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RIGA - Nine months ago, Dace D. , a pulmonary doctor, made the decision to adopt. Like most young couples in their position, she and her husband wanted to adopt a baby, preferably a girl. They ended up with 4-year-old twin boys.
Although at first skeptical about adopting more than one child, Dace said the ministry was pushing the adoption of multiple children.
“The Ministry for Children and Family Affairs does not allow people to adopt just one child from a family. It is mandatory to adopt all siblings, which can discourage people from wanting to adopt,” Dace said.
Further complicating adoption efforts is the fact that the Ministry for Children and Family Affairs tries to keep the children with the mother, even after the mother has expressed desire to give them up for adoption. A new protocol even coerces the mother into therapy and parental training despite the mother’s lack of desire to raise the children. Only if severe drug or mental problems in the mother are discovered can the children be adopted or put into an orphanage or foster care.
“In Latvia, there is also a trend to reduce the size and number of orphanages and other institutions housing children in favor of foster families or smaller family-like settings for children in need of out-of-home care,” said Dr. Robert Jolley (see Q and A-page 14).
Jolley said that as a result of the efforts of both public organizations and NGOs, there is increasing interest in providing foster care or adopting available children domestically. And, among those who adopt locally, there is an overwhelming preference for healthy infants and children under the age of six — a phenomenon that exists worldwide. But because most family and children’s ministries don’t wish to divide the family until extreme cases arise, many of the children have irreversible problems.
“In the Baltics, as elsewhere in the world, older children or children with health, developmental or emotional problems are more difficult to place for adoption,” explains Dr. Jolley.
The majority of people who adopt internationally are also middle-aged (30s and 40s) and middle-class. In some cases, adoptive parents may have a special relationship with the country in which they seek to adopt — ancestral connections through extended family members, for example, or time spent working or volunteering in the country. Some may have served as foster parents.
In many cases, couples who have served as foster parents move forward to adopt children who are free for adoption. In each of the Baltics, natives are encouraged to adopt and are given preference over potential foreign adopters.
Not all stories end with children finding happy homes. Because of the system, many children aren’t removed from potentially abusive homes until they are older. This in turn fills orphanages with children who have a variety of social and mental disabilities. Drug use and sexual abuse has also been noted in many orphanages across the Baltics.
Although the EU standards have done away with many nefarious pedophiles and child prostitution rings, problems like drugs still remain rampant.
Sexual abuse of young orphans was a huge problem until fairly recently. In 2000, all it took to get three children for the day was a “donation” of a few hundred lats or euro at an orphanage. The infamous Chaka street child prostitutes are also gone, but the stigma still remains.
Child homelessness is still a problem as well. At the age of 16, the state no longer provides funding and many children are left to the streets. The situation is improving, but each orphan receives 113 lats per year with adjustments for inflation for the duration of their life. Considering that the average monthly salary is higher than that yearly sum, it’s no wonder many are homeless.
However, NGOs are doing the most work to help these children.
Dr. Jolley explains: “As a result of the efforts of both public and NGO organizations there is increasing interest in providing foster care or adopting available children domestically.”
Dr. Jolley says that in many cases, NGOs are left to pick up the slack and play a large role in placing children in good homes. “For example, one Latvian program arranges ‘summer stays’ for older children and adolescents to visit the United States and live with families during their stay. In some cases, these experiences lead to adoption,” Dr. Jolley said.