I was recently contacted by a couple who live in Thailand and want to adopt a Thai child. Their questions were typical: Do we have to go through an agency? Are we too old to adopt? Where do we start? I have not shared our experiences yet, as I wanted to be sure that we completed everything and had the final adoption papers before sharing the joys and the frustrations of the process. Truthfully, the joy came only at the end; the frustrations were frequent and often discouraging. Here is an edited version of the reply I sent:
I have two adopted Thai daughters, one now 23, the other, 9. Each experience was very different from the other.
First, private adoption in Thailand is not possible. You may find some agency that will help, but ultimately you MUST go through social services (Department of Social Development and Welfare, or DPW--department of public welfare as it is commonly called) to finalize any adoption. An agency may be able to speed things up; it may be worthwhile to find out, but they will of course charge a fee for their services. For my first adoption (this was in 1989), we were asked to adopt a baby girl; the mother contacted us through friends. The mother was staying at a women's shelter. However, we had to go through the DPW for everything. It went rather quickly (5 months), as we did all the leg work, taking papers to various places to be signed, and we had a Thai friend helping us with translation issues. If we had not done so much of the traveling, who knows how long it would have taken? The adoption center is not known for its efficiency. However, everyone's experience is different. And, as I said, an agency may be able to do all that legwork. However, I am not sure that they work with in-country adoptions.
The laws have tightened since then, and it is not unusual for an adoption to take 3 years, although it could easily be done in one. It is now a legal requirement that adoptions take longer than a year, as the family records and child history must be thoroughly checked. This is a safety measure for several reasons, including wanting to be sure the child is not being "trafficked". Apparently, even an abandoned child may be "reclaimed" by the family (it doesn't have to be a parent) up to 364 days after being given up. It took us 3 1/2 years this time. The social workers are overworked and the offices understaffed, so it can be frustratingly slow. To underscore this, more children come into the system each year than are placed with adoptive parents, so the number of children waiting to be adopted is increasing. This is so very frustrating, as there are prospective parents around the world who would love to share their home with a Thai orphan or abandoned child.
Adoptions in Thailand cost no money, except for paperwork processing fees at the end, so beware of anyone who says they can help you for a fee. (I still question the exorbitant fees charged by agencies out of other countries who assist in the process.) Your ages are not an issue. Don't believe any social worker who tells you differently. It seems that some social workers will tell a prospective parent that he or she is "too old"--in one such case one of the parents was 50. I was 62 for the latest adoption! So, there is no rule: that social worker formed a personal opinion, and simply made up the requirement.
To show how slow the process is, we adopted a beautiful, smart Thai girl, who was 8 1/2 years old, and had been in foster care for 7 1/2 years! And, we were told that girls are hard to find. I still cannot understand why it took so long to place her. She was available at one year of age! You can speed up the process ("speed" being a relative term here) if you are willing to accept "hard to place" children, such as older kids or those with disabilities.
Your social worker is also important. Unfortunately, ours was not very competent, and not at all efficient, but you take what you can get. You just have to stay on top of things, and keep sending emails or calling to check on the progress. For example, for several months, we simply did not hear from our social worker. When we called or sent an email to check on things, I would receive a reply stating that "the board wants to know..." such irrelevant things as "How much money does your daughter in the U.S. make?" or some months later, "Is your daughter a Thai or American citizen?" (Uh oh, is there a correct answer to this?) Often I would get questions that I had already answered. This went on for nearly a year. At the time, I thought maybe she was just hoping we would give up.
We were not given much notice when we were matched with our daughter. It just came out of the blue. It was somewhat unbelievable, as we were getting used to being put on hold. We met our lovely daughter one day before taking her home. As mentioned before, she had been living with the same foster family for more than seven years, and then was taken without much warning by two foreigners to their home in Bangkok. It was pretty upsetting for her. I keep wondering what people do who take an older child out of Thailand, and who do not speak Thai. I can't imagine the emotional upheaval. In our case, we were fortunate to be able to speak Thai--our daughter spoke no English--and we live in a Thai neighborhood. Even so, the transition was very difficult. Why had she been in a foster home for that long? It was the only family she had known. It was painful to watch the goodbyes.
Again, this was only one experience. Yours may be much smoother.
So, back to the matter at hand: you want to adopt a child from Thailand.
Your first move is to make an appointment with Social services at the Child adoption department on Rajwithi Road near Victory Monument in Bangkok. You can reach them by email (they may respond quickly, maybe not) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, just go to the center, located at 255 Ratchawithi (Rajvithi) Road. It is near the Payathai Home for Girls, which taxi drivers may know better. Don't call--you MAY reach a social worker, but also may just be put on hold until you hang up. Sometimes you get lucky and reach a social worker who speaks English.
Here are some links that may help (one has a map for the adoption center):
Update October 10, 2013: Now in the process of moving to The U.S., we are finding more challenges, particularly getting an immigrant visa. If a child is adopted IN COUNTRY, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must review the case and make a decision about whether the child qualifies for an immigrant visa. According to the Hague Convention Agreement, an adopted child must live for two years with the adoptive parents before being considered for an immigrant visa (our daughter has not yet met this requirement). Stay tuned: we are in the process of finding out exactly what options we have.