International adoption: Health issues for families
If you are involved in or considering an international adoption, you are among many Canadians welcoming a child from abroad.
Canadians considering international adoption may have concerns about the physical health of the children. Each child is different. Some will have been very well cared for, while others may have had very little medical care. For example, children who come from orphanages may have suffered neglect and may have developmental delays or behavioural problems.
Preparing for the health issues you may face requires research and information. Your ability to get accurate information about your child depends, in part, on the country from which you are adopting. It’s best to learn all you can about prospective countries before you make your decision to adopt.
Here are some suggestions to help you get you started.
Before you go
- Consult an international adoption group to learn all you can about the country from which you plan to adopt.
- Find out if there are any doctors in your area knowledgeable about international adoption. Some doctors offer pre-adoptive assessments or counselling and, for a fee will review medical reports, videos and photos of the child you plan to adopt.
- See your doctor or visit a travel clinic to ensure that your own immunizations are up-to-date and that you get any additional shots you may need to travel. You may also need to take preventive medications against certain infectious diseases, such as malaria.
- If you have other children, talk to your doctor about whether they should be immunized against specific diseases, such as hepatitis A.
- Learn about common health issues in the country your child comes from. These could include physical illnesses such as rickets or tuberculosis and developmental problems such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Your doctor may want to do certain tests when you bring your child home.
- Ask the adoption agency how to get reliable blood tests for illnesses like hepatitis B and HIV.
- If you know that your child has a medical condition, talk to your doctor about it. If your child will need specialized care, find out whether you can access health professionals in your area.
What to bring with you when you go
- If adopting a baby, pack something to carry your child in such as a stroller or a back carrier pack.
- Bring clothing that is appropriate for the weather in the country you are traveling to, and for when you come home. You will also need diapers and other personal care items for your child, such as soap or shampoo.
- Other baby care items that you might find helpful could include a pacifier, diaper cream, infant or children’s acetaminophen, and an infant or child’s thermometer.
- Pack a few small age-appropriate toys and books to help engage your baby or child when you meet her, and to help keep her entertained for the trip home.
While you’re there
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s medical history and those of his biological parents. Your ability to get this information may depend on the country you are in, and may be difficult or even impossible to get once the adoption process is completed. The following information will help you and your child’s doctor once you get back to Canada:
- child’s age and place of birth,
- birth weight and gestational age (how long the pregnancy was),
- child’s previous residence (hospital, private home, orphanage, refugee camp?) and its conditions,
- previous medical care, including vaccination records and the results of any tests (keep in mind that test results and immunization records may not be reliable and may need to be repeated in Canada),
- child’s biological parents, including their ages and medical histories like if they any disorders or diseases or whether they were known to have abused alcohol or drugs.
- Any unique health concerns to the population the child is being adopted from.
- Remember that the information you get may be inaccurate. Even birth dates have been known to be incorrect. Even a few months difference can make a difference when evaluating the developmental progress of a toddler.
- Gather and save information that may be suitable for a memory book or box that you can share with your child when she is older.
When you bring your child home
- All children new to Canada will have an immigration medical examination which is a history taking and physical examination (including vision and hearing screening) and other tests that depend on your child’s age. You should also arrange a visit and follow-up with your own doctor.
- Ask your doctor to check your child’s immunizations and bring them up-to-date if necessary. Vaccines that appear on your child’s record may not have been given. Your doctor may perform tests to see whether your child actually has antibodies to certain diseases.
- Ask your doctor about the need for other tests. Depending on where your child comes from, your doctor may recommend tests for tuberculosis, hepatitis B or other infectious diseases.
- Take time for you and your child to get to know each other. He will be dealing with many issues that may seem overwhelming: a new home, new people, new food, new language, and much more. Children often have problems eating and sleeping. They may also have difficulty bonding, particularly if they have developed strong family ties in their home country.
- Be sure to schedule follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor and assess your child’s physical health, developmental progress and behaviour.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Community Paediatrics Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: March 2017