Kidsave: Adoption by 'tryout'

Date: 
2001-06-20

By Tara McKelvey, USA TODAY

At age 10, Constantine left his orphanage in Russia with not much more than a pair of sandals, an extra T-shirt and a toothbrush. He was told he was going to summer camp in the USA.

"I thought I was just going for a 'rest-out' from everything in Russia," he says, sitting next to his adoptive mother, Terry Baugh, in their living room in Washington, D.C., nearly a year later.

In fact, Constantine Baugh-Ruschman — as he's now known — was on a program sponsored by a non-profit group called Kidsave International Inc., based in Washington and Los Angeles, that helps children from orphanages in Russia and Central Asia find homes in the USA. Constantine spent six weeks on what amounts to an "adoption tryout" and was chosen by Baugh — one of the founders of Kidsave — and her daughters, Dasha, 9, and Luda, 7.

Constantine has impossibly long eyelashes and a scabbed elbow, and on this particular June evening he munches corn on the cob, a treat he had never experienced in the orphanage in the Smolensk region of Russia. These days, Constantine is a star soccer player at Francis Scott Key Elementary School.

"Nobody can beat me at dribble," he says. And his prospects for the future are considerably brighter than they were a year ago.

Constantine is one of 242 orphans and abandoned children from Russia and Central Asia who have found homes with American families this year through Kidsave. The program, which is supported by private donations, has found homes for 453 children ages 5 to 15 since it was started in 1999 to "eliminate the harmful institutionalization of children," says executive director Randi Thompson. There is a catch, though. Some of the children who come to America are sent back when an adopting family can't be found, and that doesn't sit well with many adoption experts.

"You can imagine the incredible devastation," says Joyce Maguire Pavao, director of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Center for Family Connections, a non-profit counseling center for adoption and foster-care families. "These kids already have abandonment issues and then they're sent back."

Eight-year-old Misha left his orphanage last summer and came to America with great expectations. Misha has blue eyes and sandy hair, and he can recite Russian poetry by Pushkin. His caregivers in the orphanage where he lives say he is an artistic child who likes music and dancing. Misha was sent to live with a ranching family in Montana, though, and he floundered. After six weeks, Misha was sent back to the orphanage.

Thompson says Kidsave workers do everything they can to make sure each child finds a home. Their success rate is high. Of the 470 children who have participated in the program, all but 17 have found families. Parents who adopt are asked to make a donation to support deinstitutionalization and adoption programs for the country where their child is from, usually between $500 and $2,000.

Thompson acknowledges it's a wrenching process, but she argues that Kidsave is giving hundreds of children a chance for a better life. Children over the age of 5 in Russian orphanages are known as the "forgotten ones," she says. They have only a 5% chance of ever being adopted in their own country. "These kids do not have a lot of options," she says.

Misha is coming back to the USA next month. He'll stay with a recently married couple in Herndon, Va. Don Weber is an engineer, and his wife, Gail, is a writer and editor — a former schoolteacher who has worked with gifted children. If all goes well, Misha will become part of their family.

More than 250 other children also will be coming this summer, including:

  • Nikolai, age 11, whose father died when Nikolai was 4. When his mother died two years ago, Nikolai was taken to an orphanage in Russia.
  • Elena, 8, who was placed in an orphanage in Russia in October. Her father is incarcerated, and Elena may have been physically abused at home.
  • Dimitri, 9, who loves to play sports and makes friends quickly. "He is open and responsive," his caregivers say. "Dima wants to be a part of a family."

For more information: Kidsave International, 2122 P St. NW, Suite 302, Washington, D.C. 20037; on the Web at www.kidsave.org.

Email comments to tmckelvey@usatoday.com.

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