U.S., Kremlin Reach Deal to Monitor Adoptions

Date: 2011-07-12

More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted over the past two decades by families in the U.S., more than in any other country, without a bilateral accord regulating the process.

Russia had demanded one for years, but Washington agreed to the talks only after Moscow threatened to halt adoptions in response to the plight of a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Russia alone last year by his adoptive mother in Tennessee, claiming that he had psychological problems with which she couldn't cope.

Under the accord, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. State Department will work closely with Russia's Ministry of Education to gather periodic reports on the living conditions and "psychological and physical development" of adopted Russian children and to address any serious problems.

"We will have clear information, and this will make it easier for us to monitor the welfare of our children," Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's rights ombudsman, said in an interview.

Families are now required by Moscow to undergo four home visits by an American social worker within three years after adopting a Russian child, enabling the adoption agency to report to Moscow on the child's status. Under the agreement, the agency is further held responsible for tracking the child until age 18 and continuing to report any instances of abuse, neglect, termination of the adoption, or adoption by another family.

The accord also would bar adoptions facilitated by independent operators to help parents short-circuit the process. Russia would limit participation in the program to those U.S. adoption agencies that comply with a 1993 Hague Convention on intercountry adoptions.

Hague requirements include rigorous training of parents wanting to adopt foreign children. Most of the roughly 30 U.S. agencies licensed in Russia already meet those standards, adoption advocates say.

U.S. officials welcomed the agreement but declined to discuss details ahead of its expected signing in Washington by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Russian officials and American adoption advocates say the Cabinet-level oversight, strict licensing and prolonged reporting requirements would help detect troubled U.S. adoptions that have recently caused scandals in Russia.

In one such case, a Georgia woman, Marta Blanford, adopted a Russian girl in 2001 but gave up her parental rights in 2009. The child was then adopted by the woman's sister and her husband, Michael Grismore. He was indicted last July on five counts involving the beating and sexual abuse of the child, and is awaiting trial in Cherokee County, Georgia.

Had Russian officials been informed of the second adoption, Mr. Astakhov said, they could have objected, or at least requested home-study reports on her new family. The U.S.-Russia accord requires such notification "in a reasonable time" and Russia's consent for any readoption.

The reporting requirements spelled out in the accord could lead to more detailed contracts between American agencies and adoptive families, involving marginally higher fees, adoption specialists say.

"What the Russians are saying is, 'We can ask you anytime about the child and you need to know where that child might be,' " said Larisa Mason, a board member of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, an adoption advocacy group. "There will be more responsibility on the agencies to be involved with the parents."

She and other advocates said the agreement should reassure Russian governors and judges, who have been reluctant to approve adoptions in some regions since the Tennessee case last year, as well as American families who then hesitated to seek children in Russia. American adoptions in Russia declined last year to 1,079, from 1,586 in 2009.

"Instead of two countries addressing child protection issues independently, this agreement brings them together to ensure that children's best interests are served," said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Virginia-based Joint Council on International Children's Services, another advocacy group. "As a result, we believe there will be fewer incidents of abuse or neglect."

—Shalini Ramachandran
in Atlanta
contributed to this article.

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