Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tis the Season

The snow that arrived today certainly is helping us to get into the holiday spirit. About 4" fell today at our house and the puppies certainly enjoyed playing in the snow.

We had a pretty relaxing day today as we finished some shopping, wrapped a few presents, and watched a movie after dinner. We also put the rest of our Christmas cards in the mail today so hopefully people will start receiving them soon. We will provide a sneak peak though of our second place photo which was nice, but not good enough to make our Christmas card.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Dossier is in the Mail

First thing this morning we took our dossier to FedEx and got it in the mail. It definitely feels great having it completed and mailed off and we certainly look forward now to relaxing and enjoying the upcoming Christmas holiday.

Now that the dossier is out the door, it is somewhat nice to think back on the paperwork process that we went through. Yesterday, after all of the dossier copies were made, we made sure that we provided a picture of the stack that included both English and metric measurements since we will have to gradually prepare ourselves for international travel. Today we have included a picture of the three different apostilles (gold seals from the Secretary of State) that we needed for our dossier. The majority of our documents required the Missouri seal which is on the left, but the paperwork from our adoption agency needed the Georgia seal (middle), and finally our FBI fingerprint cards were processed in West Virginia so that seal is on the right. Our adoption agency has done a great job answering questions throughout this paperwork process and everyone at each of the government agencies has truely been wonderful and helpful.

We were able to go out tonight and celebrate with our friends Adam and Angela along with our godchildren, Allison and Andrew. Although we were certainly pleased about mailing off the dossier, we were actually celebrating Angela's graduation from UMKC. Congratulations Angela!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Dossier is Complete!!

We are proud to report that we have finally finished our dossier and are ready to FedEx it to our agency tomorrow morning! It feels great to finally have this portion of it done, now we just have to sit back and wait...easier said than done. At least now we can turn our attention to other things, like sprucing up the house a little and turning our office into a nursery :)

To give you an idea of what goes into the dossier, here is some of the paperwork we had to gather. We started in July with a home study, that took us about 6 weeks to complete. We also had to get our I171H approval from INS and fingerprints/clearance from the FBI. Then we had to obtain certified copies of our birth certificates, as well as our marriage license. We also had to get notarized letters from our work, bank, mortgage company, and our doctor, which included several medical tests. The paperwork also included numerous forms that were provided by our agency that needed to be filled out and notarized. Once everything had been notarized, we then took it to the Secretary of State's office to be Apostilled. By this point the stack of papers has grown to 60 sheets! Then we needed to make 5 complete copies of the dossier, one copy for us and 4 to send with the originals to our agency. So in all, we have 360 sheets of paper, 300 of which will be FedExed tomorrow. That is a stack of papers over 2 inches tall and weighing a couple of pounds! To give you an idea of how much that is, we took a few pictures of our hard work.

Once the paperwork is received by our agency, they will review it to make sure it is complete and then it is sent for translation. Translation can take from 1-2 months. We hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dossier Update

We just checked FedEx tracking and it appears that our apostilled FBI fingerprint cards are in route from West Virginia so that is great news. Also, our adoption coordinator reviewed scans of all of our paperwork earlier in the week and almost everything looked good. We did have to go to the county courthouse today and obtain certified marriage licenses because the certified statements of marriage that we ordered from the state were not adequate. It is funny to see Matt's chicken scratch of a signature on our marriage license and to remember how he and Mia met at our wedding. Of course Anne's name is also on the license as the other witness and we recently heard great news that she had successfully sold her old house and moved to a place much closer to her job near downtown Denver. Way to go Anne! Next Thursday we have an appointment with our traveling notary at our doctor's office so we should get that difficult medical form out of the way soon. We have about ten other documents that are now ready to be signed by us and get notarized early next week so hopefully next Friday we will be ready to go to the Secretary of State's Office in downtown Kansas City and get all of the local document apostilled. After that has been completed, we just need to make about 150 pages of copies and then ship the dossier and copies off to our adoption agency so it can all be translated.

In other great news, we found out earlier this week that our sister, Lisa, was offered a new job in St. Louis. She will be the school nurse at Webster University starting sometime in January. Congratulations Lisa! We hope that everyone stays safe during this first bout of nasty winter weather and hopefully we can get our Christmas cards out sometime in the next ten days or so... but of course the dossier comes first!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Paperwork Update

We received our FBI fingerprint cards back yesterday so that is another big step in our adoption paperwork. It is pretty funny that we have gone from never being fingerprinted in our lives, to having it done three seperate times over the past five months. Anyway, the fingerprint cards definitely say "No Arrest Record" on them so we are moving along in our paperwork process. Our adoption agency is currently reviewing all of our paperwork before we go ahead and complete all of the notarizations and apostilles. We are confident that we will have the dossier completed and ready to send in to the adoption agency within the next 10 days.

Although it will be great to have the dossier completed and sent, we will then enter the waiting stage. Our main focus while we wait will be to start working on the house. There are numerous rooms that we want to repaint and several carpeted areas that we want to tile over the winter. It will be nice to have something to focus on while we wait on news back from Kazakhstan.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Baby Houses in Kazakhstan

If you have time to look at other families' blogs or the pictures on our adoption agency's website, you will notice that the Baby Houses have rugs, toys, wooden cribs, walkers, and colorful murals throughout the buildings. Usually the children remain in the Baby House until they turn three, then they move to a seperate younger child orphanage until they turn five. Some regions have the older toddlers in an adjacent building to the Baby House so you may still see pictures of the infants by them near the playground. The toddlers take music lessons and often put on little shows for all the parents coming to pick up children. There are usually playgrounds at all of the orphanages and the toddlers do get to play outside. Many of the items at the various orphanages are donated by international adoption agencies and by individual parents coming to adopt children. The World Partners Adoption website discusses their playground construction projects in their Humanitarian Aid section of their website and it is definitely great to see that our agency is dedicated with supporting the orphanages in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has an excellent reputation of caring for their children who live in their orphanage system. Often when the children leave the baby house through adoption, there are many bittersweet tears from the staff and caregivers, since they love these children so dearly and will miss them - yet they only want them to have a happy life. When post placement reports are sent back and pictures of the children are given to the baby house, the caregivers remember each of the children by name and are delighted to see them thriving in their new homes. Many US doctors have commented on the good care of the children upon their arrival home, and one is even quoted as saying, "We aren't sure what Kazakhstan does right, or what other countries do wrong." Doctors are often are amazed at how well the children look upon arrival home after being adopted, saying these children do not look like typical children who have lived in an orphanage setting.

There are multiple reasons that children are living in these institutionalized settings, called Baby houses in Kazakhstan, such as relinquishment or termination of parental rights, abandonment, death of birth parents, economic strife, unwed birth mothers, as well as a number of other reasons. When children are abandoned, either at birth or later, the custodianship and guardianship bodies of the local Departments of Education try to locate the child's birth parents, but often time the birth mother has left false information, making it impossible to locate her. In some regions, Hospital officials will go to the address that the birth mother gave at the time of admission, but often they are unsuccessful in finding the birth mother or any other family members. In the case of abandonment, the Akim, Hospital or Department of Health (Depending on the region) will write up an abandonment act which will allows the child to be placed into the Baby House. If a child is considered to be a "foundling" meaning literally "found" outside of the police station, hospital, or park with no identifying information, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the Militia) will try to find the birth parents or some family member who can be responsible for the child. If they are unsuccessful in their attempts to find a family member, the child is placed for adoption. The children must be on the local registry for 3 months and then on the national registry for 3 more months before they can be adopted internationally. The youngest child to be adopted from Kazakhstan will be at least 6 months old. Not all of the children living in the orphanages are cleared for adoption because parents have written a letter or family comes to visit them from time to time. The following information is provided by our adoption agency and they do a good job explaining the Baby House environment in Kazakhstan.

The Baby Houses are unique due to their staff and daily routines with the children. The baby houses are staffed with doctors and nurses and specialists such as speech therapists, physical therapists, neurologists, massage therapists, music teachers, and nannies. It is similar to a residential medical facility. The children have three full meals per day along with 3 snacks per day. Infants, of course, are on their own feeding schedule. The children are divided into groups according to their ages. There are typically 8-12 children per group depending on their age and there is one primary caregiver per group and 2 nannies to care for them at all time. Each child is assigned a primary caregiver so the child is able to establish a bond with someone in the important early stages of brain development and attachment. The daily routine of the children, while a very strict schedule, allows them to engage in playtime with their friends, attend music lessons twice per week, learn dances and poems, and work with a speech therapist every day for up to 30 minutes! Children under one year of age work with a massage therapist and physical therapist routinely to aid them in developing gross motor skills and muscle development. This interaction with these specialists provides stimulation, which allows them to learn musical patterns, sing memorized songs, enhance gross and fine motor skills, improve receptive and expressive language, and have interaction that will help them with their cognitive and emotional development. Around the holidays or special occasions the children wear costumes and will put on performances to a variety of audiences!

The Baby Houses and Orphanages are often very stark in the outside appearance, however the inside walls are typically covered with colorful murals of animals and characters which creates a child friendly environment. The baby houses and orphanages are very clean and free of debris, and toys are neatly stored on shelves. The building is usually a two-story facility that has a full kitchen, laundry room, play rooms, therapy rooms, and bedrooms where the children are grouped by age. Several children sleep in the same room in separate beds, which are lined up in rows. The outside often has a playground and a covered area that seats many children for outside play. Often times the playground and outside equipment is in need of updating and repair, however, the orphanage budget does not have the money to replace or repair the equipment, so they do the best with what they have.

The workers are very protective of the children's health, as an illness can quickly spread creating an epidemic throughout the entire house. The children are sent to the hospital for fevers and other illness we might consider to be minor because the caregivers are trying to keep all of the children free from getting sick. The workers are also very careful with the people that come into contact with the children and enter the baby house so they can limit the exposure to germs to the children.

Kazakhstan's first lady Sara Alpysovna Nazarbaeva is the President of "Bobek" Children's Foundation, established in 1992, and is the winner of The International I. Dogramachi World Health Organization Prize and The International Unity Prize. She has dedicated her life to underprivileged children, and has taken upon herself the responsibility for thousands of orphaned and handicapped children. She has created this foundation to help mother and child care, provide supervision of foundling homes and orphanages, provide equipment and supplies to schools, aid gifted children from low-income families, and assist to the child health care system. In 1997 she launched the first National Children's Rehabilitation Center and the "SOS Children's Villages of Kazakhstan" which are the family villages for orphans. Mrs. Nazarbaeva plans on building these children's villages so the orphaned children can live in a family setting. These children's villages consist of several houses build together in a group where many children live in one house with several caretakers. Mrs. Nazarbaeva understands the need for the family, and her plans for the children's villages will enable the orphaned children to grow up in a family atmosphere.

With this type of dedication to the children, stemming all the way from the top of the political structure, it is no doubt the children are so well cared for in Kazakhstan. This is a country that deeply loves it's children and wants what is best for them. It is with great honor that adoption agencies are able to work in this beautiful, kind, and compassionate country. We support them by assisting in providing loving homes and care for these precious orphaned children of Kazakhstan who are so loved by their country.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More Progress On the Dossier

We received our Notice Of Favorable Determination Concerning Application For Advance Processing Of Orphan Petition (otherwise known as our I-171H approval) from the USCIS today, so our dossier is mainly just waiting for our FBI background check to come back. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the government agency that performs a background fingerprint check and homestudy review in order to determine that we are mentally and financially stable enough to adopt internationally. The USCIS has approved us to adopt up to two children and they forwarded our advance processing application to the American embassy in Almaty, Kazakhstan so the pre-approval will be there waiting until next year when we are in Kazakhstan preparing the exit paperwork.

The rest of our dossier papers are coming together rather quickly and it looks like our only hurdle will be with notarizing our medical exams. Since the adoption process might not get finalized until late next year, we need to make sure that every notary that we use does not have their commission expiring next year. Unfortunately for us, the only notary at the doctor's office has to renew their notary license next spring. We know of a traveling notary who we can use, but the hard part is really just getting a time that works for both the doctor and the notary.

We appreciate all of the wonderful comments that we have received over the past few days and we certainly feel your love and support. Take care everyone and have a nice weekend!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Adoption Process in Kazakhstan

Once we receive travel dates and have visas in hand, then we expect to probably fly Lufthansa through Frankfurt, Germany to Almaty, Kazakhstan. A driver and interpreter will pick us up from the airport and we will stay in a hotel that first night. The next day we will meet with the directors who live in Kazakhstan and they will go over all of the information that we need to know. The directors in Kazakhstan are very well respected and they take care of all travel and lodging arrangements along with all of the required adoption paperwork. By the end of the meeting, we will know whether we are flying or driving to the particular region where the adoption will take place. Once we are in the adoptive city, a local coordinator will handle our day to day plans. Since our adoption agency is quite large, we will probably be sharing the coordinator, interpreter, and driver with other families.

Once we arrive in the adoptive city, we will go to the baby house (orphanage for children under 2 years of age) and meet with the house director. The baby house director will introduce us to the child at this time and hopefully we will get some time in the play room this first day. From this point on we can expect to visit the baby twice a day, each time for two hours. The standard adoption process then goes as follows: we visit the child for 14 days, then we petition the court for a hearing 7 days later, next once the judge makes a decision, we wait 15 days for the ruling to go into effect, finally we proceed over the following week with completing all of the necessary paperwork and return to the American embassy in Almaty where we receive approval to leave Kazakhstan with our new child. Although we have described the usual process, every region is different so we have to expect these time estimates to possibly change dramaticly. Once we receive a letter of invitation to a specific region, we will have much better idea of what process to expect. The biggest decision that we will have to make is whether to return to the United States for two or more weeks after the judge's decision is made. We are certainly leaning towards staying in Kazakhstan for the entire time, but if we end up in a region where the judge's decision does not become final for 30 days, then we might consider returning home for that period of time.

There are many good blog links posted on our home page and these websites definitely demonstrate the differences between all of the regions, but the best part by far is how all of the adoptive families remark how greatly the caregivers love the children. Hopefully this information helps you all understand the process that we will be going through. We appreciate the love and support that we are receiving from all of our family and friends and feel free to ask us questions if there is something that you want to learn more about.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The First Blog Entry

Welcome everyone to the first entry in the Sommerhauser family blog. We had a wonderful long weekend in St. Louis visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving and now it is back to work and back to the preparation of our adoption dossier. For those of you who are wondering, the dossier consists of all of the paperwork that must be submitted by us in order to adopt from Kazakhstan. All of the dossier documents must be notarized first and then taken to the Secretary of State's Office where they place an apostille seal on the document which verifies the qualifications of the notary in that county. The paperwork chase is going very well so far and mainly we are waiting to get two documents back from the government: our FBI background clearance letters and our pre-approval form I-171H to adopt internationally from the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) division of the Department of Homeland Security.

We hope to have the dossier completed by the middle of December and then the paper journey truely begins. One original of the dossier and four photocopies (over 200 pages in all) will be sent to our adoption agency so all of the paperwork can be translated into Russian. After translation, our agency then sends all of the documents to the Kazakh Consulate in New York City who in turn forward everything to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Astana, Kazakhstan. It can easily take over a month to complete the translation process and the New Years holiday certainly won't speed things up.

Once the Kazakh officials verify that the translated documents are in order then we are merely waiting three or four months for a specific region to determine if a child is available for us to adopt. We are not requesting a specific sex or a specific race of child so our wait time should be pretty typical. We are obtaining USCIS approval for the adoption of up to two children so we are leaving open the possibility of adopting either twins or siblings. Once a region in Kazakhstan has been chosen for us, the government will issue us a letter of invitation for us to travel. Now the process speeds up dramatically as we will then need to quickly apply for visas and make final travel plans because adoptive parents are usually invited to travel less than a month after receiving their letter of invitation.

That is a quick summary of what we are currently working on and what we are expecting throughout this winter. Tomorrow we will share some details about what we should expect during our trip and what the process in Kazakhstan should be like.