Angela Walker – June 2016
* Editor’s Note – Angela Walker is a partner at MDW Law whose practice includes providing legal services and advice for Nova Scotia families who grow their families by adoption. In the first of a two part series, she shares her own adoption journey.
When Personal and Professional Worlds Intersect – A Lawyer’s Journey in International Adoption: Part 1
When my husband and I decided to grow our family through international adoption, I really did not know where to begin. What I have learned from the process is that persistence and patience are key.
The internet is full of a plethora of information but it is incredibly difficult to decipher what is relevant, particularly, to Nova Scotia families.
The starting point for us was selecting a country from which we wanted to adopt. This is the very first step. A great deal of research was undertaken to understand the various programs, to try to assess which countries may be more ethical, to determine which countries “were moving”, as in international adoption, delays are often the only certainty. For me, I had a strong pull to the African continent. With this conclusion, there were really only a few programs that were viable: South Africa, and at the time, Ethiopia and the Congo.
South Africa was the only country of these three that was a signatory to the Hague Convention, which was important to us. I also determined, from research, that the South Africa program was “moving well” and that there were no anticipated delays on the horizon. With this conclusion in hand, I proceeded to call Adoption Services at the Department of Community Services, Nova Scotia as the very first formal step, once a country is selected, is to apply through this office. When I phoned, I was initially told that the South Africa program was no longer operational. It took me some time to convince the department that this in fact was incorrect! Once over this hurdle, we had to complete an application with the department to ensure there were no obvious concerns on file that may impact our ability to be parents. We filled out a short form and we received a response in relatively short order. Formal step one complete!
From there we formally applied with the agency Family by Adoption in Toronto to be accepted as a family. We were accepted into the program on March 22, 2014. When we were formally accepted into this program, the real work began. We proceeded to get criminal record checks, finger prints, child abuse registry checks, collect a series of reference letters, procure a history of our finances, including a letter from our accountant. And then, of course there was the home study! I was beyond nervous to place the fate of my ability to parent in the hands of an unknown social worker who would be entering into our home to “assess” us as potential parents. We also each underwent a series of interviews, both alone, and together, with the social worker. My fears of this process were entirely misplaced! Our social worker, who gave us the go ahead, has since become a trusted support.
While the home study process was ongoing, we also started the immigration process by filing for proof of our own citizenship, which is the first step in adopting internationally if you are seeking to bring your child into the country as a citizen. The application is very straightforward but for some reason, the approval process takes what seems like forever (and it has gotten much worse this past year – up to twelve months).
With our home study completed, we still needed approval from the Department of Community Services to move forward, which normally takes two weeks. It just so happened that when our home study was forwarded o the Department (early July), that the office was in the process of moving. Then the one person who approves home studies was on vacation for two weeks. Our home study was approved by the Department on August 18, 2014.
We were finally ready to finalize our dossier and forward the mounds of paperwork to Family by Adoption. This dossier included an 8-page story of our lives, trying to colorfully depict who we were as a family so that the social worker on the ground in South Africa could match us with a child. Family by Adoption received our dossier on September 4, 2015. Nova Scotia is one of the few provinces that insists on sending the dossier directly to the country from which you are seeking to adopt. What this means is that once Family by Adoption was satisfied that our dossier was complete, all of our paperwork had to be couriered back to Halifax. The Department of Community Services then forwarded our dossier to South Africa on September 8, 2015.
We are lucky we chose South Africa. In the midst of our process, the Ethiopian adoption program was shut down as was the program in the Congo. This is the reality of international adoption: things can change fast when you are working with two different nations and governments. Stay tuned for what happened next!