Russian decision a damper on adoptions, but options remain


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A handful of Pittsburgh-area families that were preparing to take in children from Russia were dealt setbacks Friday when that country's president signed a law barring Americans from adopting its orphans.

Despite that, there are still plenty of children domestically, and internationally, in need of loving homes, adoption agency officials said.

"We have families who are in the midst of adoption from Russia who will be affected by this," said Sarah Powers, the Jeannette-based director of Children and Family Services of the Lutheran Service Society.

"They won't be able to complete the adoption from Russia," she said, and that's particularly disappointing to families who made progress toward the training and travel required to complete an adoption from there, or bonded with a specific child, she added.

"We even have a couple of families who were ready to travel to Russia and finalize their adoption," said Kris Faasse, director of adoption services for Bethany Christian Services, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., but with a branch in McCandless. "Those families are grieving just like any family that would lose a child. ... It's a tragedy."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Blocking even adoption processes that are already well along, the measure is retaliation for an American law that calls for sanctions against Russian officials deemed human rights violators.

The passage of the bill followed weeks of a hysterical media campaign on Kremlin-controlled television that lambasts American adoptive parents and adoption agencies that allegedly bribe their way into getting Russian children.

A few lawmakers claimed that some Russian children were adopted by Americans only to be used for organ transplants and become sex toys or cannon fodder for the U.S. Army.

The new law comes despite estimates by UNICEF that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia, while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. Ms. Faasse said that around 120,000 of those children are legally available for adoption.

Adoptions of Russian children by American families steadily declined from a peak of around 6,000 a year to around 1,000 annually in recent years, as that country's demands became more stringent, Ms. Faasse said. Still, Americans had been adopting more children from Russia than any other country except China and Ethiopia, she said.

"The most tragic part of this is that it affects children," she said. "It's kids that don't have an opportunity to come into a family and be nurtured and loved and have parents who are crazy about them. Those are the real victims."

Families seeking to adopt must submit to a home study aimed at confirming that their households would be good for orphans. When families seek to adopt internationally, they then go through processes dictated by the child's country. Russia has for years required three trips to that country and extensive training before allowing foreigners to adopt.

"We have noticed a decline in families wanting to adopt internationally," said JoAnn White, director of Family Hope Connection, a division of Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh. "We used to have a lot of families going to China," she said. "There has been a real slowdown as China has increased their own domestic adoptions.

"I think more [Pittsburgh-area] families are recognizing that there are children in this country who are in need."

Still, international adoption remains an attractive option for people who want to take in a very young child, she said.

Russia has been one of just around a half-dozen options for single women seeking to adopt, said Ms. Faasse. The others are much smaller countries.

"Any time an opportunity for single women is closed, it's a concern, because once upon a time, many countries would allow single women to adopt a child and they've closed that," she said. "So the options are lessening."

Families often have, or develop, an emotional connection to a country from which they intend to adopt a child, she said. For those who had their hearts set on Russia, the new law is a blow.

Russia "is one country," said Ms. White. "There are other countries. ... There are always going to be children in need whose parents are not willing, or capable, of handling them."

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. The Associated Press contributed.


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