Russia and the child’s best interests

It has been a time of enormous upheaval in US-Russia relations as far as children are concerned. Needless to say, it is my hope that sanity will prevail and that many more Russian children will find homes in the US–I hope this in the same way that I hope many will find new homes within Russia itself, and that our governments will continue to approach this issue with passionate conviction.

I came across this short documentary on HuffPost–It makes for interesting viewing, as it is always of interest (and too rare) to see inside an actual orphanage….

From this film’s perspective, the social orphans in the institution wait–they are waiting to be taken home, to be provided with actual families.  As I also read widely in the contrary view, I note that some virulently anti-adoption material on the internet portrays the tragic deaths of certain Russian adoptees in America as the result of a craven “adoption industry.” The dead children are presented as symbols of this selfish and relentless trade in children. How could the two visions of this phenomenon of international adoption be more starkly different?

It seems to me that those of us who believe in the permanency and stability offered by international adoption should be profoundly concerned about the fact that a small but significant number of Russian children were actually killed by those who had adopted them. More recently, the boy who was returned presents a very challenging picture as well. I do not know if the Russian idea of home visits with adoptees and international prosecutions will yield the results the Russians would like to see, but I sympathize with the Russian point of view on all this. I am certain that most Russian authorities know that the vast, vast and overwhelming majority of American homes for Russian children are loving, caring, patient and positive. On the other hand, even the relatively small number of children killed by adoptive parents is shocking, and must represent something of importance. Say what one will about the fact that many more children are killed by Russian biological families (and that is true in many countries), there is something going on…I can only offer my own modest theory on this….

Someone at a conference once said to me that adoptions gone wrong represent marginal adoption candidates meeting up with marginal procedures, or marginal agencies. To the extent that the Russians have said no more to independent (that is, non-agency) adoptions through intermediaries, I am delighted with that change. No marginally qualified applicants (in terms of stamina, understanding, commitment) should be allowed to adopt–full stop. The recent return of the Russian boy highlighted some of the severe problems caused by prolonged institutionalisation in Russia–on top of social issues like abuse and neglect in the original home, there may be compounding medical and psychological issues like FAS and PTSD….It is to be hoped that the incident let us all agree that Russia needs to work much harder at getting children into real homes–and not try and disguise this problem through reliance on paid stranger foster care–that will not work, either!

In addition, I wonder if it could be the case that some of those adoptive parents who went so far as to injure and even kill their children mistakenly believed that they could discipline children from these backgrounds into getting better? Corporal punishment is the worst possible approach to children from difficult pasts, who already have trouble trusting and believing. It is strange and worrying that these deaths of Russian children occurred in the US, and it is hard to believe there is not some common source as far as an explanation is concerned….

That being said, despite the recent problems, my impression is that the Russian government is better aware of the deep and loving commitment of so many US families towards their Russian-born children….Perhaps we can go on to build adoption policy around this awareness, while acknowledging and reforming the remaining weaknesses. As for those who choose to portray these tragedies as the inevitable results of a rapacious adoption industry–It seems just so false and misleading, and to use the faces of dead children to make a hate-filled anti-adoption point is in its own way profoundly shocking….


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