As parents, of course we naturally want our children to be healthy. More often than before, children adopted through international adoption, however, will come into your home with some medical problems ranging from the easily correctable to lifelong disabilities. If you’re referred a child with a medical issue, determining whether to accept the referral is all about walking the fine line between not panicking and knowing your limits.

Children placed for international adoption are generally placed because of abandonment, poverty, illness or death of parents, child abuse, or child neglect, all of which carry with them possible physical problems for the children. In addition, children from developing nations may lack proper pre/post-natal care and can be subjected to malnutrition, scabies, lice, intestinal parasites, developmental delays, tuberculosis, hepatitis, or HIV/AIDS. Thankfully, however, most medical problems internationally adopted children face are easily remedied by modern medicine.

Now that we’ve given you the list of possible problems, we’re going to tell you not to panic. Google or Web MD tend to portray worst case scenarios.  We once had a couple who was referred a child who had a very minor birth defect. The father went online and worried himself sick after doing a Web MD diagnosis about everything this birth defect could mean. Then, when he and his wife finally agreed that this was their child regardless of the birth defect, they brought the child home and had him examined by a pediatrician. It turned out that the birth defect was nothing more than a cosmetic issue. It wasn’t a sign of some terribly debilitating disease.

Many adoptive parents wait years to become parents, and the idea of saying ‘no’ to a referral can feel counterintuitive. When deciding to accept a referral, it’s important to be honest with yourself about whether or not you can handle the child’s needs. You have to know your limits. You also have to know your spouse’s limits. It’s always a good idea to sit down, talk about, and come to an understanding about what is the best fit for your family. If you accept a referral you as a couple know you cannot handle, you will be doing a disservice to yourselves and to that child.

When you do accept the referral, you won’t be on the adoption journey alone.

We recommend all families use an international adoption clinic in their area to review the social and medical information of a proposed referral. Initial consults can be done via phone or email. Consulting with an international adoption medical specialist can give you the opportunity to learn more about the diagnosis, prognosis, and what to expect post-adoption. Once you are home with the child, you can schedule follow-up visits with the clinic.

We are currently working on coordinating short-term teams to go to China to visit the orphanages that we work with to meet the children who could be referred to our families. Once we start sending teams, you’ll be able to talk to people who have seen  and interacted with the child being referred to you.

Whether by birth or adoption, we’re never guaranteed healthy children. You can best care for your child by praying about accepting the referral, acknowledging your limits, and learning as much as possible from reputable medical sources (i.e. not the internet).

Caveat: The Hague Convention on international adoption helps protect adoptive parents. You have the right to ask every question you’d like to ask, and you have 14 days to make your decision about a referral. Consult the professionals and “ask away.” If any agency tells you they have asked for more information and none is available, it may be all the information they have. Ask to see the e-mail/s verifying this.