Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughts on the Russian Adoption Situation

If you happened to hear, Russia is planning to sign a ban that will end all international adoptions between the US and Russia, effective January 1, 2013.  Most feel this is a result of the US calling into question Russia's human rights record via a law which would not allow Russians suspected of human rights violations to enter the US.  This is probably most likely the case as only a month ago, Russia and the US re negotiated the legislation that governs adoption between the two countries, although this is probably also indicative of how fragile the US/Russia relations really are, after years of a poor diplomatic relationship.

What is most tragic is that in doing so, Russia, like many other countries, is refusing to address the issue of child welfare within her borders.  In this case, voiceless and sometimes nameless orphans are being use as pawns in a power struggle between two countires.  (Lest you think I am kidding, the voiceless and nameless parts are not merely metaphors.  Many orphanages are infamous for their silence because the children inside have learned that crying does not produce results.  And I have personally seen a blind baby who was somewhere between 6 months and 12 months old who was in an orphanage and had yet to be named because the orphanage staff didn't really think it mattered.)  In the last 20 years, 60, 000 children have been adopted out of Russia by American families.  That figure is really a small percentage of the total number of children living in orphanage systems there.  But for 60, 000 kids, the ability to be adopted mattered.  And Russia is unwilling to concede that for those kids who are able to be matched with adoptive families, that it is unfair to punatively restrict those adoptions.

Really it's symptomatic of a larger problem, one that many countries, former Soviet bloc, third world, and first world share.  The problem?  The inability of governments to care for kids in need.  For many kids in countries like Russia, it's about bleak orphanages where staff do not interact with kids on a regular basis, where the kids are in cribs for hours on end, where disease or even racial make up might cause a caregiver to say that a certain child should not be held or kissed because they are "dirty."  For kids in countries like Haiti, it's about a deep seeded poverty that envelopes everything and causes living parents to place their kids for adoption with the hope and prayer that adoption or at the very least, orphanage care, will be a way for their children to eat and maybe go to school, all while people in positions of authority are caught up in a survival mode type thinking that creates situations where much is done in the name of money and less is done in the best interest of the children.  And for those of us who live in the US, it's about a broken foster care system that cannot communicate well across state lines, where biological family ties are valued more than common sense, where social workers are underpaid and overworked.  There are of course, bright spots in all of these situations.  Nannies who do care, orphanage directors who work tirelessly to promote family preservation and adoption, dedicated social workers who work in the best interest of the children.  But by and large, governments are not good at serving kids. 

I don't know what the outcome will be for those in Russian orphanages.  I can only hope our state department will do its best to reach a solution that helps the families in process and the children who would benefit from adoption.  Most of us will probably hear this story and by next month, have already forgotten it even happened simply because we are not personally effected by the ban.  But I can also hope that this serves as a reminder of how easy it is for children to become afterthoughts, for people and governments everywhere to minimize the role they have in changing the lives of kids or, at worst, know the role they have and act in ways that cause more harm than good.

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