If your agency has sent you a picture of a child that is NOT a referral. If you do not have a medical record and if you have not signed and notarized referral papers you do NOT have a referral. This is especially true if you are looking at being matched with waiting children. You have simply been matched. You are being considered as a candidate to parent the child. While there are some procedural differences with agencies this is something that is fairly consistent across the board.
Why is having the medical record important to the process and why does not having one signal a potential issue?
Children living in orphanages are under the guardianship of that particular orphanage they are not the wards (using an American term) of your agency. If a child has been identified to you the agency may or may not have yet completed a contract with the orphanage for that particular child. Before you can get a medical record or more specific information, there must be a contract for a specific child made between your agency and the orphanage where the child currently resides. Facilitators work with the orphanages to identify children and then the agency pays a fee to that orphanage to take guardianship of the child. The adoption agencies cannot leagally run an orphanage that is why they operate care centers that serve as a transition point for children being adopted. Children are usually moved from an orphanage to a care center after a contract for the child has been signed, after the fees have been paid, and in many cases not until AFTER potential parents have been identified.
Part of that contracting process includes getting a current physical and medical record created. This is where there may be some variation. Your agency may just give you a medical check-up form that was performed on the child while they were living in the orphanage but in most cases, the medical record is created as part of the contracting processes. It may not be done until the child is in the care or under the legal guardianship of your agency. Once the children are moved the agency then begins assuming the cost for the child. This is the point where some agencies charge a fee to the families for "foster care."
Why might that be a concern?
It's a concern for a few reasons. If you do not have a medical record it may be that your agency does not have legal rights yet for the child. Without that signed contract between orphanage and agency there is a chance that the child may go to another agency, that there is another family somewhere looking at the same picture, or even that the child will even go back to their family of origin. It means that you will wait for many, many months and not actually get that child or that the child in the picture ultimately may not be legally available for adoption. Another issue may be significant issues with the paperwork that passes between the orphange and the agency. The paperwork may need to be authorized, verified, or approved by local kebele's (local governments) before the transfer can take place. If you find yourself in this situation; wondering why you can't get standard documentation, you may find that the agency reps providing many reasons why the information and medical records are not available. Just know that without it you do not have secured referral and anything can happen including the fact that you may not be able to adopt that child.
Here are some parameters that may help you. In a normal case it should not take more than 2-4 weeks between the match with the child and the medical report being produced with formal referral acceptance papers. If you are in your second, third, or fourth month of waiting after being matched and you have not seen that documentation you should be concerned. The problem is that once you have that picture in your hand and you are being told stories about the children it is not easy to give them up. You want to believe everything that you are being told even though your gut tells you that something is wrong.
You have a couple of options; you can accept the match knowing that what I've written is a posibility or you can wait until you have the medicals in hand before you ever proceed. That would be my suggestion. I would also suggest that families not pay the REFERRAL fee until they have the official referral documents in hand.
So what's the bottom line?If you have a bona fide referral you should receive documentation within 2-4 weeks. Once your dossier arrives in Ethiopia and the child has legally met all of the requirements for adoption your file is submitted to the court for a court date. You may receive a confirmed court date in as little as two weeks; however it can take up to 4-8 weeks from to get the court date. The court date may be scheduled 4-10 weeks out from that official notice. So, if you get a picture and a name but no medicals the child may not yet be under the guardianship of your agency, has not been seen by a doctor, and may not even have a clean medical history. I'm speaking in terms of those things that will require waivers. If this is the case, your agency will not be able to provide you with an official referral agreement until they are the guardians and have that record. If you do not have all of those things in hand you should not pay a referral fee that locks you in both financially and emotionally to a child that you may never be able to adopt.
I have read some really heartbreaking stories over the last few weeks and I hope that this helps at least one family that is lost wondering what may be going on with their process.