International adoption: A big fix brings dramatic decline
International adoption has fallen sharply under tougher scrutiny caused by issues like Haiti's post-quake orphan scandal as well as stricter global regulations.
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“Russians were reluctant to adopt in the past, and the system of foster homes was completely undeveloped in this country. But that’s turned around amazingly in the past few years,” says Natalia Serova, director of Detski Dom No. 1.Skip to next paragraph
Even five years ago, says Yekaterina Bridge, Moscow representative of World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), “the average Russian thought foreign adoption was all about black-marketing Russian kids. But the Russian media has stopped publishing scare stories like that, and we find the social attitude about international adoptions is now much calmer and more positive.”
Some Russian celebrities, such as the TV presenter Svetlana Sorokina (Russia’s version of Katie Couric), have adopted in recent years. Ms. Sorokina wrote a very compelling account, with photos, in a popular magazine in which she detailed her personal search, her bureaucratic ordeal, and her profound feelings of happiness when she eventually brought her child home.
Also, there’s a middle class in Russia now that didn’t exist before, and it includes middle-aged professionals with means and stable lives who want to have more children in their homes. Further, philanthropic notions – such as individual helping and giving to the less fortunate – have also grown, particularly within that same class of Russians.
Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science says there are about 760,000 orphans in Russia (out of a population of 27 million children), but only 140,000 of them are listed in the huge official database as available for adoption. About 70 adoption agencies from a dozen countries still work in Russia, despite a severe shakeout three years ago that saw all international adoptions frozen and many agencies stripped of their accreditation.
With new rules governing adoptions, an American couple hoping to adopt a Russian child may expect the process to take two or three years and to be very costly.
Despite all the red tape, Russia is far from the worst country in which to work in the former Soviet region, says Ms. Bridge. “The Russian system actually cuts some of the corruption that is very prevalent [elsewhere],” she says. “In Russia, there are very clear written rules, so there’s no ambiguity about what’s required. It’s that ambiguity in other places that opens the door to corruption.”
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Once the world's second-largest source for adopted children, Guatemala is set to open itself to international adoptions again this year. It received letters of interest from 10 countries – including the US, France, Spain, and Denmark – that want their residents to be able to adopt from Guatemala, says Rudy Zepeda, spokesman for the National Adoption Council, the new government agency. Once the pilot program starts, in June or July, only 60 Guatemalan children will be made available to international families. After that, intercountry adoption will still be limited to 100 or 150 cases, mostly older children like Silvia or those with disabilities.
The estimated 4,000 other children now living in orphanages will have to first be declared “adoptable” by Guatemalan courts and then be made available to Guatemalan families. As of mid-February, after more than two years under the new system, 590 Guatemalan families had applied to adopt a child and the courts had cleared 559 children, but just 253 of those children had been adopted.
Meanwhile, children like Silvia wait, growing up in homes that try to replicate family life. “We can give them love, we can give them clothes, and feed them,” says Diaz, the orphanage director, “but it’s not the same as sitting down for a meal with your family.”