WASHINGTON, February 22 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) US adoption officials say America experiences more “troubled” adoptions from Russia than from any other country, including adoptions that lead to abuse, neglect and in a small but tragic number of cases - death.
“We do have more adoptions from Russia that are disrupted, or end poorly, where there are problems,” said Chuck Johnson, executive director of the National Council For Adoption (NCFA), a nonprofit adoption advocacy and research group, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Johnson said NCFA began informally tracking troubled inter-country adoptions a few years ago, “so that we could learn what was going wrong and try to fix it.”
The findings mirror a 2007 study of fatalities of children in America who were adopted from other countries, conducted through the International Adoption Clinic (IAC) at the New England Medical Center.
“Parents who adopt internationally are generally recognized as an extremely devoted and committed group, who literally ‘go to the ends of the earth’ to form their families,” said the authors of the report.
“It has been shocking and horrific to realize that, since 1996, there have been 18 fatalities of internationally adopted children because of suspected or proven cases of abuse and/or neglect by their adoptive parents,” they added.
Of the 18 fatalities identified in the IAC report between 1996 and 2007, 14 of them were children who had been adopted from Russia, two were from China, and two were from Guatemala.
Pound Pup Legacy (PPL), an online community designed to raise awareness about adoption issues and what it calls the “dark side of child placement,” counts 25 international adoption deaths in the United States in the same time frame, from 1996 to 2007, 15 of them from Russia, four from China, and single deaths from other countries including Guatemala and Vietnam.
Even with numbers that are hard to pin down, the results highlight a difficult paradox between two countries that each insist they want to do what’s best for children.
Russian officials say other countries haven’t had the same difficulties with Russian adoptees that American parents have had.
“We didn’t experience the same kinds of problems with Europeans. I have never heard of anything similar happening in Spain or Italy, for example,” said Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, in a recent interview with RIA Novosti.
“The level of violence, the number of weapons in free flow in the country… it’s a different country that believes in a different set of laws, a different set of values,” he added.
The concerns, arguably driven by political angst over a new US law that targets Russian human rights abusers, drove Russian officials to ban adoptions by Americans that went into effect on Jan. 1.
It was a move that horrified the US adoption community and left dozens of prospective parents with Russian adoptions pending scrambling to finalize the process and bring their children to America.
The tensions erupted again this week, with news that a 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia last year had died in Texas last month and led to unconfirmed reports that outraged many in Russia.
“The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries,” said Russia’s child rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, in a Tweet on Monday.
He also said the boy had been given powerful “psychotropic substances,” was badly beaten and killed by his mother. He later admitted the investigation into the child’s death had not yet been completed.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday urged Russian citizens to “temper emotions” and asked the media to stop their “sensational exploitations” of the case, according to The Associated Press.
A Texas medical examiner’s report is expected to identify the cause of the boy’s death, but it may be weeks before the report is made public.
As policymakers and adoption officials push for a resolution to the international adoption standoff that both sides can accept, Johnson said the key is to look at not just where the children came from but why they ended up in a facility.
In China, for example, he said many babies are abandoned or given up at birth because they are girls or because they have health problems, and the majority of parents are hoping for healthy boys.
“In Russia, most of the children in orphanages have been taken from their homes because they’ve been abused or neglected, or they have fetal alcohol syndrome, so they’re older to begin with, and they have health problems or have been exposed to some very difficult conditions,” Johnson said.
“And then they’re put into these institutions, and many of the orphanages in Russia are very stark, very severe places, they are some of the harshest conditions for orphans anywhere in the world,” he added.
New York State resident Tina Traster thought the daughter she adopted from Russia when she was 8-months-old was too young to have experienced the repercussions of institutional life.
“But if you looked in her eyes you could see she wasn’t fine,” said Traster, a writer and the author of “The Kids Are Not Alright,” due out next spring, which details the challenges she and her husband faced in raising Julia, now 10-years-old.
“She wouldn’t look at me, she would arch her back never cling to me, everything we tried to do in the ‘Mommy and Me’ realm was a battle, there was no natural instinct to cling to me,” Traster told RIA Novosti.
“Virtually from birth, a baby has been severed from its mother, the baby knows she’s been abandoned, there is nobody to give this baby warmth, nurture her, feed her when she’s hungry, the world right from the start is this cynical place where maybe she’ll have her needs met, maybe she won’t,” Traster added.
It’s a problem that is fueled by the lucrative adoption industry, Traster said, and is driven by both the United States and Russia to seal the deal on each adoption and has done little to inform prospective parents about what exactly they can expect.
“From the very first, the adoption agency, the home study, the handler in Russia, the people we dealt with in the orphanage, nobody was offering up any information,” she said. “There were a lot of questions that didn’t have answers.”
Adoption experts say the vast majority of adoptive parents in America, even those who face overwhelming challenges, as Traster did, love their children and find a way to get them the help they need.
Despite the headlines and the troubled cases that make news in the United States and Russia, Pertman said the statistical reality is that children in adoptive families are safer than those being raised by their biological parents.
“You can do everything you can to be sure the parents are chosen well, to be sure they have the support they need, but in no family, in no country can you do this with 100 percent certainty, but children die in their biological families at much higher rates all over the world than they do in adoptive families,” he said.
“The deaths of the Russian children, it’s purely awful, but what we ought to do is to not literally throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he added, “if there’s a problem we ought to fix it.”
In the video below, adoptive mother Tina Traster, the author of “The Kids Are Not Alright,” due out next spring, discusses the challenges she and her husband faced after they adopted an infant from Russia.