A Latvian Radio investigation reveals a scheme in which agencies putting up Latvian children for adoption abroad may be earning millions a year for this service, offering privileged adoption for cash, with orphanages and institutions like the Riga Family Court possibly playing a role in the scheme.
In the last ten years, 1,367 Latvian children have been adopted to foreign families. According to data by the Child Protection Inspectorate, 46% of adoptions were local within that time period, and the rest weren't.
It is only this year that the number of children adopted locally surpassed that of foreign adoption, as 102 were put in Latvian families and 61 to families abroad.
About a thousand children are removed from their families each year in Latvia to orphanages or foster families. Most of them cannot be put up for adoption as their biological parents still have a chance to clean up their record and return the child.
Meanwhile there are 15 foreign agencies offering Latvian children up for adoption to the US. They help foreigners with paperwork and translation and offer children to choose for adoption.
They are run by four individuals - the lawyers Kristīne Lemantoviča, Gatis Senkāns and Ilze Grīnberga, as well as Daina Roze, the former head of the Tērvere orphanage, who runs three agencies from her home in Tērvete.
There is no information in Latvian databases as to how much these agencies earn each year.
However it is evident that they offer 'privileged' adoption services. Unlike potential Latvian adoptive families, the clients of these agencies are provided with online photos and 'overviews' of the children, and it seems do not have to wait in line for adoption for years unlike local families.
For example, an agency website offers information about a girl named Jenna, who is looking for a new home despite being already placed in a Christian family in the US.
Under the guise of a potential adopter, Latvian Radio tried asking questions about the girl, however an auto-responder told the journalist to join the agency's Facebook page that posts information about each new child put up for adoption, much like there are groups for the sale of apartments or cars.
The agency websites also offer an overview of the costs involved: what's payable for the child itself, for legal services, translation and hotels. The usual costs are around $30,000, which means Latvian subsidiaries may have raked in more than three million dollars last year when 119 Latvian children were adopted abroad.
The fact that adoption services may be providing a lucrative lifestyle to some is evidenced by Daina Roze's home, which Latvian Radio visited.
The spacious home is where the companies Adoption Related Services, Child Adoption Associates, and The Open Door Adoption Agency are registered. Roze's Facebook feed testifies that she regularly visits expensive destinations like Thailand, the US and Italy.
The Welfare Ministry is now preparing amendments that would restrict foreign adoption from foster families. Meanwhile the US Embassy, which is the partner of these agencies, did not comment the initiative.
"It's a dirty game played while it's the children who pay. It's preening oneself before the election, and this kind of thing happens before each election. The salary I receive is paid by the US agencies, not Latvia. But I also pay taxes in Latvia. Of course there are interpreters working but basically it's me working on my own," Daina Roze told Latvian Radio.
Meanwhile the Saeima Human Rights Committee is to restart discussion over limiting foreign adoption. Adoption agencies, municipalities and their family courts have already said that there has not been enough discussion over the proposal.
"We are preparing amendments to restrict the removal of children from foster families for adoption abroad. I think that family courts are not fulfilling their functions and are not protecting the interests of the children. We have asked for funds, which the government has granted, for us to be able to accompany the children during the [foreign adoption] process," Welfare Minister Jānis Reirs told Latvian Radio.
Family court employees, together with people working at the orphanages and adoption agencies, lead children on trips to the US in the summer and around Christmas. Most often they are children who cannot be adopted as their biological parents still have some rights over them, and thus they are held inside foster families and orphanages for lengthy periods of time.
The Welfare Minister says it often so happens that the parents are stripped of their rights shortly after these visits.
As a result, children are adopted to unknown families and Latvia has limited information about their further fate. For example, Reirs reveals that permissions for several agencies are to be revoked as three adopted Latvian children had disappeared in the US.
While after the US Embassy was involved the agencies did offer some information as to the children's fates, it cannot be verified. Next year several ministry representatives are to visit foster families in the US.
Reirs also confirms that foreigners are very picky when it comes to adopting Latvian children, and that they often pay hefty sums of money for this privilege.
Meanwhile the head of the Riga Family Court, Aivars Krasnogolovs, has turned to several institutions, including the Welfare Ministry, in a campaign to abolish the institution of guardianship, arguing that its functions overlap with those of foster families.
However it is understood that the guardianship institution is legally better protected than foster families, and removing this institution would mean there are fewer obstacles to removing children from non-biological family care should the need arise.
The Welfare Minister says that this letter had been very strange indeed, as the ministry supports all the forms of foster care, including adoption, foster families and guardianship.
The ministry now says the Riga City Council should evaluate the actions of the Riga Family Court.
It should be noted that Latvian Radio received letters and phone calls as the story was being written, with questions as to who had 'ordered' the story.