More Adoption Paperwork

Trying to understand international background checks

By Alan M. Murray

We aren’t criminals. The Pennsylvania State Police said so. So did the FBI – twice. And fortunately, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also agreed. And Utah, and Mississippi, and Idaho.

We’ve been fingerprinted, questioned, evaluated, and examined. Several of our family, friends, and co-workers have vouched for our character. And even though a neighbor once called my parents, warning them that a suspicious person (that’s me) was standing outside their house, somehow we’ve been cleared to adopt children by just about every jurisdiction that either of us has ever resided in over the last 25 years.

Except Spain.

After several days of researching on the web, making phone calls and sending e-mails, we learned that the consulate requires an in-person visit to complete the screening process. (Photo by Alan M. Murray)

As prospective adoptive parents, we’re required to undergo background checks for each country that we’ve lived in since our 18th birthdays if those governments maintain child abuse registries. And these screenings are important – if just one child is protected, they’re well worth the trouble.

But just as we had almost completed all the paperwork needed to adopt “Alejandro,” we learned Spain has one. Since Clarissa once lived in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago 62 miles west of Morocco, yesterday we had to make a last-minute trip to the Spanish Consulate in New York City to complete one more review.

The Spanish Consulate is located on the 30th floor of a business building overlooking Lexington Ave. in New York City. While it’s only a two-hour train ride from our home, it’s unfortunate that we’ll have to return for a second visit because that means “Alejandro” will have to wait longer to be adopted. (Photo by Alan M. Murray)

As we passed through a metal detector on the 30th floor of an office building overlooking Lexington Avenue, almost 20 people – mostly adults – were already waiting. Some stood at transaction windows, talking with consulate workers through thick sheets of protective glass. Others sat scattered among several rows of metal chairs, while a few filled out forms on a pair of chipped and scratched wooden conference tables.

Framed posters promoting popular Spanish tourist destinations adorned the walls. Painted by artists commissioned in the early 1900’s, these illustrations, once printed in vibrant reds, greens, yellows, and blues, now faded, are relics from a time when the country began using art to promote tourism.

We’ve always loved learning about new cultures. Our experience living outside the United States in Spanish-speaking countries has been rewarding, and we’re excited about the opportunity we now have to use our language skills to help “Alejandro.” (Photo by Alan M. Murray)

As Clarissa walked toward the window, passport in hand, we were hoping to find someone who could help so the adoption process doesn’t get delayed further.

The kind of background check she needs must be new – so new that they didn’t even have a form for it. Perplexed, the consulate worker stepped away to confer with a colleague. Almost ten minutes later she returned, telling us that they had to create a form just for Clarissa’s situation, saying, “You can try this, but we’re not sure if it will work.”

These screenings require that a Spanish citizen pick up the certificates at a government office in Spain and then that person will mail them to us in the United States. Clarissa immediately messaged one of her friends in Spain, but unfortunately, she wasn’t able to reach him before the consulate closed at 2 p.m. And now we’ll have to return to New York with the completed form because they will only accept it in person. While this didn’t inspire much confidence, at the moment, this is the only option.

Meanwhile, there’s a boy waiting in an institution somewhere in Colombia so he can come home. We’re moving as fast as we can.