Adoption Post-Placement of US Children Overseas: Rules of Thumb

Karen Smith RotabiKaren Smith Rotabi, PhD (pictured)
Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
DeGuerre Blackburn, MSW
Director, VIDA Adoption Agency, Hudson, NY

Summary: Following best practices set forth through international collaborations and the Hague Convention can facilitate successful international adoptions that meet the best interests of foster children.


Placing US children overseas has been quietly and slowly occurring for some time now. Specifically, European and Canadian families have successfully collaborated with US adoption professionals, and US military families have adopted many children while living overseas. Of course, the obvious question is: how does one go about actually carrying out this sort of activity, especially meeting post-placement requirements, in an already difficult and complicated system? The following case example begins to answer this question.

John and Katrina live in Germany. Katrina is a German citizen while John is a US citizen who has been living overseas for more than 10 years. Due to infertility issues, the couple decided on adoption. Because John is a citizen, they looked at some of the “waiting children” profiles on US adoption websites. However, upon making inquiries in the US, the road blocks appeared to be many and the couple felt helpless. They finally connected with a social worker committed to helping them make a placement—especially because they were interested in adopting an older child.

Because John is a citizen, the family’s case may appear to be a little more logical than a completely “foreign” adoption. What are the protocols and procedures when placing waiting children with families in Europe or other continents, some of whom may or may not speak English? Of course, there are more challenges here, but following a few simple rules of thumb is really all that is required.

In every industrialized country* there is a child welfare authority, a central authority if the country is a Hague-signatory nation. As a first step, that entity must be informed of the adoption and a request for collaboration should be made for post-placement activities. Then, a collaborative agreement or contract of services is drawn-up that identifies the roles and responsibilities. The agreement includes a timeline with post-placement activities and report deliverables. These provider agreements are essential for good care as well as for meeting standards of the Hague Convention, when applicable. If the local child welfare authority determines that they cannot meet the needs of post-placement services, document this fact for the record. This service can be contracted privately with appropriate professionals, most preferably a licensed child welfare professional with experience providing adoption placement services in that nation or region. In Europe, there are a number of individual practitioners and social workers who do this work privately. This individual provider is then supervised by the US agency carrying out the adoption placement activities.

It is essential to remember that good practice requires that we do not bypass the local child welfare authority in the receiving nation. This must be underscored because, in the past, local child welfare authorities have been ignored or even avoided for expediency. Now, under the Hague Convention, this is not acceptable. Now, in this new era of global cooperation, the expectation is collaboration and the goal is improved outcomes including improved child placement opportunities and enhanced services to support families.

We recently helped a family adopt a child from the UK foster care system. This child was placed with a relative family member living in the US. The UK government contracted with a US agency (VIDA of Hudson, NY) to carry out the home study and post-placement activities. The process was relatively simple but required all of the steps outlined above and a commitment to good practice and clear lines of communication about placement expectations. The agency, a Hague-accredited organization, met the requirements set forth by the US standards and by the contract negotiated with the UK. Today, the child has been adopted in the US—through a relative placement after following the rules of thumb set forth above. Of course, this same happy ending is possible for a US child being placed in the UK or any other nation.


*Author’s Note: If the nation is not an industrialized country, there will still be a local child welfare authority or ministry of social development. Working with a receiving nation that has fewer resources requires all of the same steps, and it is not uncommon for a private practitioner or private social worker to be contracted to provide the actual post-placement services.

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