Russia, US agree on safe adoption rules

By Maria Domnitskaya

July 14, 2011 / The Voice of Russia

Following 13 months of complicated talks, Russia and the US have finally agreed on child adoption rules. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a bilateral agreement on cooperation that will make the process of adoption more transparent and safe.

The treaty prohibits the so-called “independent” adoption through mediators. Now this option will be only entrusted to US agencies observing the 1993 Hague Convention on intercountry adoption. At present, not every one of the 67 agencies engaged in the adoption of Russian kids in the US live up to these standards. Therefore, the upcoming reassessment in the US and the Russian Ministry of Education is going to reduce their number threefold.

In compliance with the document, all Russian children adopted by American families will have dual citizenship, whereas earlier they lost their national status as citizens of the Russian Federation straight after document execution. During the first three years after adoption, US social workers will have to pay four visits to the family and inform Moscow on the conditions the kid is living under. Agencies should follow the life of these children until they turn 18 and let the Russian side know about any cases of violence.

Negotiations to this end took Russia and the US seven rounds to coordinate their positions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an exclusive interview with the Voice of Russia Washington office:

"I was very gratified when eventually we persuaded our partners to sit down and look at this situation and we agreed a treaty which protects Russian kids, which ensures the mechanisms to monitor how they are doing in the families in the US, who adopted them, and which also makes sure there will be no so-called independent adoptions, all adoptions would be made through a competent authority, to be designed by the US, the federal government and the states, which would be responsible for checking whether the candidates who adopt a Russian child are psychologically stable and which would also be responsible for making sure that there is an access of the Russian government to a kid if need be. This is all part of the agreement, and I believe it is a fair deal."

As of today, the number of Russian children adopted in the United States exceeds 100,000. Following a series of egregious cases of foster parents abusing and even killing the kids, Moscow started insisting on a bilateral agreement regulating the transfer of orphans to new families. Utmost indignation was stirred up by the incident involving 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev whose adoptive mother Torry Hansen sent him back to Moscow by plane. The boy was carrying a letter indicating his mother’s refusal to take care of him any longer. The last drop making the cup run over was the terrible death of Ivan Skorobogatov of hunger and assault - American doctors found over 80 injuries on his body. The incident nearly ended in Russia’s freezing adoption by US citizens and eventually encouraged Washington to enter negotiations.

Now the agreement will require parents to provide any information about the child at the first request of Russian guardianship service workers and admit inspectors into the house if necessary. Moscow also managed to persuade its partner to include a clause in the document that authorizes it to initiate its own trials against foreign parents if found guilty of child abuse.

The treaty specifies requirements for adoptive parents as well. The tragical occurrences with Russian children abroad often revealed their new parents’ mental disturbances, says Pavel Astakhov, the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights in the Russian President’s Administration, who has just returned from Washington:

"There is a need to provide documents confirming the adoptive parents’ psychological and mental stability. If these papers generate doubt, we may demand a reaffirmation of their origins or an extra testing for candidates," Pavel Astakhov explained.

In America, where adoption agreements do not require ratification, the one signed by Moscow and Washington came into force immediately. In Russia, it was sent to the Parliament for ratification. The country has a similar treaty with Italy and debates the issue with France and Israel as well. Pavel Astakhov believes such documents have to be concluded with all countries worldwide.


Good news, with a glitch

Finally, the role of an unfit AP's is coming to the forefront of an adoption-story!

However, I still see a glitch, as it relates to post-placement monitoring.  According to the article, social workers will play a more important on-going role in the life of the adopted child. 

During the first three years after adoption, US social workers will have to pay four visits to the family and inform Moscow on the conditions the kid is living under. Agencies should follow the life of these children until they turn 18 and let the Russian side know about any cases of violence.

In print, and in theory, this promise to monitor reads very well.  However, I'd like to draw attention to cases where SW involvement and monitoring did not do much in terms of preventing or ending abuse that was taking place in an already pre-screened/agency approved home "fit for an adoptable child".

 And last but not least,

I'd like to know how the US State Department is going to ensure Russian officials A) the SW's on these cases are actually going to do as they are paid to do:  help protect children from further harm and B) compliance will be enforced.  In addition, I'd like to know if ALL adoption agencies will have to adhere to this new rule, and if so, will this rule apply only to Russian adoptees?

another paper tiger?

I too wonder how the State Department is actually going to make good on the promises they made towards the Russian authorities.

Reducing the number of agencies operating in Russia sounds like a good thing, but it is something the Russian authorities could have done themselves years ago. Adoption agencies are accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education in order to perform adoptions from Russia. This accreditation process, as well as Hague Accreditation doesn't change the fact that many children are effectively placed by unaccredited agencies, through so-called umbrella'ing constructions.

Umbrella'ing stands for the process where prospective adopters have a contract with an unaccredited adoption agency, which uses the services of an accredited adoption agency to obtain a child for their customers.

Under Russian law, umbrella'ing is illegal, but is nevertheless a very popular construction. Under the Hague convention umbrella'ing is not illegal and is more and more becoming the norm in American adoptions. It is very common for adoption agencies that process the legal paperwork to never have met their customers. Home study, preparation and post adoption monitoring is performed by local agencies, which may or may not be accredited, while officially the adoption is performed by an out-of-state, accredited adoption agency.

Reducing the number of accredited adoption agencies, will increase the number of umbrella'ing constructions and make the process even less transparent.

There is not much the State Department can do about this, since all 50 states signed the  Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. This compact makes it possible that the adoption regulations of one state are recognized by every other state, and make the transition of adoptable children across state lines possible. Even though the compact is recognized by all states, it is not a federal regulation and therefore outside the scope of influence of the State Department.

This lack of jurisdiction applies to the other aspects of the treaty as well. US social workers may be required to report to Russian authorities, based on four post monitoring visits, but adoptive parents have every right to refuse cooperation. There is nothing Russian authorities or the State Department can do when adoptive parents don't comply. The same applies to the requirement that adoption agencies have to follow the lives of children they placed, until the age of 18. Adoptive parents may deem this an invasion of privacy and have every right not to cooperate.

It remains to be seen if this new adoption treaty will actually increase the safety of the placement of Russian children. As it stands, the State Department doesn't have the legal standing to enforce the promised regulations. Just like in the past, much depends on the willingness of adoptive parents to cooperate, something many good adopters actually do. Abusive and negligent adopters on the other hand, are known to be much less cooperative. So in the end, the treaty may very well be nothing but window dressing, like so many initiative in Adoptionland are.

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