How to Open an International Adoption Program


20140221_124525Sonja Brown, MLJ Adoptions’ Program Director for Africa and Asia, used to scare me. After working several years in international adoption, Sonja has a confidence that is not easily rattled. She sits calmly behind her desk answering all the questions that are thrown her way throughout the day. As the Program Director of MLJ Adoptions’ largest program and also its newest program, she gets asked a lot of questions. As MLJ Adoptions opens our newest program in Burkina Faso, I sat down to inquire about what it takes to start a new country program.

The first step in opening a new program country is research, lots and lots of research. It’s important to understand the political and social climate of the country, the country’s view on adoption, the requirements of adoptive families and the reasons why children have been orphaned. As those questions are answered, Sonja shared that it is important to evaluate if the country would be a suitable location for an adoption program. When researching Burkina Faso, Sonja saw not only a need for international adoption, but also a protocol already in place that MLJ Adoptions could work collaboratively with in order to match waiting children in need of forever homes with prospective adoptive families.

Throughout the research process, it is important to make contact with an attorney who is willing to learn more about international adoption and one that has a passion for helping vulnerable children in need of families. Foreign Supervised Providers, or an agency’s foreign staff, play a vital role in the international adoption process. These men and women have direct contact with the Central Authority and the Courts in their country as well as with the children. Their vision for running an adoption program must align with the agency’s vision. Sonja speaks highly about the foreign staff in the countries she works in because she is confident of their knowledge and ethical practices. It is part of her responsibility once the program is open, to manage the foreign staff by ensuring that paperwork is being processed in a timely manner, the children are being well cared for, all parties are operating under the best ethical practices and families are looked after when they are in country for their trip to bring the children home.

Burkina Faso will be the third country program that Sonja has opened, but this time the process has been a little bit different. Burkina Faso is a Hague Convention Country with a Central Authority in place to process adoptions. Sonja was able to meet with members of the Central Authority and other government officials on her trip to Burkina Faso in August. As a Hague Convention Country, there are sufficient adoption laws in place, predicted (but not guaranteed) timelines and those with duties throughout the adoption process who are well versed in their responsibilities to ensure ethical adoptions.  Sonja said that those who she met with had a great understanding of the Hague adoption processes and they were eager to work collaboratively and eager to begin the program.

Sonja is excited to see two years of researching and coordinating with people in Burkina Faso result in families for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

There’s no doubt Sonja Brown is passionate about her job, perhaps that’s what used to scare me. Not only is she famous around our office for sending emails in the middle of the night so that she doesn’t forget something, but when asked about why she is excited about opening up the Burkina Faso program, her response was very telling. She is excited to give children in a new country the chance to be a part of the family they so deserve and equally as excited to give adoptive families a new option of a country to adopt from. Her capacity to see the whole picture of international adoption, the needs of the children, the needs of the adoptive parents, understanding of international law and the ability to manage foreign staff, make her an asset to MLJ Adoptions’ staff. As MLJ Adoptions opens our newest country program, Burkina Faso, we share in Sonja’s excitement to be able to serve both more children and more families. We cannot wait to see the diligent, hard work come to fruition.

Photo Credit: 2014 MLJ Adoptions Celebrating Africa Party

Caitlin Snyder works as the Director of Marketing and Outreach for MLJ Adoptions. Working in international adoption has given Caitlin the unique opportunity to pursue both a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people and a profession at the same time.