By now most of you have heard about the adoption ban put into law in Russia. It all began with an attempt by our United States government to rein in human rights violations in Russia. President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which provides sanctions against Russian citizens deemed by the US to have violated human rights. Prior to this, the Russian government was concerned about the abuse some Russian children have received at the hands of their adoptive parents in the United States but had only recently, in November, 2012, signed a new treaty designed to provide greater access for Russian officials who desired to review the treatment of adopted children. This new agreement was only in place for eight weeks before the adoption ban was signed by President Putin.
The Russian government claims that the adoption ban was necessary because they were not getting access to the documents that the new treaty was supposed to give them and the American government claims that the whole thing is just retaliation for passing the Magnitsky Act. Whichever is true, it is neither the American nor the Russian government that is the big loser. The big losers remain the children who will remain in Russian orphanages instead of in loving homes.
I know something about this. Our family includes two children who were adopted from a Russian orphanage. The trauma that they suffered in their first year of life has been a real education. Before we witnessed it firsthand, I never would have believed that children could be so damaged in their first year of life. We were always told that “Love heals all wounds,” and “Love conquers all,” and things like that. We genuinely believed it when people told us that all we had to do was take them home and love them. But sometimes love isn’t enough. Thankfully, the problems that our children have, though not insignificant, are not nearly what other parents, whom we’ve met, live with every day. Some of the neurological, emotional and psychological problems that grow out of living in an orphanage, even for a few months, are frightening.
While I could not ever condone abuse, I have seen enough to understand how parents of some of these children could reach a point where they simply don’t know what else to do. Many parents do not abuse these damaged children but recognize that they cannot cope with the behaviors of their children and choose to dissolve or disrupt the adoption. That means what it sounds like; they go in front of a judge and declare that they are no longer the parents. This frees them, but makes the children orphans yet again and turns their care over to the state in which they live, or to yet another set of adoptive parent and cause still more emotional and psychological damage.
Children from former Eastern bloc countries (primarily Russia and Ukraine) bear a higher risk for behavioral problems and eventual adoption disruption. We don’t completely know why, but although similar problems are seen in children from other nations, these children see higher rates of disruption than any others. I cannot quote any particular sources but I have heard estimates as high as 10-20 percent. That means that even with the resources of wealthier American parents, even with parents who love them, even with access to modern medical and psychological care, between one in ten and one in five of these kids have real, serious problems. Do the Russians have a right to be concerned about what is happening to their children? Certainly. But what happens if they don’t come here, don’t have parents, and don’t have access to care? Russia does not have a history of adoption. Adoption is not a part of their culture. While adoption does happen, fewer Russian children are adopted by Russians than by Americans, and we are just one country among many who has, until now, been able to adopt from Russia. Children who remain in Russian orphanages are likely to stay there until they “age out,” until they are old enough that the Russian government turns them loose on the streets with no support whatsoever. The majority of children who age out of Russian orphanages will end up dead or in prison within two years.
Yes, these children can be scarred and damaged by even a few months in an orphanage. Yes, we should strive with all that is within us to do a better job than we are doing. No. No child should suffer abuse at the hands of their parents regardless of their behavior. But the Russian government needs to look in the mirror as well. Our system may not be perfect, but an adoption ban that prohibits these children from coming home to loving parents doesn’t fix the problem and in reality only makes it worse.