Russia and the United States end adoption dispute

© AFP/ Fabrice Coffrini11:38 15/07/2011RIA Novosti commentator Olga Barykova

After long deliberations, Russia and the United States have finally agreed on new terms for child adoption. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, only accredited agencies will be allowed to administer the adoption of Russian children by American families, and a single federal body will be established to monitor the process in the United States. The document was signed late Wednesday, Moscow time. Experts praise the agreement but are reluctant to vouch for its results until they are convinced of the continuous monitoring of adoptive families by American social services agencies.

“We have agreed on a document that will protect Russian children and provide a mechanism for monitoring their lives with adoptive families. This document restricts adoptions that are not carried out by accredited agencies to be established by the U.S. federal government in conjunction with the states. These agencies will perform psychological evaluations on all would-be adoptive parents and provide the Russian government with access to the child once he or she is placed with a family,” Lavrov said in an interview with the Voice of Russia radio station.

Russia insisted on the signing of the agreement following a rash of incidents involving the mistreatment of Russian children who were adopted by American families. The pivotal moment proved to be the case of Artyom Savelyev, whose adoptive mother sent him back to Moscow alone with a note reading, “I no longer wish to parent this child.” The incident was met with immediate public outcry, and Moscow quickly moved to suspend U.S. adoptions, demanding tougher monitoring of children’s lives once placed with American families.

For a long time, Washington objected to the agreement on the grounds that adoptions are regulated in the United States by local governments and that the rules are different in every state. It took the sides more than a year to settle upon the creation of a single federal center charged with regulating all adoptions from Russia to the United States.

“We’ll know who to punch in the face”

“Under U.S. adoption legislation, every state has its own rules. Now, the United States will have an accredited national body that will be responsible to our authorized services for adoptions. In other words, we will be able to receive information and resolve these issues in a centralized manner,” Alexei Golovan, a children’s ombudsman in Moscow, told RIA Novosti.

“One more important provision of the bilateral agreement is a ban on so-called independent adoptions via mediator. U.S. citizens will have to apply for adoption exclusively through agencies established by the federal government and accredited in Russia. That is a big step forward,” said Boris Altshuler, head of the Right of the Child, a Russian NGO.

“Most deaths of Russian children who were adopted by American parents occurred with families that did not go through agencies. Due to local corruption, children were given to whoever was willing to pay,” Altshuler said, adding that the agencies are tightly regulated and controlled. On a different note, he concluded, “The advantage of [the agencies] is that we know who to punch in the face.”

Who is responsible?

The document, which was agreed upon in Washington D.C., provides for compulsory psychological evaluations and special training of would-be adoptive parents. It also compels adoptive families to provide information about a child at the first request of a guardianship service and to allow both Russian and American inspectors to visit their homes.

Golovan explained to RIA Novosti that “inspections will be held only if negative information on a child’s living conditions is received.” It would then be reasonable to ask who will be responsible for providing such information. Altshuler insists that U.S. social services should permanently monitor the life of the adopted child at the place of his or her residence. “Trips from abroad, paper reports, and visits by consular officers are sheer formalities. Only those experts who know the family in question and are permanently in touch with it can provide real help,” he said.

Alina Sinkevich, a representative of the Russian office of an American adoption agency, shares his opinion. She thinks that before the child’s arrival, his or her adoptive parents must undergo special training and that once the child arrives, “there should be an adjustment procedure, so that specialists can help children and parents get used to each other.”

An adoptive family must be entitled to prompt and qualified aid if it encounters difficulties in raising the children, Altshuler said. He explained that many of the deaths of adoptive children occurred because their adoptive parents simply did not know how to cope with a problem child and reached a mental breaking point. Help could come from what in Russia is called “patronage,” or a system in which, “for a designated period of time, a child who is placed with an adoptive family is also the responsibility of a specialized service that is meant to supervise and assist with the early stages of adjustment,” Altshuler said.

This system existed in Russia until 2008. According to Altshuler, during that time, there were practically no rejections of children by their adoptive parents. Once it was eliminated, the rejections were soon to follow. “Many parents gave up on their adoptive children because they could not cope with them alone and could not expect help from anyone. There was no monitoring or support,” Altshuler said. “Tragic examples show that social services did not pay proper attention to adoptive families that were left to deal with these problems on their own.”

Child abuse

Moscow’s moratorium on American adoptions was preceded by a string of prominent scandals linked with the abuse of adoptive Russian children.

Last August, the Leshchinsky couple was put on trial for abusing their three adopted daughters from Russia. On July 28, 2008, a two-year-old adopted boy from Russia died in the United States when his father locked him in his car without cracking the window. In spring of the same year, a 14-month-old boy named Kolya died from a fracture inflicted by a blow to his skull. Regrettably, this list is far from complete.

Many Russian children are also adopted by families from Spain, Italy, and France, but the United States is the clear leader. According to Pavel Astakhov, ombudsman for children’s rights to the Russian president, about 60,000 adoptive Russian children currently live in the United States.

Russian children have been adopted by foreigners for more than 18 years under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Science. During this period, Russia has signed only one other bilateral agreement on child adoption – with Italy.

In the past, the United States has been reluctant to sign a bilateral agreement with Russia on this issue. In its opinion, the problem could be resolved if Russia ratified the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

However, as Golovan told the BBC last year, the Hague Convention primarily protects the interests of adoptive families rather than children. Therefore, it is necessary either to revise its terms or to sign separate bilateral agreements.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.