Russian adoptees sometimes adjust slowly

Date: 2003-12-25

Arlington Heights Post (IL)
Author: KAREN SHOFFNER; STAFF WRITER

Alex and his sister had trouble adjusting from the Russian orphanage to their new home in Schaumburg, said their adoptive mother's attorney.

Stuart V. Goldberg, the attorney of Irma Pavlis, who is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with 6-year-old Alex's death, said Monday the children were sometimes "very uncontrolled" and unruly.

Difficult behavior isn't necessarily unusual for children adopted from a Russian orphanage, experts say.

Anne Schmidt, director of international adoption for The Cradle, said that no matter how well adjusted a child may seem, the years lived in an orphanage can leave a mark.

"It's a long and difficult adjustment. You can expect misbehavior. That's normal. You expect them to kind of crash. They're leaving behind everything they've ever known. Even if it's a move for the better, they don't know how to trust you. And the parent might feel as though they're doing something wrong. They might feel like they're incompetent and they become enraged," she said.

The Cradle is a nonprofit, non-sectarian private adoption agency based in Evanston and handled 82 international adoptions in 2002.

Schmidt said the agency wasn't involved with the Pavlis adoption. Goldberg and state officials would not release the name of the adoption agency, but said it was a private firm.

A study of Russian-born adopted children acknowledged the first year is the hardest.

According to a University of Wisconsin at Madison study, released in February, 5- and 6-year-old children who spent their first 7 to 41 months in Russian orphanages had difficulties paying attention to verbal information, but were in the normal range for visual-perception skills, reasoning ability, and intelligence.

Psychologist Seth Pollak, lead investigator of the study, said that children often experience physical and behavioral problems for their first year in the United States. For the most part, this study contends, the longer children spend in the United States with their adoptive families, the better they performed on the tests.

Rules and requirements are more strict in domestic adoptions than in international cases, said Schmidt.

For example, when adopting a 5- or 6-year-old child domestically, the new parents are required to participate in 30 to 40 hours of training. Home checks are required and the adoptive parents must spend time with the children before bringing them home. Access to social workers is also mandated.

"You wouldn't be in it alone and you'd know what you're getting into and that you're getting a lot of support" in a domestic adoption, she said.

The Cradle requires prospective parents to take half of the eight classes offered for adopting Russian orphans. Parents are informed about the children's health problems and if they were exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero. The Cradle also helps the parents become connected to the Russian community in the Chicago area.

"We have a lot in place for these families," she said.

A Russian adoption can be expensive, costing about $25,000, including two trips to the country. Schmidt said the price for an older child or a child with special needs is less at about $15,000 because that child is harder to place.

Parents are warned ahead of time about developmental delays, especially with language and speech, that are a common problem with international adoptions from orphanages and institutions, as clarified by International Adoption Organization's fact sheet, www.internationaladoption.org.

Alcoholism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have been cited as the cause of developmental problems and the high rates of "orphans with parents" in Russia, according to the Friends of Russian Orphans Web site, www.russian-orphans.org.

Intern Jennifer Zegler contributed to this report.

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