Russia Roundtable Meeting Notes

Date: 2005-08-24
Russia Roundtable Meeting Notes
Wednesday, September 24, 2005

Goal of Meeting:

  • Recommend guidelines for US agencies to use when educating prospective adoptive parents and for
  • post-placement support
  • Compile list of resources and reference materials for families and agencies
  • Identify strategy going forward and determine next steps for this group
  • Determine awareness/ media strategy to counter negative press and pending legislation in Russia

Agenda:

  • 12:00 pm – 12:15 am Brief introduction of participants
  • 12:15 pm – 12:30 pm Overview of situation and review of meeting objective
  • 12:30 pm – 1:45 pm Lessons Learned
  • 1:45 pm – 2:00 pm Break
  • 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm Discussion of child abuse prevention
  • 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Discussion of US agency’s response
  • 4:00 pm – 4:30 pm Discussion of US Adoptive family’s response
  • 4:30 pm – 5:00 pm Next steps; responsibility assignments; timeframe

12:04pm – Meeting Called To Order

Roundtable Participants (in person) Phone Participants
Meghan Hendy, JCICS Ernie Jones, FRUA (Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoptions)
Jessica Clark, JCICS Joyce Sterkel, Global Adoption Services
Tom DiFilipo, JCICS Board, CASI Judy Williams, Global Adoption Services
Rick Gibson, JCICS Board, CHSFS Anne Hubbard, Global Adoption Services
Lynn Wetterberg, JCICS Board, UFF and ATTACh Debbie Wynne, Buckner Int’l Adoption
Jane Bareman, Adoption Associates, Inc. Lauren Bobis, Genesis Adoptions
Alla Goncharova, Adoption Associates, Inc. Heather Carter, Pearl S. Buck
Brenda Koller, Lutheran Family Services of WI & Upper MI Eileen Matuszak, Children’s Choice
Lee Allen, NCFA Melanie Theramin
Chuck Johnson, NCFA Debbie Spivack, ROTIA
Irene Jordan, Adoptions Together Sonia Baxter, ROTIA and Happy Families
Janice Goldwater, Adoptions Together Donna Clauss, Rainbow House
Carreen Carson, Hope International Jody Sciortino, Adoption Resource Center, Inc.
Teddi Tucci, Family & Children’s Agency  
Jill Scott, Adoption Source  
Stacy Kerr, Adoption Source  
Constanza Cardoso-Schultz, Adopolis  
Joan McNamara, Carolina Adoption Services  
Thomas Jackson, Carolina Adoption Services  
Cynthia Peck, FCVN  
Barbara Holton, AdoptUSKids  
Kristen Jones, The Cradle  
Tracy Kellogg, AMREX  
John Wynbeek, Bethany Christian Services  
Walt Johnson, Frank Adoption Center  
Linda Brownlee, Adoption Center of Washington  
Maggie Thorpe, Childhelp USA (Virginia)  
Alan Davis, National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence  

NOTE: While this meeting was convened in response to the recent incidents involving Russian adopted children, it was quickly discussed that this could potentially happen in other country programs. Specifics to Russia were discussed but the outcomes and recommendations made were more general in nature and could be applied to all country programs.

12:45 pm – 1:45 pm Lessons Learned

  1. What have we learned from 15 years experience in working in Russia and Eastern Europe?
    1. Heath/ adaptation/ behavior of children; Expectations of adoptive parents; Postplacement trends

What do we know, believe, and feel?

Know (facts)

  • 44,166 Russian children have been adopted by US citizens since 1992.
  • 5,867 children were adopted in 2004 – a 12.6% increase from 2003.
  • Russia accounts for 25% of the children placed in the US (in 2004)
  • Convicted child abuse/ death cases – majority of children were adopted into 2 parent households, had other siblings and were in the U.S. less than 10 months (average of 6 months) before they were killed. (see spreadsheet for details)
    • The mean age of the children who died was around 2 – 3. “The toddler age is very difficult for most children. An adoptive child is just starting to learn the language and express himself when he is ripped form his country, doesn’t know the new language, new people, new smells, new food and he is frustrated. He doesn’t have control and can’t make sense of his world so he acts out. Parents are struggling with so much and it is only magnified by an adopted child’s frustration.”
    • According to the research we received from Childhelp USA “Young children – under five years of age – are most at risk for abuse and neglect.”
    • There is much to be learned from US domestic foster care and adoption issues. The instances of death and abuse occur in similar ages as these cases (often under 5)
  • Children who have spent any time in out of home care (particularly in orphanages) will have negative outcomes in numerous areas including development.

Believe (assumptions based on experience)

  • High Risk Group - See the research provided in the study “Outcome of Russia Adoptions; International Adoption Project – University of Minnesota” (include at the end of this document)
  • Adoptive parents are hesitant to reach out for help because they fear judgment or that their child will be taken away from them.
    • There is a sense of shame associated with adoption disruption or with needing help in parenting an adopted child. Parents may not feel comfortable going back to the agency after the agency has placed in them all of this confidence that they can do this and parent successfully.
  • Children adopted from Russia are challenging, we KNOW they can drive any parent to extremes.
    We need to focus on how we tell parents this and how we make them really hear it.
  • Families adopting from Russia may be more focused on health issues and background whereas from China and other countries they’re focusing on ethnicity and culture.
  • The timeframe for a Russian adoption can be relatively fast (for example, say 6 months). Does this impact the situation at all? Only 6 months to educate and train a parent as opposed to a country program that has a waiting period of 9 -12 months.

Feel (gut instinct)

  • We have a serious lack of hard data. It may not be valid to state that this problem is only in Russia.
    Some of these factors that we think are happening in Russia are the same factors in Ukraine (kids that are Caucasian, time frame is quick, parents have similar expectations). Also, before the internet and media access, there may have been cases of adoptive children being abused or dying that we do not know about.
  • In theory, sending countries are trying to reserve the best kids for domestic adoptions. They could be intentionally “clearing out” children with the most needs. While roundtable participants agreed that this is anecdotal, it is something to consider.
  • We need to think about the financial piece of adoption. So many people’s revenues are generated by accepting families and facilitating adoptions. Unless there are some standards that US government or Russian government set, why would agencies abide by them? Sadly there are some agencies that would look at the money being offered and don’t have children’s interest on the forefront. Money drives this field just like so many others. Parent’s shop around until they find an agency that they think will be able to meet their expectations.
  • Agencies educate the parents but it is not always absorbed or fully understood by the parents.
  • Families adopting from Russia are sometimes looking for children that will look like their biological children (white, blue eyed, blond, etc). They may be unable to have children or do not want to the longer waiting period to adopt in the US These parents often have false expectations Families that longer waiting period to adopt in the US. These parents often have false expectations. Families that adopt from other countries (India, Guatemala, etc) where it is clear that it is a trans-racial adoption seem to be more open and expect the differences in race and ethnicity. They are prepared for their children to look and act differently. Perhaps some families adopting from Russia are expecting this “pseudo-biological child” to be perfect like their biological child would have been.

2. How is research directing our own “Best Practices” in terms of our selection and pre-placement preparation of our families?

Regarding parent education and preparation - what seems to work and what could be improved?
How do agencies talk about child abuse, anger management, respite care, etc. with families?

Parent Education/ Training –

  • There are no consistent, agreed upon, standards or curriculums recognized within the international adoption community. There are guidelines, suggestions and fragmented efforts—some excellent, some substandard, some non-existent. A lot of talented people out there could pool their experiences and resources and collaborate to develop a fairly consistent, standardized international adoption curriculum.
  • Attachment and Bonding Center’s (Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky) parent education curriculum, Abroad and Back, addresses attachment, the impact of institutionalization on child development and adoption throughout the life cycle. It also provided resources and cultural exercises. We are not aware of the development of a curriculum that addresses child abuse, anger management and respite care.

Respite Care

  • We are assuming that it is available. In many communities it is not and if so, rarely covered by insurance and  is usually out of pocket.

ACTION SUGGESTION:
Suggestions for improving parent training and screening:

  • Leave questions for prospective parents open ended. If you have a child that does “x” what are the steps you will take in addressing it? Agencies need to be blunt and upfront about what parents might face.
  • Parents should be actively engaged in the training. They have to hand write and fill in answers after watching videos, attending training, etc.
  • Training needs to have active participation.
  • Prospective adoptive parents need to be involved in talking to other families. Participants felt very strongly about this suggestion - parents will listen to other parents when they sometimes won’t listen to professionals. Families should contact other ‘mentoring families’ in their area and have this documented by the family and provided to the agency to send a stronger message that families need to reach out to support systems.
  • Have families identify their own community resources in addition to the list provided by the agency - including healthcare, developmental, school, therapists, respite, translators, etc. Families need to have these resources identified and know how to access them before bringing children home, this helps to set the message that we expect they may need to use them!
  • JCICS’s Review Committee recommended that when families receive training, they sign off on every single page of a contract stating that they received all the information, not just the last page.
  • This will at least demonstrate that the family received the information.

Are families absorbing this information and making a plan?

Family Profiles

  • Families adopting internationally in general, and especially from Russia, are from a high socio-economic class and education system (i.e., they are well educated and well-off financially). Many of these individuals have never had to face failure and they expect that they will be able to handle everything and be great parents. When faced with a difficult situation or child they may not know how to cope because they’ve never experienced it before.
  • Parent’s agency shop until they find an agency they think will be able to meet their expectations.

Family/ Parent Learning and Absorbing the Information

  • Even if child abuse, anger management and respite care were addressed on an intellectual level, the emotional impact is not there so the exercises and interventions will be academic.
  • Newbie parents in particular, having no context (no parenting experience) to plug the information into, absorbed very little and disregarded a great deal. Families don’t absorb the information, but instead tend to keep it at bay. They expect to be the exception. Referrals to adoptive families tend to be the successes. It would be good for agencies to refer families to those that have struggled as well to widen the lens.

ACTION SUGGESTION:

JCICS work on ways to partner with FRUA. JCICS should also follow-up with FRUA to understand how they reach out to families and how this can be of benefit for educating families and getting research on children from Russia post-placement. FRUA said at their conference there is an opportunity for agencies to come and attend and talk to families.

3. What are the implications for agencies who place high-risk children in terms of post-placement concerns/responsibilities?

What are the responsibilities of the agency? What things do we need to consider and discuss?

The group identified a need for a more comprehensive resource list, and some members agreed to help solicit and compile that list.

What are the responsibilities of agencies?

  1. Express and understand the importance of post-placement
  2. We need to specify what we mean by “special needs”, we need to stop using language like “high risk” and low risk
  3. Be upfront with families
  4. We need to give parents in training permission to let us know when they need us
  5. We need to make ourselves accessible and available to parents
  6. We tell them that we EXPECT them to call post adoption (and we will be upset if they don’t call us)
  7. Families need to see the common ground with other families (a safety net for them is knowing that they are not alone)
  8. Provide phone and in-person support
  9. Knowing resources so that agencies can refer families

ACTION SUGGESTION:

Those present agreed that it would be helpful if JCICS came up with a video that used anecdotes and examples for agencies to use with their families in pre-adoptive training. We should create a video that can be used for training especially for out of state families. FRUA expressed interest in getting involved as well.

“Special Needs”

  • Is it possible to expect that any children will not NEED special attention?
  • How to do we get this across to parents?
  • What language do we use with parents to understand this? Do we call all children from Russia special needs?
  • Any child that has been in foster care or institution has special needs. We need to normalize the fact that these children are going to have trouble acclimating. Agencies need to tell the parents in a positive way that this is your job – “you need to provide the healing place for this child”.

Post-Placement Support

Who is responsible: the direct service agency OR placement agency?

Participants were divided on who should be responsible and how we will keep this in check. Some felt that the direct service agency should be responsible since they are in the home and working directly with family. Questions were raised about how the local service agency is kept knowledgeable and enforced in the importance of pre-adoption training. Others felt that maybe there needed to be a switch so that the liability is no longer with the direct service agency. Placement agencies need to state the expectations and make sure  that direct service agencies follow through.

SUGGESTION:

The Placement agency should be responsible for the post-placement support. If they have an agreement with the home study/ direct service agency that the home study/ direct service agency will be providing follow up support solely or in addition to the Placement agency’s support this should be communicated in writing between both agencies and to the adoptive family. A few agencies said that they would be willing to share their agreements as a template.

A suggestion was made for agencies to come up with an across the board expectation of how much training needs to occur for every family. Participants expressed that they would like if there were a specific organization that provides oversight of this training to make certain that all agencies are completing it.

Post Placement Reports – How often?

While Russia requires a 6 month and 12 month report, we have seen that 6 month is often too late. Participants felt that we need to be there at the critical time, which is often even 30 days after adoption. Many agencies present said that they visit in under 30 days, then 2 months, then 6 months. But we know that there are agencies out there that are doing the bare minimum and waiting until 6 months. We need to accept that what is mandated is not enough – we need to go above and beyond.

We need to acknowledge that there is a necessary time period in which families will state that the agency is meddling and that the agency is not allowing them to completely adapt and create a home with the child.Other agencies felt that this was more an issue of how agencies approach this issue. SO MUCH of it is dependant upon the relationship between the social worker and family. If there is an open and professional relationship to begin with, things will be more comfortable after.

ACTION SUGGESTION:

The roundtable group suggested recommending to Russia that they switch the timeframes of the required post-placement support and have more required earlier. This would not increase the number of reports required, but shift timeframes. The following schedule was suggested: 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc.

2:00 pm – 3:00 pm Discussion of child abuse prevention

4. What can we learn from other experts in the child abuse prevention field and foster-care parent preparation?

  1. What are child abuse prevention non-profits recommending? Are their existing tool-kits and training materials that we can leverage? How are US families in the foster care system trained or monitored? Can we modify any material for international adoption use?

Child abuse prevention experts from local non-profit organizations were present for this portion of the roundtable discussion. These experts were:

Maggie Thorpe
Director
Childhelp USA Children’s Center of Virginia

Maggie Thorpe recommended that screening families be more comprehensive in looking at indicators for abuse. She recommended psychological screening that agencies could do as this would help agencies to look at a family’s overall value system, history, coping skills, etc.

  • education is the key in preparing families for dealing with frustration and anger
  • all parents should take a parenting class

She recommended the following resources:

  • 1-800-FOR A CHILD (this is a 24 hour a day hotline run by social workers who can talk to parents or professionals in dealing with abuse situations)
  • SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) SCAN teaches parenting classes and educates on coping skills
  • consider working with university schools of psychology for putting together a “psych test”
  • a local Virginia county is using an early indicator for child abuse in screening potential foster families

Alan Davis
President and CEO
National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence

Alan Davis recommended the following resources:

  • International Forum for Child Welfare (this is an annual international meeting where CEOs from child welfare groups around the world gather to share issues and ideas for addressing them)
  • Parents Anonymous (peer related relationships between parents needing support)
  • American Bar Association (ABA) - Child Welfare Division (can help with legal issues)
  • He suggested a waiver in which parents might allow agencies access to information that would be needed in protecting the child (this would need to be discussed with the American Bar Association for legal ramifications)
  • He stated that first abuse indicators often come from the home – sometimes are not directly visible on the child
  • There is a strong correlation between substance abuse and child abuse (substance abuse is an important factor to review in family screening)

What should agencies do about using psychological testing for families?

Roundtable participants were hesitant to take on the responsibility of conducting psychological testing. There is a significant amount of room for variance in these tests. Many agreed, however, that if Russia wereto request such a test of families while they were in Russia, it would be proactive for agencies to be prepared with a similar screening method before family’s information could be sent to Russia. Agencies agreed that a less formal screening test might be a better option. If there was standard test that could be used by all agencies, consistency could be greatly improved.

ACTION SUGGESTION:

JCICS will connect with Maggie Thorpe to find out more about the early indicator test for child abuse to possibly be used by agencies in the future. This indicator may require further review and may be need to be modified for agency use.

JCICS will also touch base with Alan Davis and the ABA about the potential waiver he mentioned and see if we can make such a resource available to our members.

3:00 pm – 4:30 pm Discussion of US agency’s response

Screening tools:

  • - child abuse indicator
  • - adult attachment indicator
  • - substance abuse history

Pre-adoption Training:

How much is done currently?

  • States? Colorado has 24 hours minimum training
  • Several agencies stated 30 hours
  • One adoptive parent present stated they received only a book to read before completing their adoption
  • U.S. Hague regulations will most likely state 10 hours mandatory.

Why isn’t it working?

  • While most agencies are doing extensive training – parents just aren’t hearing it.
  • Some parents have obvious false expectations (i.e., they’re 52 and want to adopt an infant). What are agencies doing if this family calls 5 agencies and finds 2 that will help them with this? Why are we inconsistent?
  • Sometimes we are not informing families of what they need at the right time. They are hearing about attachment issues in pre-adoption training and facing them post-placement.

What solutions should we start using?

  • Training should occur in multiple ways
  • Standard training videos would be helpful
  • 1 post placement visit within or at 30 days
  • 2 nd post placement visit at 3 months
  • referral/resource list
  • internet question and answers

How do we get families to comply?

  • make them put a financial commitment (deposit on pp visits)
  • contractual
  • use their post-arrival medical as a resource
  • make initial post placements a “gift” to families (ex. have them for a Russian tea)

ACTION SUGGESTION:

Roundtable participants would like to see STANDARDIZATION. For example, all JCICS agencies would offer approximately the same type of screening, training and post placement support. Agencies can then state that all JCICS agencies do X, Y, Z and families will no longer be able to “shop around” (at least within JCICS). This would ensure that all families served by JCICS agencies are receiving similar information.

It was suggested that NCFA, JCICS and Child Welfare League of America come together to create industry guidelines. This could specify some things, but would be general and set a minimum. It may also include specific examples of tools and resources (child abuse indicator test, etc.) It would not be a mandate that agencies do this, but they can voluntarily “sign on” and meet the guidelines.

Discussion over what we announce to the public.

If we write a letter to Russia, how will that be interpreted? Participants expressed the importance of us stating that this roundtable is a proactive self-regulation effort to collaborate with Russia on how we can best continue to practice in the US and in Russia.

ACTION SUGGESTION:

NCFA suggested that JCICS and NCFA begin lobbying Russia for a change in the schedule of post placement visits. Some participants were in agreement with this. Many felt that Russia would do this soon on its own and that agencies could be proactive in this change. Post placement visits at an earlier time would be more beneficial.

NCFA and JCICS will draft a statement or press release which will be available for membership input before finalized. This can then be shared with contacts and NCFA can discuss it when they visit Russia in a few weeks.

4:30 pm – 5:00 pm Next steps; responsibility assignments; timeframe

NEXT STEPS:

  1. For the release of a statement or press release re: the work and intent of this roundtable.
  2. To establish a working committee and begin work on “industry guidelines” with NCFA and CWLA to be completed by April 2006.

NOTE: The meeting attendees and JCICS acknowledge that there is currently dedicated work performed by the Ethics Committee to update the JCICS Standards of Practice. Any efforts that are undertaken as a result of this roundtable meeting are NOT INTENDED to replicate or infringe on the Standards of Practice. If JCICS, NCFA and CWLA formulate industry guidelines the intent will be to provide more in-depth resources and practical tools to be used by agencies, not duplicate the Standards of Practice.

Sub-committees will be formed to further discuss research and prepare information for the following sections.

If anyone else is interested in participating, please send your name, organization and email address to JCICS with the section(s) you are interested in.

Screening tools Pre-adoptive training Post Placement
Janice Goldwater Jody Sciortino Walt Johnson
Jill Scott Donna Claus Tom DiFilipo
  Judy Williams Janice Goldwater
  Cindy Peck Louise Fleischman
  Joan McNamara  
  Carreen Carson  

4:34 – meeting was adjourned

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