Adopting Internationally as an Expat Intercultural Couple

Adopting Internationally

Neil and Ulla are a British Polish family residing in Belgium. They have started the process of intercountry adoption and the narrative below is a peek into what it takes to adopt internationally against the uncertainty of Brexit.

Our experiences as a British-Polish expat family are perhaps somewhat different from many (though not all) ex-pats who choose to come to Brussels. We are in a group who have made Belgium our home, for the time being, having set up permanent residence here. In this respect deciding to pursue adoption was a logical step. However, in these times of great uncertainty over the rights of British citizens in the EU, we are wary of what the future might hold for our adoptive family.

My wife and I decided to follow the adoption procedure in early 2015 after we discovered it was not possible to start a family naturally. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This was a very challenging time for us mentally and emotionally and brought us face to face with a lot of important moral and ethical issues.[/perfectpullquote]

Adopting is undoubtedly a complex decision and to be perfectly honest it can be driven by a strange combination of selfishness and selflessness. Selfishness, understandably perhaps and in the early days to possess something that is denied. Selflessness, in that in actively choosing this route you are doing something altruistic in offering the opportunity to a child or children for a bright future in a warm family environment. Last but not least, the child will bring something to the family too.

Uncertainty around Brexit makes us wary of the future of our adoptive family. Click To Tweet

Aside from these principles, it is also very important to be very clear-eyed about how things would be practically and be realistic about your own capabilities and preferences. No opportunity is given to a child if the candidate adoptive parents take on more than they can cope with.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is also very important to be very clear-eyed about how things would be practically and be realistic about your own capabilities and preferences.[/perfectpullquote]

In the end, we proceeded with adopting in Belgium as the right way forward. Since we are both residents of Belgium it was with some trepidation. As expats, although our experiences of healthcare had been mostly favourable this was going to be a whole different kettle of fish! We are well versed in the ‘unique’ Belgian approach to public services to say the least which at times can be rather arbitrary and incoherent. We were thus pleasantly surprised with our experiences so far, although we are only at the early stages.

Also read:  An English Mom, An Anglo-Irish Family, and Adventures in the French Countryside

Our choice was to apply for intercountry adoption and at the time of writing, we have just embarked on the social services review. Our experiences are still very much to do with filling in forms and paperwork.


Neil Ulla
Photo Courtesy: Neil Robinson

The good aspects that we have observed about the process so far are that we have found the attitude of the authorities to be on the whole very positive and flexible about the issue of non-Belgians residing here going through the process. Although we are not fluent in Flemish we have found officialdom and also other parents-to-be very welcoming and understanding in the different information sessions, workshops and preparation courses. On our preparation course (the three-day course) there were other non-Belgians who asked questions in English and despite the course leader responding in Flemish were able to follow along.

We were allowed to bring along an interpreter to the information and preparation sessions. Click To Tweet

We were allowed to bring along an interpreter to the information and preparation sessions, which, in the end, worked out well (notwithstanding one aspect covered below).  In contact with the Steenpunt Adoptie, Kind en Gezin or Vlaams Centrum voor Adoptie (VCA) we found people very helpful and little evidence of the language militancy that characterises many other interactions with Belgian officialdom. We also appreciated the good preparation in the sessions, particularly those that gave us the perspective from adopted kids.



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Less positively, but perhaps unsurprisingly, we still encounter differences in how the process is done: for example, the adoption contact centre (Steenpunt Adoptie) was unconcerned about whether our interpreter was formally accredited for the Information Sessions but suddenly the Kind en Gezin Ministry required for the preparation sessions that this needed to be a fully accredited court interpreter covered by our own costs. Whilst, fortunately, we can afford this, it was a mild panic to find someone to assist at such short notice.

Another thing that has struck us (but is perhaps something we should be less surprised about) is the different agencies and bodies involved and the patchy co-ordination between them. It seems that the benefits of electronic identity with the cards that we have not yet arrived at the social and health sector in Belgium. In practice, we had to complete the same data on different forms many times (sometimes to the same agency). This was most prominent when our file was handed over to the court, where we had to provide proof of our residence from the commune. Given we already had electronic identity cards, we wondered why the courts couldn’t legally verify this information there and then through reading the data via our electronic identity instead of forcing us to go around shopping for paperwork.


Also read:  7 Ways to Honor your Adopted Child's Transracial Identity

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As a personal reflection on our experiences against the background of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, two things come to mind. Firstly, our generally positive experiences of the process so far highlight in a very real way the benefits of being in the EU. Not once was our nationality an issue or used as a condition for some part of the process. Other countries, of course, may have different rules. Secondly, the uncertainty that still characterises Brexit (particularly in regard to Brits living in EU countries) is something we are keeping a close eye on. If and to what extent this might affect the rights of our adopted children is something that isn’t entirely clear yet.

It is unclear how Brexit might affect the rights of our adopted children. Click To Tweet

Despite the likely complexity, one thing is for sure and that is that we are glad we made this decision in Belgium. So far, we have been generally satisfied with how things have gone – however, we are only at the start of the process and still have a long way to go. When all said and done we have to keep our eyes raised to the future, away from endless forms to be filled in and focused on the really important part of this process: the child (or children).

Lakshmi Iyer coordinated this article with assistance from Severine Perronnet. 

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0 Comments on “Adopting Internationally as an Expat Intercultural Couple”

  1. This resonates so much as we are an Italian expat family in Finland who adopted from India!
    I think adopting as an expat family adds new layers of difficulty to the process. We also encountered a terrible barrier language. I would like to reach out to these PAPs and tell them to be prepared to find post-placement support in their local AP community, online, and in their countries of origin. At least in our experience the worst part of the language barrier was *after* the adoption, as we are isolated and cannot access any local training. It’s gonna be alright, just hoping to spare them the shock of finding out when they need support the most. <3 hugs from Finland

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