Latvia is one of the least known Eastern European countries processing international adoptions. For a number of years, strenuous requirements of months-long bonding period before the adoption discouraged potential parents. Recent laws, however, allowed orphan courts (local guardianship authority) to shorten the bonding period to their discretion, and foreign couples are now asked to spend up to two weeks rather than months for the orphan court to make their recommendation. The legal process of providing official children’s referrals including pictures and health information before travel makes Latvia once again an attractive option for families looking to adopt, especially older and special-needs children.
What differentiates Latvian adoption process from that of Russia or Ukraine is their foster residence requirement during the bonding period. Instead of visiting children at the orphanage once or twice a day, parents are able (and required) to rent apartments or other family-type dwellings and live together with the children. Not only does it provide a stronger bonding experience, but also gives both parents and children a feel of what their life would be as a family. By the end of two weeks the child no longer feels being taken away by strangers, while parents are able to discover any serious issues before bringing their child home.
Ministry of Welfare (MOW) in Riga is the central child adoption authority in Latvia. They process all submitted applications centrally, and upon the family accepting their referral, the documents are forwarded to the local office of child’s guardianship authorities. MOW adheres to a non-discriminatory Queue system, meaning all referrals for a specific age group are assigned in the order dossiers are received. However, due to the limited interest in older and special-needs children sought, any dossiers for such children are processed immediately and given priority. Please see U.S. Department of State overview for more details.
Our Latvian program is fully open and operational. MOW welcomes new dossiers from American families and hopes to help more orphans find their forever homes soon. In an effort to place older kids, MCFIA has temporarily stopped accepting international dossiers from families looking to adopt young healthy kids until December 2013.
Children from 1 to 16 years old are available for international adoption. However, healthy infants are usually adopted by local families and the Queue for international families moves very slowly. By a recent regulation renewed the last few years, MOW will only accept dossiers for healthy kids over 9, sibling groups of 3 or more children (any age and health), and children with severe special need. Most of these kids are listed on MOW website. Many kids are Caucasian and Scandinavian-looking. Depending on the region, children speak Latvian and sometimes Russian as well. Many children over 10 years old take English as a foreign language.
While in the U.S., prospective families are required to prepare an adoption dossier (a set of documents required for adoption processing by local authorities abroad). For Latvia, dossier includes USCIS permission to adopt internationally, homestudy prepared by a licensed agency, a short autobiography and a number of documents verifying family marital status, income, health condition, criminal history, etc.
Once the dossier is completed, it is mailed to Latvia. There, it is translated into Latvian, authenticated and delivered to MOW. After the dossier is processed and registered, MOW issues an official referral with pictures and complete medical information for family’s review. About A Child does not withdraw a referral until the prospective adoptive parent(s) have had two weeks (unless extenuating circumstances involving the child’s best interests, including but not limited to, a sudden change in the medical condition of a child, the need for immediate medical treatment, or a decision by the country of origin not to permit the adoption, require a more expedited decision) to consider the needs of the child and their ability to meet those needs, and to obtain physician review of medical information and other descriptive information, including pictures of the child. If a family accepts the referral, a first family visit to Latvia is arranged. At this point, a family can no longer “lose” their referral to another agency or international adoptive family that might be interested in the same child.
Both parents must travel on the first trip to meet the child(ren) and accept their referral. Upon arriving to Riga, they then travel to the orphanage to meet the child(ren). Upon acquaintance, parents are required to rent an apartment, a small house, or any other family-type dwelling (not a hotel) where they will live for the next one or two weeks together with the child as a family. This time allows both parents and child(ren) to begin the bonding process and ensure a positive family match has been made. The family has a right to refuse a referral for any reason and go back to the MOW for a new referral. In approximately one week, a family will be visited by a social worker who assesses how well things are progressing: if both parents and child(ren) want to proceed with the adoption, s/he makes a recommendation for an orphan court hearing (local guardianship authority) to be set. Both parents must attend the orphan court hearing.
Because of the new Hague regulations, an I-800 form(s) for child(ren) being adopted must be approved by the USCIS before a formal court hearing to finalize the adoption could be set. Only one parent is required to attend it. By Latvian law, adoption becomes final 20 days after the court, and this waiting period is practically never waived. The parent(s) attending the court hearing may choose to stay or go back home and return to pick up the child.
Immigrant visas for the child(ren) are now processed at U.S. Embassy in Riga.
In U.S., parents are asked to register their child with the Latvian Embassy within one month of arrival. For the first two years after adoption, two annual post-placement reports done by a licensed agency have to be submitted to MOW.
Adoptions from Latvia may take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years depending on the child(ren) requested. Recent regulations restricting dossier submissions to older and special-needs kids, as well as large sibling groups result in most adoptions completed within 12-18 months. Typically, it takes 3-5 months for dossier preparation, but unexpected circumstances and USCIS delays might extend the wait time. Once the dossier is mailed to Latvia, it usually takes one to two months to be registered as prospective adoptive parents and be placed in the waiting Queue.
The length of stay in Latvia is quite predictable for families not planning to stay in-country between the orphan court and the regional court hearings. Except in special circumstances, the first trip to get acquainted with the child and stand the orphan court hearing is around two weeks. There is a 20 days waiting period after the court hearing, and parent(s) planning to travel for the court and staying during the wait on their second trip should plan for about 3.5 weeks to complete all Embassy paperwork. Alternatively, the second trip could be split into two separate short trips to avoid the long wait.
Total adoption cost for Latvia is typically higher than for other Eastern European countries, mainly due to extra airfare expenses.