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Adoption reform addresses abuse


Adoption reform addresses abuse

Foreigners wanting to adopt must undergo extensive testing

By Kristina Alda

Staff Writer, The Prague Post
August 16, 2006

This fall will see the first foreign adoptions of Czech children under strict regulations the government recently implemented to protect children from abuse in their new homes.

The regulations, which went into affect late last month, were a response to the death of 4-year-old Eric, a Czech Romany boy who died under suspicious circumstances in January, only months after being adopted by a family in Sweden.

That case is still under investigation, and the government has only just lifted a moratorium on foreign adoptions it imposed in the weeks following the boy's death.

"It's a good thing that there will now be stricter regulations. Children adopted by foreigners need special protection," says Marie Vodičková, head of the Children in Need Foundation. "It's a bigger challenge for the child as well as the parents. There's the language barrier and the potential culture shock. The parents need to be very carefully selected."

The Office for the International Legal Protection of Children is responsible for coordinating foreign adoptions of Czech children. Such adoptions are regulated with a different set of rules than domestic adoptions adhere to.

Domestic adoptions involve multiple psychological tests for parents and a waiting period of anywhere from two and five years. If the parents score well on the tests, they must also agree to take care of the child they want to adopt for at least a three-month trial period.

International adoptions, from the Czech side at least, required none of this.

Rostislav Záleský, head of the Office for International Legal Protection of Children, says it usually took an average of five months to approve the adoption of a Czech child by a family abroad. The time it takes to complete the adoption process varies, depending on the regulations of the potential parents' country.

The new regulations call for foreigners to be examined much more closely and frequently. Now, in the first 18 months following an adoption, a doctor and a social worker will visit the adoptive family five times — in the past it was only three — and four more follow-up visits will take place within four years of the adoption.

Another new requirement is that foreign parents will now need to spend at least a week with the child in the Czech Republic.

Last year, 45 children were adopted by foreign families. In the Czech Republic, a total of 272 children were adopted in 2005.

Unwanted children

Although authorities don't like to talk about it, the children put up for adoptions abroad are very often Romany.

"Only those children for whom Czech adoptive parents couldn't be found can be registered with our office and offered to parents abroad," says Stanislava Kopecká from the Office for the International Legal Protection of Children.

It's Romany children, as well as children with disabilities, whom Czech parents are reluctant to adopt and who languish in institutions the longest, experts say.

No one knows exactly what percentage of the 10,000 children in nurseries and orphanages here are Romany. But Zuzana Baudyšová, director of Our Child Foundation, estimates it could be around 50 percent, and in some regions as much as 80 percent. This is a disproportionately high amount, considering the Roma constitute around 2 percent of the population.

"Most parents would prefer to adopt a small baby of the same ethnicity as they are," says Vodičková. "Often it's not that the parents themselves would mind to have a Romany child, but they worry how their friends, neighbors and extended family would react."

For unwanted children, being adopted into a family abroad can be a blessing. After all, most adoptions — about 80 percent, according to the Children in Need Foundation — go well.

"It's always better for a child to be in a family than in an institution," Baudyšová says. "But it's also much better if the adoptive family is Czech so the child can stay in his native country."

Children's rights advocates tend to agree that Czech parents should have a priority when it comes to adopting.

According to Vodičková, though, this isn't always the case. "I just don't understand it," she says. "But authorities in this country seem to be all too willing to give away children to parents abroad."

Kateřina Beránková, spokeswoman for the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, says this isn't the case. "Czech parents must always have priority. The agreement about the rights of children stipulates that."

Vodičková says she has serious doubts that this agreement is being honored. "Authorities here just aren't doing enough to get these children out of the institutions and into Czech families," she says.

Kristina Alda can be reached at kalda@praguepost.com

2006 Aug 16