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June 23, 09

NEWS / U.S. Adoptions Process Has Rigorous Safeguards More than 1,800 U.S. adoptees from Russia in 2008

By Jaroslaw Anders
Staff Writer
Source: http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2009/June/20090612162647zjsredna0.1811182.html?CP.rss=true

Washington — When Steve, a U.S. civil servant, and his wife, Susan, decided to go overseas to adopt a child, nationality was not an issue. “We did not start with the idea that we want a Russian kid,” Steve said. Instead, they were looking for a reputable agency that would help them navigate the lengthy, rigorous adoption process. The agency they liked most happened to work with Russia, Ukraine and several other East European countries.

After almost two years of document gathering, home inspections and training, they finally went to Moscow to meet their 23-month-old future son. They were impressed by the professionalism of Russian adoption authorities and by the quality of the orphanage that was their son’s home for the first two years of his life. “The director seemed to know everything about her 500 wards,” Steve said.

In 2008, Americans adopted 17,438 children from abroad, more than all other countries combined. In this number, 1,861 came from Russia, the third-highest after Guatemala (4,123) and China (3,909). There are more than 200,000 foreign-adopted children living in the United States today.

“We believe that children who don’t have a family should have the option of finding a family outside their country, if a good-faith effort has been made to find a local family,” said Michele Bond, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department, the central intercountry adoption authority in the United States.

Bond said the U.S. government carefully reviews each case and rejects those that raise legal, social or ethical questions. “We need to ensure that when each of these adoptions occurs, U.S. laws and policies have been fully complied with and laws and policies of the other country have been complied with.”


When Steve and Susan were getting ready to adopt their son, they had to subject themselves to a process known as the “home study,” involving thorough background checks, review of their medical records, and several home visits by certified inspectors in their home state.

“Fire marshals told us to change our locks and make some structural changes in our home,” Steve said. “They put a thermometer in our refrigerator to see if we keep our food fresh enough.”

Since April 1, 2008, when The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption went into force in the United States, more stringent requirements have been imposed on adoption services and prospective parents.

Service providers accredited under The Hague convention must meet more than 500 criteria, including the highest ethical standards, professional qualifications of the staff and mechanisms for responding to complaints, said Thomas DiFilipo, the president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. The convention establishes a central complaint registry and a tracking system for all adoption cases. The accreditation process, which may take more than a year, has to be repeated every three to four years, DiFilipo said.

“Our recommendation to countries like Russia, who have not yet made the decision to join the convention, is to work only with agencies that have The Hague accreditation,” said Bond, adding that such accreditation assures the highest level of protection for children and adoptive parents.


Judging by testimonies from U.S. officials, service providers and experts in the field, Steve and Susan represent a typical American family adopting from abroad. Those people tend to be financially secure (one of the home study requirements), but by no means wealthy. About 50 percent of their adopted children have been orphans for two years or more. Americans frequently adopt sibling groups and children with special needs. And as a rule, Americans do not hide from their adoptive children their origin or nationality.

Although Steve’s son, now 11, does not speak Russian, he is becoming curious about his roots. “He asks a lot of questions, and we try to answer them the best we can,” Steve said. The boy keeps in touch with other adopted children from Russia and participates in cultural events organized jointly by his adoption agency and the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Bond and DiFilipo say it is a frequent misconception in Russia that adoption in the United States is kept secret. “In fact, adoptions are open in the United States,” Bond said. “These children grow up knowing they are Russian Americans and their adoptive families are proud of it. They talk about ‘my Russian grandson’ and make real efforts to encourage them to know about their heritage.”

Internationally adopted children become U.S. citizens the day they arrive in United States and enjoy exactly the same rights and protections as biological children of American citizens. But they often retain the citizenship of their birth country, like Russia, which has a “legitimate lifelong interest in how they are doing,” according to Bond. “They are Russian children … and I completely understand the concern of the Russian people for their children,” she said.


Most adoption experts say domestic adoptions always are preferable to intercountry ones. “I believe it is our responsibility, to the extent that our assistance is required, to help other governments develop and promote domestic adoptions so that as many children as possible grow up in good, loving homes in their country of birth,” Bond said. She added that Russian authorities have implemented a transparent, well-functioning system that assures that most healthy infants are adopted locally.

DiFilipo said his organization has many programs that are helping to keep children in the country, and, whenever possible, in the families of their birth. In fact, he added, the number of Russian domestic adoptions has been growing in recent years while intercountry ones remain flat and even show a decline.

But he and Bond say intercountry adoptions should be available as an alternative for children unable to find domestic families. No country in the world, they say, can provide enough adoptive families for its children. Even American orphans are being adopted into other countries.

“I don’t think it is a zero-sum game,” Bond said. “Tragically, there are many more children who need families than there are families that anybody can find for them.”

Tags: hague convention, background checks, document, background check,


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