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International Adoption: Our Experience in Colombia, South America

A Phone Call That Changed Our Lives

I can picture the way the kitchen looked, with its burnt orange laminate countertops, so typical of the seventies, and white cabinets. I was mopping the floor when the phone rang. It was Friday, March 9, 1979. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “We have a baby girl for you. She was born 2 days ago. When can you travel to Bogota (Colombia) to meet her?” My response was, “We’ll be there on Wednesday!” It was quite a shock because we had not completed our adoption home study. We had only submitted our application to El Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) six weeks earlier. Somehow, it all came together. Our six-year-old son and I were on a flight out of JFK that next Wednesday. My husband flew in from Miami the next day. It was a wonderful life changing event.

Colombian Family Welfare Institute, ICBF

Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar

Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar

Maria Rosa Delia Guaqueta Castro

A 23-year-old, Maria Rosa Delia Guaqueta Castro, had come to “Bienestar” in Bogota, Colombia to surrender her newborn baby. She had met with the social workers weeks earlier to advise of her plans. She explained that she was a single mother with two other children. Her common-law husband had left to find work in Venezuela several months earlier. She had not heard from him since he left Colombia. This young mother felt she was not able to feed or care for another child. On the day that Maria Rosa left her baby girl at Bienestar the social workers were not available to interview her or process her release statement. She was given an appointment to return the next week to complete the necessary paperwork. Maria Rosa did not return to the agency. In spite of searches in Bogota, Suesca and Choconta by Bienestar and the police inspectors she was not to be found. The baby had to be declared officially “abandoned”. One can think of so many reasons why the young woman did not return. She had no money for transportation and she had two small children, not to mention that she had just given birth, unaided, less than a week before. In addition, one can imagine how difficult it must have been to give up her newborn. She may have returned to “Bienestar” to ask about her child in the next months or years. They would have given her updates and pictures, but we did not search for her again.

Elizabeth Visiting Orphanage El Sagrado Corazon in Ibague, Tolima , Colombia 1982

Elizabeth Visiting Orphanage El Sagrado Corazon in Ibague, Tolima , Colombia 1982

Who Can Adopt From Colombia Today?

In addition to the U.S. requirements, Colombia obliges prospective adoptive parents to meet the following requirements to adopt a child from Colombia:

Residency: There are no residency requirements for intercountry adoptions from Colombia.

Age of Adopting Parents: Parent(s) must be 25 years old and at least 15 years older than the child to be adopted. In practice, newborns are assigned to younger couples and older children to older couples.

Marriage: Colombia permits adoption by both married couples and unmarried individuals, although Colombia has significantly stricter requirements on adoptions by unmarried individuals.

Income: Prospective adoptive parents are required to submit documentation confirming their ability to provide for the adopted child.

The Process: Because Colombia is party to The Hague Adoption Convention, adoptions from Colombia must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention’s requirements. A summary of the Convention adoption process is given below. You must complete these steps in the following order so that your adoption meets all applicable legal requirements. Adoptions completed out of order may result in the child not being eligible for an immigrant visa to the United States.

  1. Choose a U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider
  2. Apply to USCIS to be found eligible to adopt
  3. Be matched with a child by authorities in Colombia
  4. Apply to USCIS for the child to be found eligible for immigration to the United States and receive U.S. agreement to proceed with the adoption
  5. Adopt the child in Colombia
  6. Obtain a U.S. immigrant visa for your child and bring your child home

Our Story Continues:

On March 16, 1979 my husband, our son, and I appeared at the offices of “Bienestar” to meet our baby girl. It was such a happy day for all of us. This tiny little angel, who weighed just under five pounds was going to change life as we knew it and would complete our family. We had expected to spend about 10 days in Bogota, but like so many other adoptions, ours ran in to some challenges. The important issue was that the birthmother was nowhere to be found and had not signed off on the baby. The next issue was that we were missing an important document, having been misinformed by friends in the United States who assured us that the document was not needed! I think every couple must have a story about the “glitches” along the process, the tears they have left in government agencies and adoption agencies, the frustrations of completing paperwork correctly. It comes with the territory! We had been in Colombia almost three weeks when we were told that because Easter Week (Semana Santa) was approaching we might have to delay another two weeks. In addition, one of the offices had “run out of official stamps and stationery” necessary to complete the process. With a few more tears and phone calls, all was straightened out so that we were home by Easter with our lovely daughter Elizabeth. We spent a total of 21 days in Colombia.

Some silly things people say when they learn you have adopted:

  • “Do you know who her parents are?” Answer: “Why, yes! WE are her parents!”
  • “If it doesn’t work out, can you give her back?” Answer: “Well, NO!”
  • “Do you love her the same as your biological child?” Answer: “Of course we love them both with all our heart and soul.”
  • “How much did it cost?’ Answer: “There is no price tag.”
Alberto and Elizabeth 1986

Alberto and Elizabeth 1986

Cherished Member of the Family

My parents were rather skeptical about our adopton plans. However, they fell in love with Elizabeth as soon as they held her in their arms. They were delighted with their 12th grandchild! Elizabeth became very special for them, especially for my mother. Liz wrote a high school essay about her grandparents. She wrote, “When I was little, my parents and my brother would drive from Connecticut to visit my grandparents in Wellesley, Massachusetts. We lived in a big house in Woodbridge and they lived in a small apartment, but as soon as my grandmother opened the door and I saw her smile, I felt I was “home”. I remember the smell of cookies and her perfume, and the look of joy on her face when she saw us. My grandfather was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease and my grandmother was totally devoted to him until he died when I was nine years old. My grandmother had kept up her strength and independence while my grandfather was alive but soon after his death she found it too difficult to live alone. She came to live with us. While my mother was at work, my grandmother was the one I found at home after school. She was in bed most of the time, so I would lie down beside her while she read to me. She would also play scrabble with me, and she always won. She taught me so much. Of all the people in my life, my grandmother listened to me the best. She always wanted to know about my school, my friends, my softball team or whatever was on my mind. She knew me so well. I could always count on her for advice and encouragement. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandmother’s “unique soul’ will always be a part of my life.”

As a typical 6-year-old, our son Alberto, was not very enthusiastic about the arrival of his younger sister. When asked about his “wonderful baby sister” his response was, “When she arrived I became invisible. People just want to know about HER!” He grew to become a loving and caring older brother whom Elizabeth adores.

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Colombia, South America

International Adoptions Through the Years

In 1979, there were 1000 international adoptions processed in Colombia. Over the years, the numbers have decreased steadily. In the year 2016, there were 133 children adopted from Colombia.

In the ‘80’s and early ‘90s there were several Latin American countries allowing international adoptions including, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Paraguay. However, the largest number of adoptions were processed in Colombia. Many Latin American adoptions were fraught with irregularities. Regulations have resulted in the closure of international adoption programs in most Latin American countries.

The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents dropped almost 5 percent last year, continuing a steady decline that’s now extended for 12 years, according to the State Department.

The State Department report for the 2016 fiscal year shows 5,372 adoptions from abroad, down from 5,648 in 2015 and more than 76 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then. China, as is customary, accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S. Its total of 2,231 was down slightly from 2015 and far below a peak of 7,903 in 2005.

The State Department has identified three concerns causing some foreign countries to be wary of international adoption:

  1. Illegal or unethical practices by some U.S. adoption agencies or adoption facilitators operating abroad.
  2. Lack of comprehensive, nationwide laws that prevent adoptive parents from transferring custody of adopted children to another family without official authorization. This practice, known as re-homing, has often involved children adopted from abroad who prove more challenging to raise than the adoptive family had anticipated.
  3. The failure of some U.S. families to complete required post-adoption reports.
Latin America Parents Association

Latin America Parents Association

Support Groups

There are several support groups for families who are interested in adoption and for families raising adopted children. We belonged to LAPA (Latin America Parents Association) for several years and shared our story with several prospective parents. The support groups can be very helpful during the adoption process and for years afterward. For us, life became busy and we eventually lost contact with LAPA by the time Elizabeth was eight or nine years old.

Elizabeth del Consuelo Cruz

Elizabeth "Liz" today, still with that awesome smile

Elizabeth "Liz" today, still with that awesome smile

Years Pass Too Quickly

The years have gone by so quickly. Photo albums bring back memories of birthday parties, scouting, softball practice, vacation travels, holidays, high school, college, weddings and funerals. Our Elizabeth is in her late 30’s now, living in Minnesota where she is a nurse. She comes home when she knows her brother will be visiting with his children. She has grown into a responsible, caring woman and will always be a dear, much loved member of our family.

Liz with  her parents  at a  family reunion on Cape Cod 2009

Liz with her parents at a family reunion on Cape Cod 2009

Colombian Adoption 2015

International Adoptions

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 26, 2017:

What a success story! Wish all adoptions could turn out this way. Thanks for sharing the story of your love and compassion. So happy for Elizabeth and the entire family.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 21, 2017:

This was such a beautiful and heartwarming story. I have never adopted a child, but I have a pin pal from a home for abused children. We are close, so I know how much love your family has to adopt a baby. Thank you for sharing your story.

Virginia Kearney from United States on April 20, 2017:

Wonderful story. We were among the surge of parents adopting from China in 2003 and again in 2005. Our two girls joined our family of 3 other children and we've been blessed not only by them but by all of the relationships we've formed with other families along the way. We still meet up with the other 8 families who adopted daughters from the same orphanage in 2005. We call them our "China Family" and we really do feel like family.

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