Adopting a child from overseas

Adopting a child from overseas is usually more complicated than adopting a child domestically.  Children adopted from overseas are typically older, and may have already been impacted by difficult experiences.  There are cultural considerations as well; a child needs some kind of connection to their native heritage, and may not speak English when they first arrive in New Zealand.

The process

Overseas adoption timeframes are unpredictable because countries vary in their requirements and each case is unique.  Since we follow internationally recognised standards, and place importance on each step of the process, international adoptions don't happen quickly. 

We work with representatives in seven countries to arrange inter-country adoptions.  Each country has its own requirements of adoptive parents and their own adoption process.  We'll help you understand what's required and sort through the required documentation to get things underway.

We also work closely with Inter Country Adoption New Zealand (ICANZ), Compassion for Orphans (CfO) and Adoptions First Steps.  They're agencies accredited to assist families who have been matched with children overseas needing adoption, and can help you through the process.

More detailed information about the adoption and intercountry adoption process is available on our practice centre website.  This site holds all our social work practice information, including the policies and resources that guide our work.

Please visit your nearest Child, Youth and Family Adoption Services office to get started, or contact us.

Getting approved as an adoptive parent

If you are considering adopting a child from overseas, your first port of call is our Adoption Services at Child, Youth and Family.  We're here to help, so give us a call if you'd like to learn about adopting a child from overseas, or go to an information meeting - these meetings are a great way to get an overview of the adoption process.  You'll also meet people who can answer your questions.

As part of the application process you'll be asked to provide:

  • provide the names of two people who know you well and who can provide references relevant to your application
  • give permission for your doctor to provide medical information
  • give permission for Child, Youth and Family to do a police check.
    It's important that you have no offences affecting the safety of a child.

Most countries also require additional information such as psychological reports and financial records. 

If you'd like to ask about health issues or other matters (e.g. age requirements) that may affect your application, you can talk to an adoption social worker about it.

Adoption Education and Preparation Programme

Once we've received your application, we will invite you to an adoption Education and Preparation programme.

At the programme, you'll get more in-depth information about adoption, and what it means for you and your family and the adopted child.  This is a chance for you to ask as many questions as you want.  You'll likely be assigned an adoption social worker at this point who will work with you throughout the process.

We'll also talk about general attitudes and beliefs about adoption so that you're able to make a decision about whether applying to adopt a child from overseas is right for you and your family.

Matching you to a child overseas

Children who are adopted from overseas often have special needs because of disability, age and things that may have happened in their past.  That means they'll need extra care from families that are committed to helping them thrive. You would obviously need to be able to embrace and promote a cultural identity for the child.  Though not required, it helps to have some kind of cultural connection to the country you want to adopt from. 

Some countries have set criteria for the types of parents that they'll consider for adoption, such as:

  • age
  • fertility status
  • marital status
  • family composition.

A Home Study Assessment Report, prepared after you have been assessed and approved to be an adoptive parent, identifies your ability to support a child adopted from overseas.  This report is sent to representatives in the country you're approved to adopt from.  Authorities there will consider whether they have any children in need of adoption overseas who would benefit from what your family has to offer.  They'll then send the child's profile back to New Zealand for Child, Youth and Family to consider.

Consideration will be given to the match based on what's best for the child. 
If the Central Authority in the other country, which authorises adoptions, believes that the child could benefit by joining your family your social worker will then talk to you about the child's profile and the next steps.

The final decision to adopt involves:

  • you
  • New Zealand Central Authority
  • Child, Youth and Family Adoption Services
  • the overseas authority
  • the child, if they're old enough to make that decision.

Meeting your adopted child

Once the final decision is made that you are able to meet the needs of the identified child, arrangements need to be made to travel to the child's country to meet them.  Countries differ in how long you need to wait from the time you agree to the child joining your family and when you are able to travel and meet the child.  Sometimes there can be a long wait and this can be a difficult time for families.

Your social worker will be able to assist you with information about what needs to occur once it's time to travel to meet the child.  If you are working with ICANZ or CfO, they will assist you through this process.

Bringing the adopted child to New Zealand

Each country differs in how the adoption process takes place. Some countries require that you visit the courts in their country, and others allow you to finalise the adoption through the New Zealand Family Court.  Some countries require you to attend meetings before the adoption is finally agreed.

Costs of inter-country adoptions

There is no cost to be assessed by an adoption social worker in Child, Youth and Family and have a home study completed. However, there are some costs associated with things like:

  • translation of documents
  • lawyers fees
  • caregiver costs (of the child while they're in their country)
  • legalisation and authentication of documents.

It's also important to budget for travel costs (such as airfare and accommodation) and unexpected expenses.  Your social worker can tell you more about costs associated with adopting a child from overseas as they vary from country to country.

If you choose to engage the services of ICANZ or CfO you should seek advice from them about the costs associated with that.

Post-adoption support and responsibilities

We're here to help, so please tell your adoption social worker when you get back to New Zealand with your new child.

Some countries require reports to be sent about how things are going once you have returned to New Zealand.  Depending on the country you have adopted from your CYF or ICANZ or CfO social worker will need to meet with you to compile the progress reports.  This is your chance to talk openly with your adoption social worker about how things are going.  Please use this time to share any worries or ask any questions you have.

The Open Adoption Network has information that can help all adoptive families.  They have a monthly coffee group in some centres if you're interested in meeting other adoptive families to talk about the challenges and joys of being an adoptive parent.

How feasible are open adoptions across countries?

An open adoption means that the adopted child, their adoptive parents and their birth parents all know about each other. This means that international open adoptions are not usually a possibility.  However, many intercountry adoptive families do return to their child's country of origin and may locate extended family members. 

It's important that an adopted child knows about their heritage and life history.  Freely discussing their country of origin and acknowledging their birth family and supporting children to maintain contact with their birth family if that's possible, will help them define their past, and create a stronger sense of self.