Sam,

For the first time in my life, I bought "People" magazine. Well, actually it was "Us" magazine, and I didn't really buy it, but I did ask for my co-worker's copy. You see, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were on the cover for a story about their adopting a 3-year-old boy from Vietnam. His name is Paz. I've seen pictures of him, and boy is he cute. There's been a lot of controversy about how quickly her adoption may have happened, though none of us really knows how her adoption happened.

I found this really great article from Adoption Buzz about adoptions in Vietnam. It explains pretty well the whole timing issue. I'm reprinting it here, for all those family and friends who are trying to understand this whole process.

(This is Part I of a 2-part series. Though Angelina's adoption is drawing a lot of attention on the adoption process, I think it can help to highlight some of the developing trends in Vietnam Adoption and show us that legal, ethical, and quick isn't necessarily an oxymoron).

The news confirming Angelina's arrival in Ho Chi Minh City to finalize her adoption is raising questions among the Vietnam adoption community about timeline, ethics, and fairness. While I do not have any specific information about her adoption other than what I find online, I do feel that her situation is drawing attention to relevant issues in Vietnam adoptions.

First, even though adoptive families are facing varying wait times before being invited to travel to Vietnam to finish their adoption, the adoption timeline in Vietnam is fairly clear cut. The legal process, as set out in Decree 68, takes up to 120 days (Art 40, Part I). This includes 30 days for approval of the adoptive family dossier and up to 90 days (Art 43, 44, 45, 46) for compilation and review of the adoptive child dossier (birth certificate, medical evaluation, abandonment verification, search for the birthmother, public notification, or verification of birth parents' relinquishment).

The most notable exclusion in this timeline is that it does not include time for identification of a child who may be available for adoption. For the process to be completed within the prescribed 120 days, it requires for an orphan child to be available and in the orphanage on the day that the Department of International Adoptions requests the orphanage to begin compiling the adoptive child dossier. If a child is not available on that day the timeline will be increased by as many days as it takes for a child to become available. (Note: This is not necessarily the only reason for an increased timeline, but it is one of the primary factors affecting increased waiting times).

Sometimes I think this can be a difficult concept to fully understand. We hear about poverty. We see pictures of orphan children and the orphanages where they live. We read the UNICEF statistics that more than 2 million children are orphaned in Vietnam. Yet we hear that we may have to wait for a child to become available? How can this be? The quick answer is that not all "orphans" living in orphanages are eligible for adoption and legal entrance into the United States. When it comes to international adoption for American citizens hoping to bring their adopted child back to the U.S., the only definition of "orphan" that matters is the definition that is laid out in the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(b)(1)(F).

In addition to the possibility of the adoption timeline being increased because some of the children in the orphanage may not meet the definition of orphan under 101(b)(1)(F), some adoptive families may face longer timelines because of individual adoption agency logistics. Because each of the U.S. adoption agencies licensed in Vietnam is responsible for entering into humanitarian support agreements with specific orphanages before they are permitted to operate in a province, each agency is responsible for the number of orphanages and number of provinces in which they may place orphan children for adoption. And, of course, each adoption agency has a choice of how many adoptive parents they will accept into their Vietnam Adoption Program. When the balance becomes disproportionate one way or the other, the wait time will be impacted.

This brings us back to Angelina Jolie and my first point: though wait times vary, the legal process is straight forward. If a child is available for placement and an agency is working in enough orphanages to maintain the number of adoptive families in process, there are few reasons why the legal process in Vietenam should extend beyond 120 days. If her process began on or around Thanksgiving when she was in Vietnam to visit the orphanage, we are within a few days of 120.Another important Vietnam adoption trend highlighted in her adoption is the timing of when the 120 day legal process begins. Most of us understand the process to include the following: 1) our dossiers are sent to Vietnam, 2) our dossiers are submitted to DIA, 3) we wait for a referral, 4) we receive our referral and wait to travel.


Lucy said...

Thanks for writing about this, and clearing up a few things or at least enlightening us that aren't and haven't been going through this but are nevertheless interested in how the whole process works. I think I understand a little better, its a lot of red tape and when you hear about these celebrities, you think well jeez, what did they do, just snap their fingers and all of sudden they get a child while others that are w/o the notariaty and obvious cushy financial backing have to wait long drawn out waiting periods. We don't really know what has gone on behind close doors--it's just a little suspect though in my book. I hope Heidi, for you and your husband, the time is coming near when you will have your beloved children laughing and smiling in your loving home.


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