In the fall of 2014, we saw this video (I do encourage you to watch it!) and ultimately decided to host a 14-year-old girl from Latvia. We were new to the idea of hosting. We had never discussed adoption. But we were excited to host and knew that our girl had an older sister in Latvia and wanted to visit America, but was not seeking an adoptive family.
We met December 14th and by December 17, my husband and I just knew this was our daughter. We didn’t know what would ultimately happen legally, but she was our daughter in our hearts. We started the adoption process as soon as she returned to Latvia in January 2015.
Here are the steps from our process. This is a long list, but I hope it is helpful to understand the process and timeline that our journey took. Every situation is different and your process will vary based on your situation, your child’s situation, and the orphan court your child is in the care of. (Of particular anomaly in our process was #11)
1 - Choose adoption agency: Here is a blog that will describe this process.
2 - Application to agency: This is a very straightforward process. You fill out basics about your family and submit with your application fee. Once approved, you begin the rest of the process (including the payments).
3 - Determine Homestudy Agency: Your adoption agency may have a branch office in your state and be able to assist with this process. If not, they can connect you with a partner to start this important process.
4 - Homestudy process: This varies based on the country you are adopting from and also will vary depending on your state of residence. However, the general process is similar. Here is a blog to explain this process.
5 - Dossier compilation: This can absolutely be done in tandem with your homestudy process. Many, many of my friends who have adopted have been able to complete their dossier in the time they are waiting for the homestudy to be completed. This can be a huge time-saver and can reduce duplicative work. What is a dossier? This blog helps explain the ins and outs of this important process.
6 - Submit the I800A to USCIS: Once our homestudy was completed and notarized, we were able to submit our documents to USCIS for permission to adopt an international child. (We submitted mid-March)
7 - Apostille: An apostille is essentially a certification of every notary signature in your dossier. Latvia dossiers require 3 of every document, so this becomes MANY notaries. Once we had all of our documents compiled, I took the 3.5 hour trip to our state capitol so we could hand-deliver our precious documents to the secretary of state to be apostilled. It took approximately 3 hours and we were able to FedEx the whole dossier to our agency the same day.
8 - Our agency sent the dossier to Latvia for translation and once we received our USCIS approval (from the I800A above), it was able to move to the next step (Late May).
9 - Submission to Ministry: The dossier is submitted to the Ministry of Welfare for approval and for them to begin researching the next steps for our adoption.
10 - Best Interest Hearing: In Latvia, children are under the care of a child welfare department in their municipality. This department is referred to as an “orphans court.” Each orphans court meets for each proposed adoption to determine if it is in the child’s best interest to be adopted by the prospective adoptive family. Our best interest was in early October.
11 - Because we had an ambivalent teenager regarding her wishes for adoption, the orphan court determined to not move forward with our adoption.
12 - Fast forward 6 months - and our girl was then certain she wanted to be adopted and asked her orphanage director to assist her in letting the orphan court know this.
13 - The orphan court initiated another best interest hearing and in late May, they said yes!!!
14 - Referral: The last week of July, we got THE call we’d been waiting a year and a half for. The ministry had officially offered us a child to adopt. As the details were read to us, it was clear that it was OUR girl that they were offering. We quickly accepted and within days, we were invited to come “meet” her.
15 - Trip One: We went to Riga the second week of August and on August 16, we were able to meet with Nadia’s orphanage director and review all of her file (a literal binder of information, her school diploma from 9th grade, and an ADORABLE picture of her from when she was younger). On August 17th, we had a meeting at the “orphan court” - which is not a court at all, but it is a very formal meeting with everything documented and translated for us along the way. They determined that we would move forward with the next stages of our adoption and they allowed us to take over the “care and supervision” (custody) for the next 3 weeks.
During these weeks, we had a social worker visit once a week who was part of the orphan court as well as a doctor’s appointment and a visa photo appointment. Otherwise, it was a beautiful time of spending time as a family of 4 in the country we learned to love. We had an incredible time learning about the country of Latvia and preparing to return home as a family of 4.
The first week of September, we had a second meeting at the orphan court where we all discussed our bonding and our experiences together. The social worker shared her experiences from the visits and presented Nadia’s statement she’d written during one of the meetings of her desire to be adopted as well as her desire to change her name upon completion of the adoption. After this, the orphan court extended our care and supervision period for the next 6 months and gave their permission for us to all return to the USA for this period. We were able to get her a visitor’s visa and then return home 3 days later.
16 - Trip Two: Official adoption court is scheduled in a regional court based on where the child was in care prior to the adoption trip. Our court was scheduled on December 29, 2015. Nadia and I traveled to Latvia, attended the court 3 hours away, endured a grueling 1.5 hour court process where they worked to determine how resolute she was in her adoption decision (many, many questions), and then got to hear the decision that she was OURS! Forever. We flew home the next day to celebrate and ring in the new year at HOME.
17 - Trip Three: To finalize the immigration process, we had to return to Riga and have a doctor’s appointment for immigration clearance and immunization verification, get criminal clearances, and return to the US embassy - this time for an IMMIGRATION visa. We flew home on March 13, 2017 and when we landed at JFK Airport, she became the newest US Citizen.
18 - USCIS Swearing in ceremony: Because of her age, USCIS requires children over 18 to complete a swearing-in ceremony prior to being issued the Certificate of Citizenship. This was our last and final document to make our adoption COMPLETE.
Obviously, it is a long, arduous process and when we look at the big picture, it is overwhelming. But step-by-step, it gets done. And every step of the process brings you that much closer to having your child HOME!! It is truly one of the greatest gifts of my life - the privilege of adoption of our amazing, smart, and beautiful daughter and sister!
I’m happy to answer any specific questions about Latvian adoption: email@example.com