What Happens When We Get a Referral?

I haven’t talked about our adoption in a while, mainly because things haven’t changed. We’re still waiting for a referral. Though it occurs to me that a lot of people don’t know what that means. A referral is basically when our agency matches us with a child to adopt from Ethiopia. The entire rest of our adoption process is waiting for that referral. Here’s what the referral process looks like:

  • Our agency receives a profile of a child by e-mail.
  • They review the information and look to the next family on the waiting list open to that child’s age, gender, background and medical condition (we’re open to a child or siblings under 12 months old of either gender).
  • Our social worker will contact us by phone with the referral information (which is why we’re a little jumpy when the phone rings).
  • Referral information is forwarded by e-mail (this includes the name, photo, age, gender, background and medical history).
  • Families are strongly encouraged to have the referral information reviewed by an international adoption clinic or pediatrician with experience reviewing child referrals from Ethiopia. A review by at least a pediatrician is actually required before we can accept the referral.
  • We need to report back to our agency regarding acceptance within one week of receiving the referral; this timeframe is flexible if there are pending medical questions.
  • Family notifies their specialist of acceptance and completes acceptance paperwork.
  • Specialist notifies Ethiopia of acceptance.
  • Ethiopia pairs the family’s translated dossier with the child’s referral information and submits to court.


That’s the basic referral process. As you can imagine, after months of doing nothing but waiting, it’s a sudden and exciting flurry of activity. However, it’s worth noting that even once we accept the referral, we are not legally the child’s parents and certain privacy rights need to be respected. For example, while we will have a picture of the child, we can’t post it online.

After we accept a referral, the next step is a court date in Ethiopia. This is the legal process that transfers the guardianship of the child to us and we are not required to be present. Once our case makes it successfully through court, then we’ll get a travel date to come pick up our new kiddo! We’ll get more details on the court process later, but that’s it in a nutshell. To give it a basic timeline, it could be 2-3 months from the time we get our referral to when we actually travel to Ethiopia.

To give you some idea of the numbers, our agency has placed 170 children from Ethiopia to 157 families so far in 2008. 126 more children have been referred to 95 families and are waiting for their court date or travel. And we are one of 289 families currently waiting for a referral (we’re currently #19 on the unofficial waiting list). The normal referral process will resume on September 1 (the process slows down in the summer because the Ethiopian courts close in August and September for the rainy season), so hopefully things will pick up again and our referral will come soon.

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