Independent International Adoptions – How Do They Affect The International Adoption Process?


As the Executive Director of MLJ Adoptions, I must admit that when I first started fifteen years ago researching international adoption law and programs, I appreciated countries that allowed for independent international adoptions. As a law student and young lawyer I was able to begin my international adoption practice in countries that allowed for independent international adoptions and learn in these legal scenarios. While I may have had legally successful adoptions, I am sure the adoptive parents are the ones that deserve all the credit for successful adoptions as a whole. First, I was young and inexperienced and second, it was a different time in international adoption law.

Independent international adoptions are generally adoptions done without the assistance of an attorney or licensed agency in the United States. Even more of a strict interpretation and possibly more common, would be adoptions without assistance from a licensed agency. Any adoption without the assistance of a licensed child placing agency is considered an independent adoption by the U. S. government and legal entities. These adoptions are often given higher scrutiny for reasons discussed below.

I know that there is a belief among many that you can complete your adoption without the assistance of an agency. I agree, however the liabilities and effects on international adoption as a whole may be devastating. I also know that there is a belief that agencies are big business and the cost is too expensive. While I have other comments and facts about those beliefs my focus for this article is that this belief results in nice, intelligent, and good meaning prospective adoptive parents pursuing independent adoptions. At one time I was one of those believers. I thought everyone should have the right to choose how they pursued their adoption process and save money if possible. But we learn from our mistakes and the international adoption arena has changing dramatically since the time in which I had such idealistic beliefs. I also think those beliefs were self-serving as I wanted to learn international adoption without the requirement and oversight of an agency license/licensing. But my years of experience have taught me more than just a few adoption experiences – it has taught me that independent adoptions destroy international adoption programs. You can argue all you want that it isn’t true, but my own experience and personal observation, other more experienced adoption professionals, experienced adoption non-profit associations and government entities have proven this to be true.

I used to think that agencies just wanted all the adoption business for themselves and that was the reason they lobbied for agency adoptions and no independent adoptions. Now that may still be in the back of some peoples’ minds, but it doesn’t matter because over time, trial, and experience, the laws and U.S. government and a majority of international governments have come to the conclusion that to protect children and the adoption process there must be oversight. This oversight is first and foremost sought with entities that are providing adoption services. These entities are licensed, insured and audited child placing agencies (adoption agencies). Therefore, the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption, U.S. State Departments’ position, and many foreign countries’ law are all now requiring licensed/accredited child placing agencies (adoption agencies) in order to complete an international adoption. While the U.S. State Department has not prohibited independent adoptions, they have provided warnings and notices against such practices. The Joint Counsel on International Children’s Issues (JCICS), the largest association of international adoption professionals, has confirmed their position that international adoptions should not be independent. Also, many foreign countries’ laws and even U.S. state specific laws prohibit independent adoptions in various forms.

Why? There may not be one reason but a plethora of reasons that may include the following:

  1. No oversight of the adoption;
  2. No oversight of the adoption service provider;
  3. No tracking or post-placement assurances;
  4. More corruption in the adoption process;
  5. More Orphan Visa denials in adoptions done independently than with an agency;
  6. Child trafficking concerns;
  7. Adoption without education (huge problems and not in the child’s best interest); and
  8. No licensing or insurance protections for the prospective adoptive parents.

What happens to the international adoption process in a country when it allows independent adoptions?

  1. Delays
  2. Problems
  3. Denied Orphan Visas
  4. Closure/Moratorium on adoptions
  5. Thousands/Millions of orphans left without the opportunity for a family

I have observed the destruction of international adoptions in Africa, Asia and Latin America as a result of independent adoptions. Whether you are adopting from Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Samoa, or you’re adopting from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), consider your actions. Before you seek an independent international adoption, think first about the thousands and millions of children in that country that need the opportunity to have a forever family. Your actions could affect more than just your adoption. I suggest contacting a licensed child placing agency or an attorney that specializes in international adoption.

Photo Credit: Mohamed Somji

For more information about MLJ Adoptions’ international adoption programs, please click here. To read more about independent adoptions and adoption facilitators, please click here.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.