OK, I rant and rave at times against the media bias for sensational stories, which often precludes in-depth nuanced coverage of in-depth nuanced issues, such as adoption. Since I am quick to complain, it is only fair that I also give credit where credit is due, and it is certainly due with this New York Times article on Russian adoptions, titled Russian Orphanage Offers Love, but Not Families. I also must give credit to the honest and brave Russian officials that were willing to acknowledge the complexity of the issues facing Russia’s child welfare system, rather than just jumping on the “international adoption is to blame” bandwagon.
Some startling statistics were reported. Russia has more orphans now, 700,000, than at the end of World War II, when an estimated 25 million Soviet citizens were killed. Russia has been trying to increase the number of domestic adoptions, but these adoptions have not been trouble free. Approximately 30,000 of these domestic adoptions have disrupted within the last three years. This figure certainly puts the stories of the few failed Russian international adoption to the US into perspective. In no way am I suggesting that we shouldn’t continue to improve our preparation of American, Canadian, and European families, I’m simply thankful that others are now willing to acknowledge that there is a bigger problem than just international adoption.
Way too many children in Russian orphanages have been damaged by institutionalized care and prenatal exposure to alcohol. Any family adopting a child that has these risk factors needs to be prepared to work hard to help this child. Just keeping the child in Russia is not a magic bullet to ensure success.
Although there have been efforts to address the fundamental problems of supporting birth families, preventing drinking during pregnancy, increasing domestic adoptions, and improving foster care, they have not been overwhelmingly successful. This article points to the entrenched social welfare system which provides economic incentives to keeping kids in orphanages. It appears that this system is fundamentally broken.
International adoptions are not the sole answer, although they have a place in helping the children who are currently in state care. Not only are Russian international adoptions astronomically expensive, often costing over $50,000, but they aren’t a long term fix that is in the best interest of children. Research on child welfare indicates that Russia must reduce drinking in pregnancy, discourage child abandonment, establish programs to heal birth families or support extended families to raise their children, and establish a strong foster care system to provide a safe place for children to land. When families can’t or won’t heal, adoptive families should be sought, first in Russia, and then abroad.
I always get a little nervous when criticizing another country’s child welfare system. Living in a glass house/country makes throwing stones particularly hazardous. The US also struggles with some of these same issues. Our foster care system has improved a lot since federal legislation was passed in the mid 1990s to require a time limit for birth parents to get their act together and added incentives for child welfare agencies to move kids to permanent families, but too many of our children continue to be bounced around between birth family, extended family, and foster care.
None of these solutions will be quick or easy for either Russia or the US; however, acknowledging the problem is the first step and I thank the Russian officials quoted in this article for taking this step.
P.S. May is National Foster Care Month. If you think you could be a foster family for a great kid in foster care, check out the National Foster Care Month website.
Image credit: danncer