Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why Is International Adoption SO Expensive? (Part 1)

We regularly receive two questions about our adoption. The most common question is, “Why Ethiopia?” (check out Why NOT Ethiopia? to read my response). The second most common question we get is, “Why does international adoption cost SO much?” It’s alright. You don’t have to hide your shock when I tell you that our adoption is going to cost roughly $40,000. When we first added everything up, the figure shocked me, too.

            We get some interesting reactions when we disclose the estimated total of our adoption, such as, “Isn’t that just a rip off?” “That’s just child trafficking!” and, “You know, you could spend that money better by [insert a thousand other ways we could spend a huge amount of money].” We also hear a lot from people who would genuinely love to adopt internationally but are afraid of becoming part of some racket. Hopefully, the following will help relieve some of those concerns.

            I’ll be honest. I think international adoption costs way more than it should. Some of the fees seem really outrageous. And yes, there are corrupt people around the world who are out to make money off of the plight of orphaned children. But international adoption is NOT about buying and selling children. Reputable adoption agencies with strong ethical standards will make sure that they are not part of any such operation. Agencies use the money they receive to cover their own overhead, keep in line with government regulations, and take care of orphans who have not yet been adopted. They are not out to make a fortune. If that were their goal, they would be in another line of work.

So, if the fees are not simply a scam, where exactly does all the money go? Most people are surprised to find out that a large percentage of the cost of international adoption is not what one would consider strictly an “adoption expense.” Many of the things we have to pay for are not because we are adopting a child; rather, they are costs incurred because we are trying to bring a foreigner into the United States of America and make him a citizen. That involves lots of legal expenses and other fees that are not set by the “adoption industry.”

Let me break some of those costs down.

            I’ll start with the fees we have paid so far and go into the remaining expenses in the next post. Our very first fee was a $250 application fee to our placement agency. Yes, that is a lot of money just to apply, but it makes sense. Time and effort from staff members is required to process applications, and they should be fairly paid for their work. An application fee also weeds out families who are just curious about adoption from those who are actually serious about getting started.

We chose to go with an out-of-state placement agency, which meant that we needed an IN-state agency to complete our home study. The home study application fee was $500.

            Once we were accepted by both agencies, the next thing we paid was the actual home study fee of $2,700. That is a pretty typical price for a home study. We met with our social worker about four times, she did a home visit, and then she wrote up a detailed report about our family. The payment goes toward the social worker’s salary and things like having the home study certified and notarized.

            During our home study, all of us had to have medical exams. Joshua and I also had to have a ton of lab work done. They drew so much blood I thought I was going to faint for the first time in my life. That all ran us about $1400. Yeah. That hurt worse than the blood being drawn. Although we only had these exams done because we are adopting, these are medical fees that the medical field charges, not fees that adoption agencies come up with just so they can make money.

            Our placement agency’s Ethiopia program fee is $8,000, which we paid in three increments. Remember that this is an organization that works internationally. That means that, aside from salaries, utilities, and other basic business expenditures, they also have to pay for things like flying people over to Ethiopia for updates on the work there and meeting with the Ethiopian government to advocate for families. Working internationally is expensive for adoption agencies. The program fee covers some of those costs.

Once you are in the program, our agency requires something like 20 hours of education. We have spent $325 in class fees to meet those education requirements. Again, I’ll be honest; I don’t understand why the classes cost so much. However, that is not an outrageous price when compared with other educational programs.

            Our next expenses were related to preparing our dossier (the packet of detailed information about our family, which is sent to Ethiopia). That required applying to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), which cost $890. This government agency approves us to bring a child into the country to adopt. The fee included the cost of having our fingerprints checked and multiple background checks completed.

            In addition to applying to USCIS, to complete our dossier we had to order several certified copies of our marriage license and birth certificates. We were ordering documents from three different states, and each one varied in their fees, but (including shipping and processing fees) they totaled about $195. Once more, this was not strictly an adoption cost. That money did not go to someone looking to make money off of orphans; it was simply the price anyone would have to pay for getting extra copies of certified documents.
            After our dossier was completed we had to get it authenticated by the Secretary of State ($20) and the US State Department ($16). We then sent it to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington D.C. for additional authentication ($189.60). Because the dossier contains such sensitive information, we had to pay for it to be hand delivered to the embassy ($90). It was then sent back to our agency’s office where it sat until we had finished paying our agency’s program fee. Finally, when all payments were received, our agency forwarded the dossier to Ethiopia ($180).
            The fees we have paid thus far total roughly $14,755. There were other minor expenses along the way for things like mailing documents to our agency, getting passport pictures taken to be included in our dossier, having local background checks done for our home study, etc. That total, though, reflects the majority of what we have paid for our adoption up to this point.
            Keep in mind that every adoption is different. International adoption can cost anywhere from $20,000 or less to over $60,000. Each country has its own requirements, and each agency has different ways of setting their fees. This is simply a break-down of what our adoption costs and where the money goes. I am sharing this information for those who are genuinely interested in why international adoption is so expensive.
            So, where is the rest of the $40,000 for our adoption going? Stay tuned for Part 2.

[Photo courtesy of chrisroll and www.freedigitalphotos.net]

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