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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Questions And (maybe) Some Answers

I've read a number of adoption blogs over the past year, and one of the things I have liked reading the most are "Question and Answer" sections.  I haven't really tried this, but I thought this would be a good time to give it a go- especially at this point of our adoption.  As always, I'll try being open and honest, even it it means discussing sensitive topics.

Now that you have decided on the girls, what's next?
Right now, the girls' files are "put aside" for us while we try to hurry-up and get our paperwork done!  Ron and I have been working on collecting all of the documents needed for our HomeStudy and Dossier.  They are getting notarized and copied (and copies of the copies).  We have our marriage certificate, birth certificates, letters of recommendations, bank statements, financial statements, house deeds, employment letters, medical letters, statement of purpose, letters to the orphanages, family pictures, criminal background checks, etc....

In 2 weeks, our social worker is flying in from Bangkok to finish our HomeStudy interviews.  After that, she'll write our HomeStudy.  Once that is done, we'll turn it into the USCIS office in Bangkok, and wait for their approval.  Luckily, the USCIS in Bangkok was willing to have us complete our fingerprints in June when we turned in our initial application form (I-600A).  IF all goes well, our Dossier may be ready to be mailed to the US the first week in September!  Our fingers are crossed that this will work out!

What about the girls?  Where are they?  What's next for them?
Our girls are currently at their orphanage.  As of now, they haven't been informed we're going to adopt them.  Our agency is going to wait until our paperwork is in Ethiopia to let them know.  As the girls are older and understand adoption, our agency only wants to tell them when they are sure it will work out.  That way, the girls don't have to endure any more than they have already.  Once the girls know about us, then we'll work with other families traveling to Ethiopia to send the girls care packages, letters and recorded messages from us.

How long will it be until you travel to court?
This is a good question, and one we are interested in seeing the actual answer to!  On September 1, Ethiopia and the USCIS are implementing a new system in Ethiopia- the PAIR process.  During this process, the USCIS will do a preliminary investigation of orphan status before a family and child can be submitted to court.  This process will take 8-12 weeks.  Once the PAIR process is complete, we will have a preliminary approval letter from USCIS that will be submitted to court with our case.  This PAIR process adds more time to the adoption process, BUT it will help ensure that adoptions in Ethiopia are ethical and that the children being adopted our TRUE orphans.

Right now, we're hoping for the following (these are VERY conservative estimates- anything faster than this will be a true blessing):
October 1: Dossier in the US
October 15: Dossier in DC for authentication
November 1: Dossier in Ethiopia
November 15: Dossier registered in Ethiopia.  OFFICIALLY paired with the girls
November 30: PAIR process begins
March 1: PAIR process ends, submitted to court
April 1: Birth family/finder court dates
May 1: Our court date (1st trip)
June 1-15: Embassy clearance (2nd trip)- BRING THE GIRLS HOME!

Again, anything less than this will be a blessing.  At this time, we're hoping to have the girls home next summer- about 10 months from now!  WOW- that seems FAR AWAY!

Is it easier to adopt again after you already adopted?
Yes and No.  Here are the reasons:

YES:  We've been through the process once, so we know (kind of) what to expect.  We know what the waiting feels like, the unknown, the mystery, the anxiety, and the hopelessness at times.  We've already have done the paperwork once, we we know what to do.  And some of the paperwork we don't have to redo.  I'm not as emotional this time around as I know what we're getting into and can prepare myself more.  That said, each adoption is different....

NO: We still have to do all of the same paperwork again.  We still have to wait, be patient, and trust.  We still need to travel 2 times and have faith that things will work out in Ethiopia.  My heart is still torn as I have 2 dear daughters on the other side of the world without me right now.  That is NEVER easy!

Does a second adoption cost less?
Unfortunately, No.  As Ron and I finished Aidan's adoption, we have to start all over again.  However, adopting 2 children at once is much more cost efficient than adopting 2 children at different times (a difference of $5,000 rather than $14,000).  Many of the fees we pay cover both children.  However, we are still budgeting our money and saving whatever we can to cover the cost of this adoption.  We are truly blessed in that we both have stable jobs and a life that enables us to cover the cost of the adoption.  We have, and will continue to, make sacrifices.  We don't have cable TV.  We eat locally at inexpensive Thai restaurants ($1.00/meal).  We rarely run the AC (even in Thailand where the average temperature is 85 degrees year round) to save on electricity.  We carpool where we can.  We shop at thrift shops for toys, books and clothes.  And we try not to spend that much on "extra" things.  Over the course of this past year, we have been able to save enough to cover the cost of this adoption, with the help of family as well.  We realize how lucky we are in this category, and will continue to save money where we can for our future adoption expenses, such as travel.

However, as we are adopting 2 older children, we will have extra funding to find.  As our girls aren't infants, we'll have to pay for their plane tickets from Ethiopia to the US, and then to Thailand.  We also have been asked to help pay for our girls' school, and may be paying for their stay at the foster home if they move from the orphanage.  This will be an extra $5,000-$10,000 or so- and is one we may try fundraising for.  Regardless, we'll keep on saving and budgeting!

Are there any funding options available?
YES!  There are amazing grants, interest-free loans, donations and tax-credits available to those who adopt.  With Aidan's adoption, we decided not to apply for any grants as we were blessed to have the resources to fund our adoption, and did not want to take those funds away from a family in need- and thus preventing another child from getting a home.  The same is true for this adoption.  We thoroughly hope that the grants available continue to go to those families in need of financial assistance so that they can adopt a child in need and make ONE LESS orphan in this world!  Applying for grants and receiving that extra money would be a huge help, but we know others need it more than we do, so we're not pursuing that route. 

This year, Congress passed a tax law that made the adoption tax credit permanent.  For families adopting, there is about a $12,000 NON-REFUNDABLE tax credit available that can be claimed for up to 5 years after an adoption is finalized.  Although this isn't a lump-sum of money, over the course of 5-years, will will be able to receive about $36,000 back in taxes for our 3 adoptions, which is very significant.  When all is said and done, the cost we paid upfront for our adoptions will essentially be refunded in taxes, which is AMAZING!  Let me say that again- AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

The U.S. Army also has a benefit for families that adopt.  This credit is reimbursable for up to $2,000/child that is adopted.  Although this doesn't cover much in the adoption world, it is significant to us. This benefit is greatly appreciated and is another hidden perk of the Army.

Speaking of money- what about college and other expenses once they get home?
This is the question Ron and I were most worried about before we decided that we could, in fact, adopt the girls.  In about 7 years, we'll have our first daughter entering college.  In about 10 years, our 2nd will be starting.  That's 7-years to save for college!  YIKES!  Luckily, we're very used to budgeting our money right now, and will continue to do so.  We will start college saving plans for our daughters once they are home, and will invest in these plans monthly.  I will continue to work at least part-time to help cover the cost of college tuition.  Although we won't be able to afford the most expensive private schools, the girls will be able to attend local public universities with most, if not all, of their tuition covered.

As for other expenses- we're working on furnishing their room and purchasing clothes.  We will be shopping at thrift stores and other resale shops.  They'll be attending a school that requires uniforms, so that will save on the cost of clothes for the first year (although they'll still need weekend and after school clothes).  We'll try our best to make the girls feel special and comfortable, but we'll by no means over-do it.

Ron and I realize that by doing this, we won't have a lavish lifestyle.  However, we'll be able to continue to live comfortably.  We don't need fancy cars or crazy houses.  I don't need designer clothes or expensive jewelry.  What we do need, however, is a happy family, and a fulfilled life.  We'll be able to achieve those things- and live richly in that category, by budgeting in other areas!

What about school?  How will they learn English?  What grades will they be in?
Another great question, and another question we had to greatly consider.  This was the most important issue we took into account before deciding on adopting older children.  One of the biggest concerns we had was teaching the girls English.  Although they know some English right now, it's by no means strong enough to be in a mainstream classroom setting.  Through a partnered organization with our adoption agency (Adoption Avenues), our girls will be able to learn more English with Learning Avenues.

Ron and I are extremely lucky right now that we live in Thailand, and that the international schools here excel in ELL (English Language Learning) programs.  Over 50% of the students at some of the international schools attend ELL programs.  The girls will be attending a local school- American Pacific International School, where they will be enrolled in the ELL program.  Once their English is strong enough, they'll be transitioned into a mainstream classroom environment.  We hope that this will occur before we leave Thailand.  There is also an Ethiopian student at APIS, who is in the high school.  Having this student around will be a huge resource for the girls as they learn English and the ways of an American school.

Another benefit is that I know the staff at the school as I worked there for a semester.  I know the guidance counselor and some of the teachers.  I know they'll be a great resource for the girls.  AND, I found a true gem at the school!  The new superintendent's wife works with older orphans and helps them find self-identity while working through their losses and grief.  She will be a huge resource for the girls and I can't wait to learn more about her program, her book, and her story.

Back in the U.S., the girls will continue to receive English language support.  They will also receive academic support.  Although they are in school now, they are most likely behind.  Ron and I will help them as much as we can as we have the time and resources right now to do so.  However, we will be more than willing to utilize tutors and other resources to help the girls catch up academically.  We realize this may take a few years, but we're hoping that they'll be caught up before high school.

What grades will they be in?
We don't really know yet.  We're waiting on final word on their ages, and then we'll wait to re-meet the girls to see.  Although academically, they'll be at a lower grade level than their age, they will be at a much higher level maturity-wise.  In fact, they may be more mature than many high schoolers as they have seen and experienced more things than most young adults in the U.S. have.  We will work to balance their age, academic level, and maturity level to find their best fit.  We want them to have the opportunity to excel both academically and socially.  We will be flexible on this, and will be able to make minor adjustments if needed.

Why aren't you adopting from the U.S.?
A great question!  I want to say that we're not adopting from the U.S...yet.  NO, we don't have any announcements, but adopting from the U.S. is something we have always talked about doing.  And it's definitely something we may do someday.  We realize there are thousands of children in American foster care that need loving homes- many of them older children.  As Americans, we would LOVE to adopt from the U.S.

At this time, it really isn't feasible.  As Ron is stationed overseas with the U.S. Army, we are eligible to adopt domestically from the U.S., although we live abroad.  We have thoroughly looked into adopting American children and I look at weekly.  Before deciding on adopting from Ethiopia again, we seriously considered domestic adoptions.  We even contacted several case workers in the U.S. about some of the children we found.  However, the children must be "legally free" to be adopted outside of their state, and the case workers we contacted weren't confident in adopting out the children to Americans living overseas for various reasons.  Many of the children need stable transitions, or need/want to be close to biological relatives.  We realized that a domestic adoption wasn't in our cards at this time. 

However, our doors are always "open."  If our time, resources and finances allow, we'll always be open to adopting other children.  We both would love to adopt a child or children domestically- and may do so when we're older and have experience parenting.  You never know though- at this point, anything is possible.  We realize domestic adoptions are very feasible, and very much needed.  We don't want to overshadow domestic adoptions with international adoptions.  But we do realize and firmly believe that every child is deserving of a forever home and family- regardless of where they are born.  Both forms of adoption are incredible options for building a family, and we hope to continue to research and consider both throughout our lives.

There is so much more that I could write, but I think these questions address the majority of the concerns we have been asked so far.  We still have a bit of a process ahead of us, and will try to be patient along the way!  I've been working on the girls' first care package and Ron and I both wrote personal notes to them today that hopefully we can send soon :).  Until then, thank you for reading- and as always, thank you for your support!

If you have questions, please ask away.  We're more than happy to answer them (if we can).