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Thoughts on the History of Russian Adoption

Why Russia Is Being Unreasonable


I was given the opportunity to interview John M. Simmons, author of "The Marvelous Journey Home", 2008 winner of the Utah Best of State Awards- Fiction category. Mr. Simmons and his wife have adopted five children from Russia. I asked him about his feelings regarding the Russian ban on international adoption. Here are John Simmon's thoughts on the issues.

I do think that Russia is being unreasonable when it comes to how hasty their actions have been. Russia is moving toward reforming (more correctly “establishing”) their social welfare system so that homes can be found for its orphans within their own country. This is a good move but it doesn’t consider how long it takes to get these programs evolved to the point where they make a significant difference. It was 1909 when Teddy Roosevelt met with other Progressives in the United States and they decided it would be better to put money they were spending to keep kids in orphanages into the hands of parents in order to help them keep children they couldn’t afford. It was the 1960s when we began the systematic dismantling of orphanages as institutions. Russia has a long way to go and many children, especially children with Special Needs, will not get the families they need while the system develops.

I don’t think it is good that Russians are banning adoptions to the U.S. before they have the orphan crisis under control. I don’t think that Russia working on establishing a system to solve their orphan problem domestically and international adoption need to be mutually exclusive. I think that both should continue indefinitely (even though I don’t believe they will). I do, however, believe that it is a positive thing that Russia is beginning to put in place the same things that we did to solve our own social orphan problems.

Russia's History with International Adoption

The Russian people as a whole have never been comfortable with sending their orphans (most of whom are social orphans with at least one parent still alive) to other countries. They have considered international adoption a cop-out by political leaders so they didn’t have to spend money to deal with the issue domestically. Immediately after the economic meltdown that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, there simply wasn’t money; in many cases, even for essentials. The government was stuck between the rock of public opinion of needing to help the orphans and the hard place of having no money to do so. They allowed international adoption to take place until they could do something different. However, the government never really wanted international adoption, nor did the people of Russia. The mere cost of adoptions from Russia made the program extremely limited. Russians couldn’t believe that parents from the U.S. would spend $25,000 to $30,000 on an adoption and spend anywhere from two to four weeks in their country to adopt. They were amazed when these difficulties didn’t slow down international adoption and that in fact, it continued to increase. In an effort to curb the international adoption escalation, they enacted various laws over years. In the beginning it was possible for very young children to be placed for international adoption. Then the age was increased to a child needing to be available for Russians to adopt for at least six months, meaning that by the time all was said and done, the child probably wouldn’t enter the U.S. until they were about eight months old. The law was later changed so that a child needed to be available to Russians for nine months before they could be made available for international adoption.

The U.S. parents kept coming. Russia was one of the few places in the world where Caucasian parents could adopt young children that were healthy and who looked like them. The public outcry was that all of the healthy orphans were being taken away, leaving Russians to pay to raise the children with challenges. Russia responded by making it all but impossible for a child to be placed for international adoption if they were not diagnosed with some sort of issue. Soon childhood rashes were described as “serious skin conditions,” a child who didn’t learn to walk quite as fast as peers was diagnosed as “developmentally delayed.” The “over diagnoses” were many and they were used extensively as those who were close to children tried to give them chances to have families. Many U.S. parents returned with their children talking of miraculous recoveries rather than facing the truth. White Lies had been told to provide them with White Children. Soon it became common knowledge in the adoption community that often there was nothing wrong with a Russian orphan when the medical diagnosis indicated there was. The Russian government wasn’t fooled, either. They responded by adding even more bureaucracy. U.S. parents kept coming but the rate of adoptions to the U.S. was slowing. That wasn’t enough. Russia moved from requiring adopting parents to make two separate visits to Russia for an adoption, to requiring three trips. This raised the cost of adopting from Russia to $40,000 to $60,000. Again, the rate slowed. According to a December 26th, 2012 article in USA Today, the high of adoptions from Russia to the U.S. occurred in 2004 with 5,862 such adoptions completed. In 2012, that number had dropped to 962. Those who pay close attention have known for a long time which direction things were going and foresaw an end to adoptions from Russia.

The Magnitsky case and the sensationalizing of up to twenty deaths of adopted Russian children are nothing more than excuses to end adoption to the United States. Russians aren’t stupid. They can do simple division. They know that over sixty thousand children have been adopted from Russia by U.S. parents and that up to twenty have died. They know that 20 divided by 60,000 is .00033, three one hundredths of a percent, or three per ten thousand. They know that the odds are far better for a child who is adopted than one who is not. They also know that there are failed placements in Russia and that there have been deaths of adopted or foster orphans at the hands of their Russian parents. In a May 4th, 2010, New York Times article, chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on family and children, Yelena B. Mizulina, was quoted as saying that in the prior three years, there had been 30,000 children who were sent back to institutions by their Russian adoptive, foster or guardianship families. (There have also been murders, though I have never seen figures.) Russia has been trying to stop international adoption for a long time and they are using anything they can for justification.

Another article by John M. Simmons:

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