The Hard Realities of International Adoption
A Tennessee woman's decision send her troubled 7-year-old son, Artyom Savelyev, alone on a plane back to Russia this month with a note saying he had psychopathic issues has turned the international adoption world upside down and seems to have frozen adoptions between the two countries. It has also unleashed a wave of resentment from Americans who feel that Russia passes severely disturbed children to foreign adoptive parents because the country lacks the will to reform an orphanage system that's an international disgrace.
As the mom of a 5-year-old girl adopted from Kazakhstan in 2007, I belong to five different adoption list serves, most of which lit up when the news broke. The overriding sentiment on the list serves was that, as awful as Torry Hansen's action was, Russia is in no position to be pointing fingers. Yes, about 16 Russian adoptees have died in the U.S. since 1996 (out of 60,000 total adopted), but at least 15 adopted children die each year at the hands of Russian parents, according to The Times. Russia has 800,000 children in orphanages, with about 120,000 added each year. Americans adopt only about 1,600 per year, so we don't make much of a dent. What depressed me in many of the posts written by adoptive parents were the horror stories about children they had adopted or knew about. This one is an example of the comments and links people post.
Many Russian children have some form of fetal alcohol syndrome whereby the child's brain is irreparably damaged due to binge drinking by pregnant moms. One recent Swedish survey estimated that 52 percent of 71 adopted children from Eastern Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine) were brain-damaged due to FAS. Those are horrible statistics, and the Russian Foreign Ministry seems to have few qualms about giving these children to unsuspecting foreigners.
I found a very informative piece in a Russian newspaper from last fall (in English at adoption advocate Alex Krutov's blog) that explained part of the problem: Russian families get state subsidies for adopting. An extra child allows them to receive better housing, but once they move into a larger home, there's nothing to stop families from returning kids to the orphanage—and horribly, many do exactly that, as though they were returning a library book.
"Frankly, I hope adoptions from Russia do stop," one adoptive parent wrote on one of the list serves. "Although adoption corruption is rampant everywhere, Russia tops the list. The Russian authorities are the pot calling the kettle black on the case of Artyom. He lives with an alcoholic mother for 6 years before they terminate her rights, stick him in an orphanage, palm him off on a single mom, refuse to tell her his brain was soaking in alcohol his whole creating life, then say that by returning him to Russia, he's damaged for life? Give me a break."
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