The Challenges of International Adoption

Angelina Jolie, a world icon in the film industry and a high-profile humanitarian, has caused a lot of buzz in her lifetime due to her career and personal life, including her six children, of which three are adopted internationally.

In fact, she just caught the headlines this year for sending her oldest adopted child to a prestigious college in Asia. Jolie is just one among many who may have done international adoption not only for the personal benefit of being able to gain a sense of purpose and reward but also and most importantly, for the benefit of the children – of sustaining their growth and providing them the proper amount of love and care they deserve. Jolie’s family and adoption stories are very beautiful, but international adoption could have its own challenges as well.

The Challenges of International Adoption

As life-changing as the impact of international adoption could be in anybody’s existence, it also poses several challenges that adoptive parents and the child may encounter. For hopeful adoptive parents, the process could be very strenuous, could take so long, and could cost so much. Other than that, they could have limited options on the gender and the age of the child.  During post-adoption, the adoptive parents and the child will go through an adjustment period to tear down walls beyond language and cultural barriers. The adopted kid is prone to post-adoption mental and emotional issues.

The challenges of international adoption can be numerous, but no matter how many, it will be not as daunting and difficult to handle if anyone is aware of them when they are happening, or better yet, before they even start to happen. 

With the right preparation, international adoption will not be as challenging as it actually is. Below are some of the challenges one might face along the journey of international adoption and the ways to overcome them.


It is a must for adoptive parents to know what they are signing up for. Adoption shouldn’t be done just out of whim. Domestic adoption already entails a lot of changes in the family, what more so if it’s an international adoption.

Self-education then is essential even before one starts the process. Below are some thoughts on what you’ll be into.

Setting your entire life out for a critical assessment.

International adoption should adhere to the general framework set by the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which is an international agreement to safeguard inter-country adoptions. This agreement mandates that adoptive parents go through a home study, which is basically a background check on the history, home, social relationships, and even the finances of the applying adoptive parents. 

The Challenges of International Adoption

Moreover, the home study is aimed at training and educating adoptive parents to care for the child and attend to their needs. This is critical especially if the child has some medical needs or most probable psychological concerns prior to being in the orphanage or foster care.

The main challenge here is the long demanding period it requires and the number of paper works and the mental and financial involvement that adoptive parents will have to comply. Also, not only does the home study call for these but in fact, the whole adoption process itself. However, it should not be as difficult as it sounds with the help one can avail from facilitating agencies. Many adoptive parents turn to agencies to seek help in adopting internationally in order to make the entire process as smooth-sailing as they can make it happen.

Applying for international adoption is not a walk in the mall.

In international adoption, hopeful adoptive parents can’t think of what they want and getting it exactly the way you they thought it to be. Below are among the realities of international adoption.

  1. Adopting internationally will less likely permit prospective adoptive parents to obtain a newborn since the application process is lengthy. Also, if infants are up on the list of children waiting for homes, it’s inevitable that they will grow while the processing of the adoption is ongoing, which varies among different countries, but are usually almost a year or over long. 
  2. International adoption oftentimes will compel the adoptive parents to be open to adopting a child of either gender. For instance, in South Korea, more females are being adopted domestically; hence, more male children are available for international adoption. 
  3. Most child welfare institutions oversee the matching of a family applicant with a child on the waitlist, and there is a possibility that some families get to match children with correctable to lifelong medical conditions. The risk here is if medical conditions are undetected until the adoption process has already been finished and the child has already actually grown up as the adoptive parents’ child. However, the concern should not be so much because the agencies and the child welfare institutions make sure that the family applicants are educated, trained, prepared, and well-equipped to welcome and nurture new family members no matter their needs.

International adoption is practically costly.

Adopting internationally is going to be sensibly more expensive than adopting domestically such that international adoption will require adoptive parents to travel to the country where they are going to adopt from, especially if it is overseas. 

Moreover, aside from travel expenses, the adoption process usually involves hiring and paying of international agencies and legal officers. There will be country fees, orphanage or foster care charges, and basic, regular health care expenses for the child. In fact, in Asia, international adoption would usually cost around $30,000-$40,000.

Below are the estimated country fees of some countries:


It is going to cause a drastic change in the applicants’ bank statements, but money should not equate to a sense of purpose and fulfillment after the entire adoption process, though. Fulfilling the dreams to parent a child who greatly needs some proficient parenting should be worth it in the long run.


Naturally, there is going to be an initial gap between the adoptive parents or family and the adopted child. While love and care is the habitual response of anyone to build an intimate relationship, this does not solve language and cultural gaps.

Crossing the seas to your child.

International adoption means adopting a child with values that are different from the adoptive parents’ values. The difference may not just be a gap, but may, in fact, cause misunderstanding between the parties involved. For instance, in some cultures, talking so much and looking directly into the eyes of people are considered disrespectful. Hence, if the child has been primarily brought up in these types of cultures, adoptive parents may misinterpret the child’s behavior as rude.

The Challenges of International Adoption

The way to address this concern is to know about the child’s culture and origins. The agency, the orphanage, or the foster care will probably give some advice, but it should not be so taxing to do some personal research. The challenge here is to make the child feel like he or she is the same as the adoptive parents or family, not an alien.

When language is a setback.

Communication is key. However, this key is not so easily attainable if people do not speak the same language. Internationally adopted children, especially those who are toddler-age and older, must already be speaking their native language. Hence, it is the adoptive parents’ challenge to communicate with the child in ways besides language.

It is another challenge to teach the child to speak the adoptive parents’ language, English, but children are teachable anyway, it will only take somewhat longer. Nonetheless, it is an advantage if the child’s home country speaks English; for instance, the Philippines.


 International adoption can be an emotional journey. The new family might get overwhelmed with the sudden transition of their lives, especially on the child’s part, being brought to a place that is seas apart from where he or she initially gained awareness of the world. Growing up in the place is another concern.

Immediate post-adoption impact on the child.

It is going to be a real joy for the adoptive parents to be able to finally  bring home the child they waited for years to get in their custody. However, the effect might be the opposite for the child. 

The Challenges of International Adoption

The child might feel emotional stress because of the following:

  1. Being surrounded by unfamiliar faces
  2. Moving into an entirely new place
  3. Leaving friends behind permanently

These could become emotional stressors to the child especially if the child is already at the age where he or she is beginning to become fairly self-aware, which is in all probability toddler-age to school-age. 

To avoid or lessen such occurrence to the child, adoptive parents must make it a point to do these:

  1. Make sure that the child would feel assured.
  2. Communicate to the child that he or she is secure in the family.
  3. Reinforce through actions that he or she will never be abandoned.

The main challenge here, like the ones already mentioned above, is the challenge of adjustment and building up the parent-child relationship. Facilitating agencies are going to orient adoptive parents all about this and more, so it must not be so much of a difficulty when it comes to application. However, the one thing parents are not in control of is the reaction of the child. The child will also receive composed briefings before the placement to be done by the orphanage or foster care, but who knows how they will react when they are already flown off to a new country.

Pressure, role, and identity.

Both the adoptive parents and the adopted child may experience pressure – pressure for the new responsibilities to fulfill for the adoptive parents’ part and pressure to keep up for the child’s part.

Adoptive parents, especially first-time parents at that, may get overwhelmed by the hard work parenting compels. It is a different challenge if the child is infant-toddler aged since that age would require physical labor and tons of attention. However, it is another challenge if the child is already school-aged or adolescent since that age means that the child is already becoming more aware of the world; hence, they could feel the pressure, as well, of fitting in.

Identity will most likely be the most intense dilemma of the child while growing up in an adoptive family. However, with love, care, and nurturing, this dilemma can be overcome. If it develops to more severe concerns, nonetheless, the parents ought to give the child the help he or she needs; perhaps, therapy.

With regard to new adoptive parents, the pressure of being new to the role is not going to be that immense with the right support system. Also, as mentioned above, communication is key. Therefore, adoptive parents should have a sufficient amount of conversations with the child to learn about what the child needs and even to consult whether they are doing a good job as parents.

The past can be a heavyweight burden.

Children in the orphanage or in foster care usually end up where they are for a variety of reasons: 

1) legally or voluntarily relinquished by the birth parents due to broken or unpermitted marriage, 

2) orphaned due to the death of the birth parents, 

3) neglected due to the birth parents’ chemical abuse, 

4) abused by the birth parents or guardians, and the like. 

These children, especially the older ones, likely had tough lives prior to their lives in an orphanage or foster care. Thus, it is also very likely that they bring with them the trauma of their tough pasts.

The child’s burden of trauma is probably the most emotionally challenging not only for the child but also for the adoptive parents. The trauma could cause the adopted child anxiety and defensiveness from being vulnerable, especially around people he or she barely knows. 

However, with time together with love, care, and nurturing, the trauma can also be conquered. Also, again, communication is key. The parents should keep communicating with the child to make the relationship more open between them. The adoptive parents could also opt to seek professional help, such as a therapist’s.

It is highly important that the adoptive parents create a loving, safe, and secure home for the child. If the family already has a child or children in the home, a friendly attitude towards the adopted child should be recommended. It should feel like the adopted child does not have a competition within the family.

The parents should also enlist the adopted child to groups of potential friends to develop the feeling that he or she is not alone, especially that he or she just left friends from his or her birth country.

Final thoughts

Both the adoptive parents and the child will encounter some challenges in the early stage of adoption. With the right education and preparation, those difficulties will be mitigated in the adjustment phase. Those won’t flourish; instead, the newly acquainted adoptive parents and child can start their lifelong dream of having a family that is nourished with love and care.


Can the adoptive parents keep the adoption a secret or a taboo from the child? It is highly encouraged that the adoptive parents are open to talking about the adoption of the adopted child. Keeping the information on where the child came from, his or her birth family, and how he or she ended up in the adoptive parents’ or family’s home only promotes identity crisis and insecurity for the child. Otherwise, if the child is well-informed about his or her history prior to the adoption, he or she will have as much security necessary to be a socially healthy, confident and a self-secure individual, but of course, is highly dependent on the upbringing he or she experiences in the adoptive family’s home. 

The child will probably want to go back to his or her roots someday, which some adoptive parents are scared of, but if the parents are confident with the way they raise the child, with immense love and care, and if they have a really good relationship with each other, the thought will not be something to be feared. It should be, in fact, openly discussed as the child is growing.

Can adoptive mothers breastfeed their adopted child? Yes, it is possible that adoptive mothers breastfeed their adopted babies. It is also highly recommended. Breastfeeding is generally a rewarding experience for mothers, non-adoptive, and adoptive alike. Other than that, breastfeeding also offers the advantage of being a form of bonding between mothers and babies. However, of adoptive mothers, a few measures are needed to be taken first in order to pursue the action.

Adoptive mothers can see a doctor for consultation regarding whether they are capable of breastfeeding and what are the methods to induce lactation. Generally, hormones are prescribed to women with the aim to mimic pregnancy. This step helps the body to produce milk; hence, inducing lactation. However, the pills should not be taken immediately prior to the breastfeeding period the mother intends or expects. By this time, herbal supplements or other medication properly prescribed by the doctor should be taken to support efficient lactation. However, adoptive mothers can opt to seek medical assistance to provide breast milk to the baby if breastfeeding is not possible for her.

Eni Gordove

is a freelance writer who has a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in Political Science. She has also taken Bachelor of Laws, making her adept in domestic and international adoption regulations and processes.

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