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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Russia-U.S. Adoption Agreement: Some Supernatural Entity is in the Details

Is it “God is in the details” or “the devil is in the details”? And what does either of them really mean? I never know, but I do know vague generalities when I see them and understand that their portents may seem very different when the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted.

This level of vagueness is present in the agreement between the United States and Russia about handling of intercountry adoption, signed a year ago but taking effect only upon an exchange of diplomatic notes between the countries. Some information about the agreement is available at , but as you will see, some of the important things had yet to be outlined at the time that document was written.

Here are some important things to keep in mind:
  1. Although the agreement contains a number of elements of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention, it does not require Russia to sign onto the Hague guidelines.

  1. The agreement forbids individual, private adoptions without the involvement of an adoption agency, unless the adopting family is related to the child.

  1. Adoption agencies involved in adoption to the U.S. from Russia must be authorized by Russia. All authorized agencies must first have been approved under the Hague Convention in the U.S., but Hague authorization does not guarantee Russia’s approval of the agency. Agencies currently operating are not grandfathered--  they must apply for authorization within 60 days after the agreement goes into effect. If they do not do so, they may apply one year later.

  1. There are new requirements for adoption service providers, and they must provide documentation of their capacity to meet these requirements in order to be authorized by Russia. Some of these requirements relate to both pre- and post-adoption services, as well as to the handling of adoption dissolution and the placement of the child with a new adoptive family. I’ve put asterisks * by the points where I think the details will be most significant.

“D” is the topic where the details are going to make the greatest difference, and those details are not yet available to most of us. Russia has committed to providing all medical and other background information for each child, so that appropriate matches between children and the capacities of adoptive families can be made. Prospective adopters may be required to receive special training to prepare them to care for certain children *1. When the adoption has taken place and the family returns to the U.S., adoptive parents are expected to register the child with the Russian Embassy or local consulate as soon as possible and to work with their adoption agencies to satisfy post-adoption requirements including reporting requirements.  

Following placement, the living conditions and upbringing of adopted children are to be monitored as Russia has instructed. This would be done in the home by the authorized agency’s caseworker, or by another person licensed to conduct such an evaluation. * 2 Periodic reports would be supplied to the Russian authorities, giving reliable descriptions of the child’s development and adaptation. *3

In the case of adoption disruption, Russian authorities would be notified as soon as possible, as would the U.S. State Department Office of Children’s Issues. Information about a new adoptive family would be provided to these authorities, and the consent or non-consent of Russia to the change might be required. *4 This would be true even of adoptions that occurred before the agreement went into force. *5

The agreement covers only adoptions where the adopting parent or parents have seen the child in person before the adoption and have participated in the Russian court procedures. *6

Now, all those asterisks— what are some of the details that will make a difference?

1*  Who provides the training? Considering how many misunderstandings about adoption are posted on the Internet by various groups, the quality of the trainer is a legitimate concern and one of obvious significance for the outcome.

2* What is the background of the evaluator, and what is the assurance that this even happened? The report of the Barahona grand jury, and innumerable other tragic situations, show that we can make no assumptions on these matters.

3*  Who writes the reports, and who reads them? If either writer or reader is poorly qualified, this will be only a ritual bow to the nature of the agreement.

4* What happens if Russia does not consent? How would the all-too-common informal exchanges of children be monitored?

5* How are these existing adoptions to be traced?

6* How much seeing in person would be required? In one case I’m familiar with, an adopting couple were told that they must take a boy’s sister if they wanted the boy they had spent time with. They had seen her, they were there and participated in the court procedures--  but they didn’t like her and several years later handed her off to another family (a judge signed off on this after the caseworkers recommended it). …. Presumably, this requirement means that trafficked children are protected under a different law.

For myself, I’m deeply embarrassed that my country has had to have its feet held to the fire before moving to protect internationally-adopted children. I look forward to the release of more information on the details of this agreement, and hope for the best.

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