SIX COUPLES WIN RIGHT TO ADOPT ROMANIAN BABIES

Date: 1993-07-03

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CHILDREN HAD BEEN ENSNARLED IN CUSTODY WAR WITH HUNGARY

Author: By Martha Shirk Of the Post-Dispatch Staff

Six St. Louis couples have broken an international logjam and won the right to adopt Romanian children who have been living in legal limbo in Hungary.

After months of delicate negotiations, the couples found out Friday that their babies and 22 others were being released from orphanages in Szeged, Hungary, after a seven-month custody war between Hungary and Romania.

"All we want now is to bring our babies home," Brenda Henn of Creve Coeur said Friday in a telephone interview from Szeged, where she and three other St. Louis women went last month to try to speed the children's release.

"We are four very tired, very homesick and very excited women," Henn said.

Twenty-four American couples, including the six from St. Louis, made arrangements to adopt 28 Romanian children last fall, paying agency fees of up to $18,000 each. But the adoptions were held up by rumors of baby-selling and kilometers of red tape.

The diplomatic impasse ended Friday morning when the Romanian government sent the Hungarian government a diplomatic note. In it, Romania backed down from its previous insistence that the children be brought to Romania for six months before they could go to the United States.

Romania said it was allowing the children's release to the American couples for "purely humanitarian" reasons. It approved the children's departure directly from Budapest to the United States.

There were tears of joy in a hotel room in Szeged Friday morning when Henn and three other St. Louis women got the news. Henn said some of the adoptive mothers and their babies could be home by Wednesday.

Henn and her husband are adopting Alexander, who's 19 months old. With Henn in Szeged are:

Rebecca Skrainka, of Webster Groves, who's adopting a 7-month-old she calls Nick.

Jane Oldenburg of Grover, who's adopting a 7-month-old she calls Evan.

Denise Scott of Wentzville, who's adopting a 15-month-old she calls Abby.

The four women have spent the last few weeks getting to know the children they were assigned. Most of the children have been living in foster homes and orphanages since their births.

"They're magnificent children, but they're showing signs of having been in an institution for too long," Henn said. "Some of them are malnourished. All of them are developmentally delayed. But they don't have anything that can't be fixed with love and care."

Henn declined to comment on what she believed had held up the adoptions for so long.

"We can't take the risk of talking about it until the children are home with us," she said.

Henn said that the families were grateful to the Hungarian government for pressing their case and for the help they got from Rep. Jim Talent, R-Chesterfield. Five of the six St. Louis area families live in Talent's district.

"We owe Jim Talent a lot of thanks," Henn said. "He believed in our cause and fought for us."

Talent gave the parents credit for turning the children's plight into an international incident that the government of Romania could not ignore.

"This is the greatest testimony to parental commitment I have ever seen," he said. "These people organized themselves, bought ads in the New York Times, got themselves on `20/20' and went to Romania. They kept the pressure on. My staff did a lot of work on it, but the parents are responsible for their kids coming home."

Talent said he was unsure why the children's fate took so long to decide.

Two years ago, the Romanian government adopted strict procedures for international adoptions because of widespread reports of baby-selling following the fall of Nicholae Ceausescu's regime.

To bypass the Romanian rules, a British relief worker named John Davies arranged for some Romanian women to go to Hungary to give birth or give up their children for adoption.

But their 28 children ended up in the custody of Hungarian child-protection authorities when the Romanian government found out about the plan and began insisting that the adoptions comply with Romanian law.

(FOLLOWING APPEARED IN 3* EDITION)

Lavern Scott said Friday that he could not wait for his wife to return from Hungary with Abby, whom they had almost lost hope of adopting.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if we hadn't gotten very high-level people involved in these negotiations, these children would never have been released," he said.

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