By Cheryl Wetzstein
U.S. and Russian diplomats will meet next week to address Russia's suspension of all adoptions to the United States after an American mother returned her son to Moscow. It's a move adoption advocates hope will end the recent rift that has left many American families seeking to adopt Russian children in limbo.
Russia, the third-largest "sending" country, halted adoptions more than a week ago after an American adoptive mother put her 7-year-old son on a plane to Moscow.
Torry Hansen of Tennessee put a note in her son's backpack saying that despite her best efforts, she "no longer wish[ed] to parent this child" as he was "mentally unstable," violent and had "severe psychopathic problems."
An April 29-30 meeting between Ambassador Mike Kirby and Russian officials from the Ministry of Education and Science is scheduled to discuss adoption policies and work out a plan to monitor the care of Russian children once they have been adopted by Americans.
"Our hope is to avoid a shutdown" of adoptions, said Chuck Johnson, acting chief executive of the National Council for Adoption.
Mr. Johnson said the suspension affects about 200 U.S. families who are in the final stages of their Russian adoptions and another 3,000 families who are in the beginning stages.
One likely issue to be discussed at next week's meeting is the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Eighty countries, including the United States, are part of the convention, but Russia is not.
Some of the protections the Russians are likely to seek are exactly what are included in the Hague rules, Mr. Johnson said.
The Hansen "return-to-sender" scandal could prompt many changes in how intercountry adoptions are handled.
Maureen Flatley, a Boston-based adoption advocate, said many issues need to be addressed, such as national home-study standards, verified post-placement supervision and independent investigation of all documented cases of abuse.
Protocols also should be put in place, she said, to deal with parents and agencies when an intercountry adoption is disrupted so that children are not put into underground "secondary" placements or foster care.
"There are a lot of Hansen cases out there," Miss Flatley said.
Adoption advocates, however, point out that Hansen cases should not be viewed as an indictment of intercountry adoption itself.
"Hundreds of thousands of boys and girls have been adopted from Russia and other nations into the U.S., and the vast majority of them are members of happy, successful families," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Institute, a national nonprofit organization devoted to improving adoption policy and practice.
In the note carried by her son, Miss Hansen defended her actions. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability," she wrote. She said she returned the boy "to protect" her family, friends and herself.
Russian news reports say many Russian families, including a diplomatic family that speaks English, have expressed interest in adopting the boy.
China is the most popular "sending" country, with 3,001 adoptions in 2009, according to the State Department. Ethiopia was second with 2,269 adoptions, followed by 1,588 adoption from Russia.