Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Russian-American Adoption Issues: Some Background and Suggestions
The Russian ban on adoption of children to the United States has been the subject of a number of articles and an editorial in the New York Times over Christmas week of 2012. The Duma, the Russian parliament, passed legislation prohibiting adoption of Russian children to the U.S., and President Vladimir Putin signed the bill. The Times and other U.S. sources attributed the ban to Russian reprisal against the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. attempt to censure Russians for human rights violations. The Duma attributed it to the fact that 19 Russian-born children have died in adoptive homes in the U.S. Curiously, however, the bill was named for Dima Yakovlev, whose tragic death in a hot car was one of the few that were clearly accidental rather than the result of systematic maltreatment. Like the Times, members of the Duma seem uninformed about the situations that probably gave rise to most of these deaths--- situations that may have been encouraged by adoption caseworkers in this country. (See
http://www.vesti.ru which for some reason won’t let me type the whole thing---- add to this /doc.html?id=990 and then 898 [mysteriously, it seems to lock on me after the 990]). I believe, however, that Pavel Astakhov, the Russian Children’s Ombudsman, has some awareness of what has been happening.
Readers who have been following the Russian-American adoption situation for some time will realize that concerns about intercountry adoption have existed for years. An article by Jaci Wilkening in an Ohio law journal (http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/oslj/files/2012/01/Wilkening.pdf) summarizes a good deal of the history and addresses some-- but not all—of the problems that need to be dealt with in order to protect both parents and children. (For example, Wilkening stresses the return of seven-year-old Artyom to Russia, rather than serious cases of maltreatment and starvation.)
In 1994, the U.S. signed onto the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. In 2000, this agreement was ratified through the Intercountry Adoption Act, but was not enacted through the promulgation of regulations until 2008. Both the Hague Convention and the IAA emphasize pre-adoption services, the appointment of a Central Authority in the receiving country (in the U.S., the Department of State), assessment of the prospective adoptive parents, and appropriate counseling of the adoptive parents on the child’s history and cultural background, medical issues, developmental history, and so on.
The IAA Regulations did not address post-adoption services, or significantly, post-adoption reporting, although a number of sending countries require such reports. According to Wilkening’s paper, Russia has required post-adoption reports 6 months, 12 months, 24 months, and 36 months after the adoption. China requires adoptive parents to state their willingness to provide reports as asked. Ethiopian law requires reports after 3 months, 6 months, one year, and annually until the child is 18. Reports until age 18 have also been requested by Vietnam, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
In 2011, an agreement (Agreement Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation Regarding Cooperation in Adoption of Children; http://tsgsandbox.his.com/adoptions/content/pdf/us-russia_adoption_agmt-713%2011-signed_english.pdf) was signed and to come into force in October 2012. This agreement again stressed pre-adoption counseling and education, but also required that adopted children remain citizens of Russia while also receiving U.S. citizenship, addressed issues of dissolution of adoptions and re-adoption, and required that this all be performed by a competent authority as defined in the agreement. The child is also to be registered with a consular office and regular reports are to be sent, especially if requested..
As Wilkening points out, however, the U.S. State Department has no power to enforce compliance by adoptive parents, and is considered as showing good will if it encourages compliance. She stresses the need for post-adoptive services but appears to focus primarily on the rights of adoptive parents to receive a child with the characteristics they expected rather than to have medical or other surprises. The solution Wilkening proposes is to strengthen the authority of the State Department in these matters-- although she acknowledges the dislike of American adoptive families for reporting or being monitored in ways that are outside historical guidelines in U.S. family law.
Wilkening also comments on both mental health concerns and developmental or neurological disabilities as points that demand much more post-adoption attention. Interestingly, she stresses the potential mental health problems of institutionalized children rather than the possibility that adoptive parents may have mental health difficulties triggered by adoption, just as perinatal mood disorders like post-partum depression may be triggered by the birth of a child. In fact, post-adoption mental health services may be as necessary for adoptive parents or for other children in a family as they are for the adopted child. Wilkening’s paper also cites the testimony of “a doctor” (in fact, the psychologist Ronald Federici) before Congess, in which he reported that 80% of foreign-adopted children he had evaluated were neuropsychiatrically impaired. This appears to be a PFA number--- Pulled From the Air-- but in any case is irrelevant unless we also know how many children he evaluated, and how that number compares with all foreign-born adoptees including those whose parents did not see a need for evaluation. As was the case for mental illness, Wilkening’s statement here seems incomplete, and it appears to me that improved pre-adoption services would be more to the point than more post-adoption services--- especially if the assumption is that adoptive parents are accepting seriously at-risk children out of inadequate counseling and education.
Like the Times statements, Wilkening’s article put little stress on the number of Russian and other foreign-adopted children who have died as a result of systematic maltreatment, and on the very real possibility that such maltreatment is advised as “attachment therapy” by caseworkers. A common feature of these child deaths is severe undernutrition, advised by “attachment therapists” and parent coaches like Nancy Thomas as a way to establish the dominance of the adoptive parent and thus (according to this belief system) to cause emotional attachment and the obedience and gratitude these people consider to follow as natural consequences of attachment. Examination of curricula for adoption workers and statements of parent organizations show that this approach, with its real potential for child injury or death, is rife in the United States.
What would the United States have to do to keep safe adopted children, from Russia or elsewhere? An essential step would be an independent examination of curricula used for the education and counseling of prospective adoptive parents. Currently, organizations that are said to be “competent authorities” are allowed to create their own curricula, certainly a task the State Department does not want to take on. Independent assessment of the curricula by knowledgeable scholars outside the “authorities” would reveal whether adoptive parents are actually being given unconventional and dangerous misinformation that will make them more likely to harm the children. A similar examination of the training of adoption caseworkers would also be in order, as only a few years ago a major social work textbook stated approval of “holding therapy”. An additional step that could be very helpful is to ban homeschooling for foreign-adopted children, because contacts with schools and other community organizations can act as buffers against mistreatment, especially underfeeding.
Unfortunately, there remains a puzzling issue, one that is difficult to explain to the more centralized Russian Federation. This is the multiplicity of levels of services and law enforcement in the United States-- and the more than occasional conflicts between state and federal levels. For instance, in the case of Maxim Babaev (http://voicerussia.com/2012_12_23/Russian-Children-Sexually-Abused-Suffocated-by-US-Adoptive-Parents-Russian-Diplomat/), a Florida judge refused to allow the Russian consul contact with a 6-year-old adoptee who had been removed from abusive parents and placed in a foster home, saying he knew nothing about the bilateral agreement and did not have to cooperate with it.