El Salvador Adoption Process, Step-by-StepPosted by Kim
As El Salvador begins to implement the Children’s Law that went into effect on April 16th of this year, there have been some adjustments to the way adoptions are processed. Having gotten clarification through our agency from our attorney and facilitator there in E.S., here’s my understanding of the processes – both from the Prospective Adoptive Parents’ and the Children’s experiences.
Prospective Adoptive Parent Process:
- Complete Homestudy Process – Must be done with an agency licensed in your home state, Hague-accredited, and approved by your placement agency (the one with the El Salvador adoption program) if they are not the placement agency.
- Immigration Approval – Complete the I-800A form found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, mail it to the central repository along with an original copy of your Homestudy Report, other required documents, and the fee specified in the I-800A Instructions. It may takes several weeks to a couple of months to hear from USCIS, but then they will give you a Fingerprinting appointment date and time. Get your fingerprinting done and wait a few more weeks till your I-797C approval letter comes in the mail.
- Concurrently with #1 and #2, compile your El Salvador Adoption Dossier. Get documents notarized, county authenticated and state-apostilled.
- Submit Dossier to Agency – The agency will then forward it to their Salvadoran attorney for Translation and Legalization there in E.S. (Note: Translation and Legalization should not take more than a few weeks at most.)
- Country Fee Payment #1 – With the submission of the dossier, potential adoptive parents send in the first portion of the attorney’s fee for handling the case (in our case, we paid 1/2 here.)
- Dossier Submitted to OPA – (Oficina Para Adopciones), an entity under the office of the Procuraduría General de la República - or the PGR - the Attorney General’s Office in El Salvador
- OPA Review – an in-house review at OPA, by their Attorney, Psychologist & Social Worker, basically ensuring that the dossier is in order.
- Dossier Submitted to Approval Committee/Joint Meeting (“Reunion Conjunta”) – of the the PGR and, at least for now, the Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo Integral de la Niñez y la Adolencia, in English “The Salvadoran Institute for the Integral Development of Childhood and Adolescence” (ISNA), which is responsible for overseeing all the orphanages and foster homes in El Salvador. ISNA may be replaced by another entity in the future, once everything associated with the new law is in place, but they still represent the child’s case at these meetings for now.
- Dossier Approved and Held at PGR for Future Match Meeting – At the time of this writing, actual notification of this approval is taking about a month to make it to the attorneys, so your file may be approved well before you hear about it.
- Dossier brought to Assignment Committee of the PGR – where it and 2 other potential adoptive families’ files are considered for a child/sibling group who is/are eligible for adoption. The Director of OPA identifies the three possible families and attends the meeting, but it is the PGR Committee (assigned by the Procuraduría, currently Sonia Cortez de Madriz) that decides which family is the best match for the child/sibling group represented.
- Referral Issued – If theirs is the file selected for a child/sibling group, the potential adoptive parents (PAPs) are given a referral (“Article 16″ of that child/sibling group. The referral gives very basic information about the child/sibling group and usually does not include photos. (They consider issuing photos a violation of the child’s privacy and do not send them until the parents have accepted the referral, in many cases.)
- Declaration of Intent to Adopt – Both the Parents and their Home Study agency must send the acceptance-of-the-referral letter to the PGR. Parents do have the option of declining a referral, but hopefully, if they were the family selected, it’s a good match and they will not need to decline. Files for families who decline a referral return to the PGR for potential future child-matching. (It is unclear if declining a referral makes that file less likely to be chosen again.)
- Country Fee Payment #2 – Either upon acceptance of the referral or travel for the court date (depends on the agreement with the attorney), the balance of the attorney’s fee is paid.
- Documentation Preparation – The PGR lines up the proper documentation, certifying what would be needed in court, then turns it over to the attorney representing the family. The attorney then goes to the Supreme Court and formally requests the Family Court’s Final Hearing date.
- Travel to El Salvador – Parents get notice of the Family Court date and fly to El Salvador.
- Parent/Child Meeting – When given permission from ISNA, parents and the child(ren) meet ahead of the Family Court appearance. (Apparently, some families do not actually meet their child(ren) until that hearing!)
- Family Court Final Hearing – At the Family Court appearance, the adopting parents are asked about their intention to adopt. If she still has parental rights, the biological mother is also asked about her intent to place her child(ren). And if they are of an older age (officially 12 years old, though I know of an 8 year old who was asked), the child(ren) is(are) asked about his/her/their desire to be adopted by the PAPs. Assuming everyone ascents to the adoption, the adoption is finalized.
- New Birth Certificate, Passport and Visa Issued – The new parents and their attorney petition City Hall for a birth certificate with the new parents’ last name for the child. Once obtained, they get a passport in the child’s new name and then apply at the parents’ country’s Embassy for a Visa for the child. (For U.S. citizens, the child will receive an IR-3 Visa, conferring automatic U.S. citizenship to the child upon entry into the USA.)
- Travel Home – Once the Visa is issued, Family travels to the parents’ home country (the child’s NEW home country!).
- Child Placed in Institution – either by parents who cannot care for him/her or by ISNA officials who are placing him/her due to abandonment or abuse. In many cases, parental rights remain with the biological parents, even if the child remains in the institution until he or she “ages out” at 18. In other cases, parental rights are terminated by the Family Courts because of abuse or neglect of the child. These latter children would then be eligible to be adopted.
- Certificate of Adoptability Issued - Prior to the new law taking effect, ISNA was solely responsible for issuing certificates of adoptability, but it rarely issued them. With the new law requiring that timely action be taken on behalf of the children in institutions, the Family Courts have been assigned that responsibility. OPA may ask for adoptability reports on children. ISNA may still play a role at times. At other times, it is an attorney, private entity, or someone at the institution who draws attention to the fact that a child should be issued a Certificate of Adoptability. However it happens, once the Family Court issues a Certificate of Adoptability for a child or sibling group, that report is sent to the PGR for the Assignment Committee to locate potential adoptive parents among the files of those applying to adopt.
- Match with Potential Parents – At the next available Assignment Committee meeting of the PGR, that child’s/sibling group’s file, with certificate of adoptability, is compared against three files of PAPs. The PAP file considered the best fit for the child’s/sibling group’s needs is given a referral by the PGR.
- Adoption Finalization – Once PAPs accept the referral and the paperwork is in order, a Final Hearing date is set at Family Court, where the child/sibling group attends with the PAPs and the adoption is finalized (assuming it is deemed appropriate).
- New ID and Travel – The child, now adopted, gets a new birth certificate, passport, and visa that reflect his/her new last name.
- Travel “Home” – which for the child won’t feel like home for some time, but it is the beginning of life in a family which all children deserve and need!