New S.L. parents give international adoptions their heartfelt approval
By Jenifer K. Nii, Staff Writer
That's how long Bonnie and Clint Grace waited to have a family. Nine years after they found out they were unable to have children, and after nine years of visits to doctors and specialists, they had nearly given up hope of having a family of their own.But then one day at an adoption seminar they saw a black-and-white picture of a tiny Russian boy, and they "just knew."
Sobbing, they told Karen Banks, director of the Focus On Children adoption agency, "That's our little boy."
They looked closer, and saw a little girl, and that's all it took.
"I just fell in love with them," Bonnie Grace said.
That day, the Graces began thinking seriously about adoption. They contacted the Focus On Children adoption agency, recommended to them by a family acquaintance, and the real work began.
Like all prospective parents, the Graces had to pass Focus On Children's rigorous screening procedure, which includes a thorough background and family history check, financial approval (adoption costs alone may reach $20,000), and several in-home evaluations by a licensed social worker.
It may seem like an extensive process, said Dellory Matthews, public relations specialist for the agency, but that's the only way the Russian government would approve the adoptions.
And even with the steep precautions, a delegation of Russian officials is in town this week to make sure that the children are being treated well, that there are no problems with abuse or exploitation of the children.
In the past year, a Colorado woman was sent to prison in the death of the Russian toddler she adopted, and rumors flew in Russia about children being adopted for their organs, to be sold on the black market. The Russian government, in its alarm, sent the delegation to ensure that the adopted children continued to thrive.
Composed of a pediatrician, a family court judge, and an adoption specialist, the delegation will visit several Salt Lake-area adoptive families, including the Graces. Following their weeklong visit, they will file their report with the state government.
"We are sincerely concerned with the future of the children. We want to make sure they are taken care of and treated very well," said Natalia Uliankina, chief education specialist of the Primorskii Krai administration, the state from where the children were adopted.
And, as the children bounced on their laps and gave them "thumbs up" signs, it appeared that the Graces had passed the test.
"This family here, we think the children fit in perfectly. They are really loved here," Uliankina said.
The children were both in Russian orphanages, candidates for adoption. And, although the Graces had never considered "domestic" adoption - adopting kids in the United States - an option, adopting the children they saw in those pictures suddenly became imperative.
"We didn't want the parents coming back and wanting the children after so many years," Grace said. "It's not something we wanted to deal with. But then we saw the kids, and that was it. We knew.'
Adopting Russian children safeguards against the possibility that the birth parents would return to claim the children, and is just one of the perks of international adoptions, said Matthews.
Through Focus On Children, the adoptions are finalized before the parents are allowed to take the children home. The birth parents are not allowed to contact the child, and the adoptive parents are given the original birth certificate. Later, they are issued a new birth certificate, listing the adoptive parents as the child's "real" parents.
The Graces began working with Focus On Children in July 1997, and prepared to fly over to complete the adoption proceedings with the Russian government this April. They secured a loan for the $16,500 it took to cover the adoption costs, and Clint Grace took time off from his job at Easter Seals. They brought their children home last week.
Getting ready for their first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir, 3, and Galina, 18 months, whom they've since renamed Cade Dilan and Raeli Marie, was unforgettable, Grace said.
"Getting things ready for the kids was really fun - gauging their sizes and doing up their room. It was exciting."
The couple had some concerns, though. They wondered how the children had been treated and what conditions they'd had to live in. Most Russian children adopted through Focus On Children come from orphanages and children's hospitals, said Matthews, but that's actually not as bad as it sounds.
"People have in their minds things like they saw in Romania: kids packed in rooms, in horrible conditions. But in Vladivostok, the orphanages aren't always like that. They're more like a Montessori preschool system: They have some measure of security, they're in the same place for years, with the same caretakers," Matthews said.
Though the circumstances may not be ideal, Matthews said the children are often better off emotionally than American children who have been in the foster-care system.
"With the foster-care system, there are lots of kids who've come from abusive situations and suffer emotionally. With ours, we at least know beforehand if there's some emotional damage."
Grace said Vova-Cade seemed just fine - a gregarious, energetic little boy who "just latched right on to us, like he'd been a part of our family forever." They call him Vova-Cade to help him make the transition from his Russian name (Vova is a nickname for Vladimir) to his American one.
Raeli was another story. Newly transferred to an orphanage in the heart of Vladivostok, she appeared neglected and malnourished.
"He (Vova-Cade) was in really good condition. But Raeli, they could've cared less that we were taking her. She was so skinny. She looked like one of those kids you'd see on `Save the Children,' with the tiny bottom and bloated stomach," Grace said. "We were shocked. She was so tiny. Skeleton-like."
Since their return to Utah, however, Raeli has improved markedly.
"She's made incredible strides," Grace said. "She's already fattening up and crawling around. She also plays with toys now, which is something she didn't use to do."
Even though the transition has had some bumps, Grace didn't hesitate to say she'd recommend international adoption to anyone.
"It's very rewarding. These kids need help, and if someone can give them that help, then that's great. At the same time, we didn't do this to save anyone. We adopted these kids to raise. They're our family."
Focus On Children is a nonprofit adoption and humanitarian agency based in Cokesville, Wy. It works with the Chinese and Bolivian governments in placing children for adoption.
Contact Dellory Matthews for more information about Focus on Children, at 982-1420.
Color Photo #1: Cade Dilan Grace, 3, sits on the lap of his new grandmother, Shirlene Martineau. They've known each other just a week but bonded right away.
Black and White Photo #2: Karen Banks holds Raeli Marie, left, and Galina Chumachenko and Irina Zaitsyeva visit with Cade during Russian delegation's visit.