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Organizing the Adoption Paperchase

By Allison Martin

Completing the voluminous paperwork for an international adoption is a true test of commitment to adoption. These suggestions from parents on the Adoptive Parents of Viet Nam listserv are helfpul for those beginning the adoption paperchase.


Organization suggestion by Molly Butler:

Make lists of everything needed to gather/do, and check off as you get things done (what a good feeling!)

Keep color coded folders in these categories :

  • Things to Copy
  • Forms to Fill Out
  • Documents to get Notarized
  • Documents to get Authenticated
  • Documents for Dossier

Doing this really kept me organized and helped to keep me from feeling too overwhelmed. It broke the process down into smaller more manageable steps and I could get a sense of accomplishment from something as simple as moving documents from one folder to the next.


Organization suggestion by Kathy Malloy:

I got a big expandable folder with twelve pockets in it, legal size, that closed with velcro in the front. Over time the contents changed, from collecting for home study to collecting for dossier, to (yay!) documents for travel. I'm a sometimes organizational freak, so I was labeling and relabeling the pockets to keep myself sane. It was a nice concrete reference for where-are-we, what-do-we-still-need, even aside from being here-everything-was.


Organization suggestion by Caroline Foty:

My agency's suggestion, which has worked great for me, was to get four big envelopes, and on each envelope stick one of the checklists they provided (documents for agency, documents for foreign government, documents for foreign government group 2, documents for foreign agent), and check off each item as it went into each envelope. This has really made me confident that I know the status of everything I'm doing as I go along.


Organization suggestion by Myla Stauber:

If you can, take all the forms from the agency, all the forms you'll need in your dossier and scan them into your computer. More than once we had mistakes, do-overs, lost things, etc,.....all we had to do was pull it up out of our computer, it was so great, rather than calling someone, waiting for it to be mailed, etc. We even filled out a lot of the forms right on our computer than printed them out. A substitute for this is making multi photo copies of EVERYTHING , at least 3. Even if you think you don't need it, do it. You can always cut it into squares for scrap paper later.

When you are in a copy shop, double check that you do not leave any copies or originals on the glass of the machine and walk out the door like I did! This is easy to do when you are making 75 zillion copies! Double check!

If you live in a state that has a long wait time for your birth certificate copies or marriage lic. copies or anything like that, find out and start ordering them NOW. I had birth and marriage certificates from two different states than the state I live in now! My husband has a European birth certificate that had to be specially translated. We had a situation where we had to actually order all of these things twice. Not fun. When you start getting into a crunch with your times and dossiers and all that and you are waiting for one stinking piece of paper, it is not good, so start now. I almost could not get copies of my birth certificate again and I had to do crazy deals and pay a lot of money for it.

Make a master list ..... and from this list, prioritize. Take the most important things at the top which must be done now and descend down to lesser matters. Keep this list, a yellow legal pad is great, check things off but keep it visible so you can see what you did and what you need, etc. Listing also works great when getting ready to plan and pack for the trip.

Buy a fireproof organizer box and set up individual files in it like "INS", "Adoption Agency", "IMH" or whatever. For example, there are several packets that must be organized, copied, sealed, etc, etc, etc, they all have different pages... If I did not keep these things in labeled files, upright and safe, I would have lost my mind entirely.

I also like clear plastic holders for papers, if you're out in the rain with stuff the ink won't run or whatever. The more plastic organizational tools I had the more happy I was. There was no way I could do this with mess and chaos. Think of it as your huge college project or something. If you are adopting with a partner, split up the tasks what suits your personalities best, work together when you can and drink a lot of coffee, ha ha. If one of you is better on the phone or better at organizing, you know who has to do what.

Keep everything, you just do not know what silly little address or number or whatever is written on what piece of paper that you will need 5 weeks from now, just keep it. More than once I was happy I did this.


Organization suggestion by Melissa Flanagan:

I used 3 binders with plastic page protectors.

One binder was for everything I needed to collect for my homestudy with their list of documents first. I checked things off as I completed them and put each original item in its own page protector along with a copy.

Another binder was for everything I needed for my dossier with that list first. I again just checked things off as I completed them and put the originals and a copy on their own page protector. Then when I was ready to travel, I simply removed all the page protectors and slipped fasteners through them and put that in my backpack. At this point, all the originals had already been sent and all may copies were in there. It was a lot less bulky than taking the whole binder.

The third binder was for receipts!

I think it is nice to have all the copies in one place so I can show my daughters later in life what I submitted!


Organization suggestion by Margaret Weeks:

Don't be too eager a beaver and request birth certificates for the homestudy and the dossier for later. I had to request mine twice, because the dates on some documents, like birth certificates, expire after a certain time. You may want to check with your agency about this to save yourself some time and money.

While you are getting organized, also include in your files a way to keep track of the money you spend on the adoption. I am putting all that down on paper now, and am realizing that the "hidden" costs are extensive. For instance, I spent over $350 on zeroxing and Fedexing. All my agency costs were exactly what I was told to expect, but there were other costs that added up over the few years that I was doing this. In addition, it is fun to review these things, as they bring back good memories.

Keep a time-line for the entire process. It is helpful to know when you talked to so-and-so, and it is nice to write that up for the baby as part of the lifebook.

Keep copies of all the important stuff on disc if you can, and make a copy of that disc and put it in a firebox or safe deposit box. You'd hate to start over if anything horrible happened.


Organization suggestion by Dana Moock:

I will second what many others have said about being completely organized. Save all receipts too. I even saved my receipts from when I sent a fedex or any "little" cost like that. The file folder is a great idea.

Another thing-- keep all phone numbers in one place. I kept a list of phone numbers- agency, INS, etc.. especially any behind the scenes, not frequently released type of numbers. Even if you never need these, you can be a friend and pass along those "secret" INS phone numbers to other families in your area!

Although it isn't totally necessary, I made photocopies of everything and also wrote down the date & specifics anytime a document or check left my hands.

I am not usually this compulsive. If you took a look at my checkbook today, you would not be impressed with my organizational skills. But being organized in an adoption is one way to feel like you have some control.


Organization suggestion by Susan McGee:

One piece of advice I would give is to look over ALL the requirements - home study, in country adoption agency, country requirements, INS - and make a list of how many birth certificates, marriage certificates, bank statements, and PICTURES you need for everything (including passport, visa, etc.). Then get them all at the same time (instead of piece meal), plus two extra.

Start now in finding your tax returns and old W2s. Start now in starting your immunizations. I ran out immediately and got my first Hep A and Hep B shots, allowing me to finish them before I traveled. Get your tetanus and polio updated now. Get your passport now.

Find a notary. Considering financing a dear friend, or nearby sister or brother to become one, if you can't find one at work or at a local bank. This will save you endless time. Make sure they have an embossed seal. Order your gold seals now from an office supply store. (Unless money is a major issue, and you don't want to waste $10).

Find out which bank does certified checks or money orders for how much and how difficult it is. Work with your bank so that you can get what you need from them.

Get copies of your check stubs from work ready or talk to whomever is in charge of supplying you with verification of employment.

Figure out what is the cheapest and/or most convenient method of overnight mailing. Which methods have an online tracking system? I was able to avert problems by proving to my agency that I had sent my tax forms by printing out the info from the fed ex web site.

I kept one of those plastic cases with file folders in it..I also kept two notebooks with plastic stuff you could insert documents and/or pictures in. Set up someplace where you live where everything is accessible, including envelopes, stamps, pens, etc.

Set up a directory in your computer, and make sure all correspondence has the date printed on it.

Set up your bulk email list so that you can inform your friends/family what's going on at every stage.

If you have health insurance, find out when they cover kids who are adopted, and get the paperwork.

Buy an extremely cute outfit for your child.


Organization suggestion by Ruth Bonapace:

If you are having trouble getting through to any government offices for birth certificates, INS info etc., ask as many people as possible for specific names of bureaucrats and phone numbers so you don't come across endless busy signals and voice mail. Then, WRITE THEM DOWN in a permanent place because chances are, you may need to call these folks again and this will make the process go faster and faster.

Keeping everything very separated with the list on the cover made it a snap to see what was missing. And checking off the items as they go in -- a highlighter is recommended -- was very uplifting. You can then see progress being made.


Organization suggestion by Patti Sheeter:

Try to use the same notary for as many of your documents as possible, especially if you live in a state that requires county-level certification before state authentication. This saves you from running to several county courthouses. Also, I checked with the notaries for when their commission expires. It's best to have as much time as possible left on the commission. When we adopted 3 years ago, one of the notaries commission had expired a few weeks before the G&R. The justice dept. wanted the document redone -- the document itself was only 4 or 5 months old, so it was technically still valid, but they said it had expired since the notary's term expired.


©2000 Allison Martin founded the APV discussion group. She publishes Chao Ban Vietnam Adoption Newsletter and a number of parent support websites for adoption and children's special needs.


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