Letter from Mr. Astakhov

Hello, all–I had almost given up this blog–I mean, one writes day after day to no effect…And then, my technical blogging skills are not what they should be. I need to take a blogging course–and who has time, etc etc?

Due to recent events in Kazakhstan, I had been considering taking up the pen again…..

But today, I at last had a reply to a letter I sent, quite a few weeks ago, to Mr Pavel Astakhov, Children’s Rights Ombudsman (Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights) in Russia….

Like many of you, I have followed the situation of Russian social orphans and orphanages with a great deal of pain…While fixing its flawed system of child welfare (we have a flawed one as well!), Russia should of course also continue a meaningful international adoption program. I believed that Mr Astakhov and others knew full well that the vast vast majority of children adopted to the US were loved very much–and not abused at all. At the same time, I wanted to help set up an investigative committee to look at the terrible instances in which russian adoptees had been hurt and even killed–it is undeniable hat such events occurred. After all, the Russians do have a complete right to know how and why these awful examples of abuse leading to death have occurred. Would you expect the Russian not to care or be interested, and not to react? I do not agree with those who go so far as to say that the outrage is pure pretense on the Russian part. Yes, they play politics with social orphans–but we in the US need to share information with the Russians, and work together for child welfare.

Thank you, Mr Astakhov, for your reply to my letter, in which I said that I would love to help out with an objective investigative group, aiming to let Russians know more about the Russian children living over here–the great stories and the not so great stories. According to his letter, Mr Astakhov has sent “several appeals” for more information to Attorney General Holder and then Secretary of State Clinton–yet none of the letters were replied to! Diplomatic notes were said to be ignored.   Could this be true?

I am in the camp of those who want to hold all national governments accountable for the treatment of their social orphans,  and to encourage the greatest possible permanency and loving care for all children–including as part of that policy a major role for international adoption.

But wait, everyone!  What have we demanded of our own government regarding the crisis in Russian adoptions? Did the Obama administration take any real steps to work with the Russians, to help assuage their fears about these children?

I would  like to have an answer to that! Maybe our own government could have done much, much more to provide information to Russia about these awful and highly unusual cases….Does anyone out there know if it is true that Russian inquiries were ignored by our government? If this is possibly true, then our own government might have made a bad situation worse by not replying to valid inquiries…..

Mr. Astakhov–There are Americas who would love to help Russians understand more about the true situation over here–that the vast majority of Russian adoptees are beloved; but that we understand how distressed and concerned you feel about those who have been abused. One such case is too many, and we want to work together to allow adoptions to continue with a sense of trust….


Craig Juntunen’s film debut!

Bravo, Craig!

At last, it seems the film is done. (Final title is Stuck–though I really liked the earlier title, Wrongfully Detained!) I wish I could have been there for the DC opening the other night, but just could not make it…

Craig has been an unwavering supporter of more adoption for unparented children, better adoption procedures, and much more action on this front by our own government. I am thrilled that he will be showing his film at a major film festival this week….


Craig is trying to do something that really needs to be done: To document the way abandoned, abused and neglected children are actually living, and then show the degree to which international policy has failed them.

It is all very moving and compelling. Best of luck to Craig in his brave and determined project–we hope to see the film when it goes “on the road.” I wonder what the final version looks like!!

Just by the way, I cannot count the number of times people have said to me that they had no idea the UN was less than friendly towards international adoption (ahem!), and assumed that everything in international adoption was going well, with the full support of governments….Oh, my…..Certainly not the case!

The rise in African adoptions: Stopping this at “all costs”?

One of those vexing stories out of the international “human rights community”,  sounding the alarm bells as intercountry adoption from Africa rises.


The African Child Policy Forum argues that the “industry” of international adoption has turned to Africa in an attempt to supply the endless demand for children to adopt by those dreadful Westerners….It is appalling to me that the human rights dimension of this problem is presented in such a skewed way. A recent conference of high level UN representatives  and academics lamented the rise in these adoptions–and called for solutions “at home.”  We all agree that where home solutions are possible and feasible, these are the best. But in tens of thousands of cases, such solutions are not available. What then? What does it mean to say that this rise should be stopped “at all costs”?

The usual suspects were brought out for blame–supposedly tens of thousands of dollars paid to “buy” the children, profit-making by agencies, shortages of adoptable children internationally….

It is of course true that other countries have tightened up on adoption–but far more because of this sort of scare tactic than because real and positive solutions of permanency have been found in the countries of origin. If I saw a meaningful shift in child welfare policy, I would rejoice. But keeping children at home certainly in itself does nothing to guarantee that they are safe, loved and protected. How sad to see human rights discourse used in this very misleading way.

It is easy for critics to keep on saying that there is a “shortage” of adoptable children–because there is no human rights imperative demanding that countries account for their populations of social orphans. The real fact seems to be that the number of children adopted is and has always been very small in relation to the numbers of children requiring permanency and psychological safety.

China and the revelation of chained children

The 1990s film, The Dying Rooms, created a great deal of controversy in its day, and vehement denials by the Chinese government….The film makers were lying, biased, lacked knowledge, etc etc.

It comes as no surprise to me that China’s new social media outlets have recently  carried a photo of two supposedly “disabled” children chained up in an orphanage….There are so many issues here…The exaggerated reliance on diagnoses of “disability”–lack of access by experts from outside China, the unknown state of Chinese child welfare homes, public and private….The claims that the children were chained to “protect them”….

See one of the many articles on this subject:


China seems to feel it has no international obligation to assess the conditions of its children living out of family care. (Although China is not alone in this–most countries feel the same way.) We are repeatedly told that there are no more “healthy infants” in Chinese orphanages and care homes–as if that were an end of the matter. With the rise of gender selective abortion, there has certainly been a significant decrease in child abandonment…But has it gone away completely? One doubts. But since no one can enter child welfare institutions and carry out objective assessments, how are we to know? And who should we believe? In this case, Chinese officials scrambled to explain that unqualified people were contracted to run this institution, but no one is telling how many such orphanages there are, how many children live in them, or exactly how they live.

It is really a tragedy and an international crime to allow this sort of treatment of children….But the root of the problem is in the secrecy. I am reminded of Sarah Ferguson’s  ill-fated visit to Turkey, where the Turkish government has worked so hard to make the story Sarah’s supposed violation of the “privacy rights” of the children, rather than the state of care within the institution.  (Same rationale, of course–the children were tied up and kept in confinement for their own protection….!) Also, it seems that invoking the term “disabled” is meant to cover all the bases–as if any kind of wretched care is fine, as long as the children are officially classified as “disabled”…..Wow!

What the Hague, Kyrgyzstan?!

As the adoption debate continues to run, with the UN decrying the rise in adoptions from Africa, and China denying any ill-treatment of children in orphanages, another frustrating report out of Kyrgyzstan….I am sure Kyrgyzstan is a wonderful country, with kind people and the best of intentions. I would love to visit there–But what I see is a small nation caught in a  confusing web of mixed messages and terrible child welfare policy as a result. See today International adoption. There are no more chances? an article by Anastasia Bengard, describing the political morass surrounding adoption of children in Kyrgyzstan.


Obviously, that country is being pressured not to allow children to be adopted out–even to the point where some have died waiting for families with whom they have been matched. Others are growing older, with almost no chance of leaving the orphanage system. I imagine the UN is encouraging more “foster care”–the apparent answer to all child welfare problems! Agencies are accredited, then the accreditation is withdrawn….In a nation where most all public acts involve some bribes, any hint of bribery in this context leads to mass panic and selective prosecutions.

Where is the human rights body that can clearly tell Kyrgyzstan: The unequivocally right thing to do is to determine whether these children have good homes to go to in Kyrgyzstan. If they don’t, you are honoring their rights by allowing them to find homes abroad. Do it quickly, do it ethically, and be proud of your decision. Someone needs to sort out this never-ending set of contradictions in child welfare policy. In the case of resource-strapped countries like Kyrgyzstan, it is so urgent.

Moratoriums protect the child—They do??

Canada is undergoing a good deal of soul-searching on the subject of international adoption…..Yesterday I saw this from the Globe and Mail–the argument that shutting down adoption relations with states where there are questionable practices relating to the veracity of documents actually–yes–protects children!


I am astonished that an adoption professional would make such an argument….How far down the list of governmental priorities adoption is….Instead of jumping in and working hard at removing problems from national systems, the “child welfare” solution is to shut down the adoption system. If living without a family is a form of child abuse, and a severe one, how could it be “beneficial” to shut down the possibility of adoption for those children who really need it? It may not be possible to verify every single document in every single adoption–and it is possible to identify systems in which problems are rife–but the lack of official energy to put things right is appalling. Adoption cannot be thought of in terms of “countries”–but rather individual children. Isn’t the crying need enough to make us move with urgency and determination to visit, negotiate, investigate? The UN is not doing this job, and cannot do this job. And we know that they are all too eager to recommend “moratoriums” that seem to last forever….

Russian adoptions–and the “string of crimes”….

Check out this recent article from Moscow…I have been unable to find the report from Unicef that is referenced…..Take aways from the article: The social orphan problem is still terrible, many children are still living in state care, and the promises of “family like alternatives” have failed to materialize in any adequate sense.


I count myself as one who is curious and deeply distressed by the stories of abuse of Russian children in adoptive American families. These stories are so completely at odds with what I know about the wonderful, loving, highly motivated adoptive families of children from Russia and everywhere else…It is baffling. But it must be faced and understood. Is it a combination of things at the margins–poorly prepared parents who believe that corporal punishment is a way to deal with post-institutionalized children?? I truly do not have the answes…Could there be a small cohort of adoptive parents who really do not know what they are doing? But this cannot cast a shadow over adoption from Russian institutions. I think all involved know that the vast, vast majority of these adoptions work out amazingly well….What is the Russian state doing? Blame the orphanage directors? the state-run care system? Profiteering by one and all? I can say for certain that paid stranger foster care is not the answer, and will simply create new problems. We need an urgent dialog between the Russian and American authorities and child welfare experts–not, may I say, Unicef! (Unicef is not an objective participant in this conversation…) and try to root out the problems, while furthering the project of permanency. Let’s have visits by objective observers to Russian orphanages–and for that matter, to our own foster care system. Let the children go. Either go back to their original families, or go forward to a new one….

If there is a “string of crimes” to be identified, there are lots of criminals here.