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Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law prohibiting American families from adopting Russian children. The new law directly affects hundreds of families across the U.S., including 46 families in the final stages of the adoption process. Kojo explores the challenges for governments and families in navigating international adoption.
- Susan Branco Alvarado Licensed Professional Counselor; Member, Adoption Policy Reform Collaborative
- Tatyana McFadden Member of U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team (2004, 2008, 2012); Adoptee from Russia
- Janice Goldwater Founder and Executive Director, Adoptions Together
- Katie Horton Research Professor, George Washington University; Mother of an adopted child
- Thomas DiFilipo President and Chief Executive Officer; Joint Council on International Children's Services
- Corey Flintoff NPR Moscow Correspondent
International Adoption Stories
Dozens of Washingtonians shared their personal successes and frustrations with the international adoption process with us through the Public Insight Network. Listen to excerpts from two of those conversations, and share your own experiences in the comments section below.
Gretchen describes visiting two very different orphanages in Russia when she and her husband decided to expand their family in 2005. Weeks after submitting a petition to adopt, a judge determined that Americans would no longer be allowed to adopt from that particular region — and he started with her case. “I can relate to all these families that are stuck in limbo, waiting to see if they will be able to proceed or not,” Gretchen said about the families affected by Russia’s recent ban on U.S. adoption. “The anxiety and stress and the feelings around that are so intense.”
Sydney adopted a daughter in 1991 and a son in 1995, both from Bolivia but through very different processes. When adopting her daughter, Sydney and her husband went through the court process directly and practically unaided, using conversational Spanish, an attorney and the help of an American family living in Bolivia. For the second adoption, Sydney describes going through a U.S. adoption agency in Connecticut, per the requirements of the newly-passed Hague Convention. She talks about how an in-country guide mitigated several cultural barriers. For individuals also interested in adopting from a Latin American country, Sydney recommends the local chapter of the support group, Latin America Parents Association.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a process that's already fought with emotion, expense and the challenges of international negotiation. In the past decade, more than 40,000 American families have adopted children from Russia, but Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday banning any more of these adoptions.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOfficials in Moscow say they're acting out of concern for the welfare of Russian children in American homes. Officials here say it's retaliation after Congress banned Russian human rights violators from entering the U.S. In either case, this new international rift is heartbreaking news for the dozens of families already in the process of adopting children from Russia. Here to join us to have a conversation about international adoptions in general and this issue in particular is Janice Goldwater, founder and executive director of Adoptions Together. Janice Goldwater, thank you for joining us.
PROF. JANICE GOLDWATERGood afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Tom DiFilipo. He is president and chief executive officer of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. Tom DiFilipo, thank you for joining us.
MR. THOMAS DIFILIPOIt's good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Moscow is Corey Flintoff, NPR Moscow correspondent. Hi, Corey. How are you?
MR. COREY FLINTOFFHi, Kojo. Thank you very much for inviting me.
NNAMDIAnd, Corey, thank you so much for joining us. You too can join this conversation if you'd like to, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you have experience with intercountry adoption? Share your story with us at 800-433-8850, or you can send us email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you simply go to the website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there.
NNAMDICorey, I'll start with you. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that says American citizens can no longer adopt Russian children. Officials here say it's a move to retaliate for a recent American measure called the Magnitsky Act, which prevents Russians who are alleged human rights violators from entering the United States. Can you explain, if you will, the evolution of this Russian adoption ban?
FLINTOFFWell, exactly what President Obama signed last month was really a trade bill that established permanent normal trade relations between the United States and Russia, but it also contained a kind of poison pill. It's called the Magnitsky Act, and it's named for a Russian lawyer by the name of Sergei Magnitsky. He worked for a big English investment firm in Russia called Heritage Capital, and he discovered what he said was a massive tax fraud on the part of Russian officials.
FLINTOFFHe blew the whistle on that tax law -- tax fraud, and almost immediately afterward, he was arrested. He was kept in prison for almost a year. He said that he was maltreated and later -- and denied medical treatment, and later on, he died in 2009 from what human rights groups say was maltreatment. So the American Congress got a hold of this as a result of lobbying on the part of the owners of Heritage Capital.
FLINTOFFAnd, you know, since no arrests, no serious arrests were made, no serious charges were pressed, the one person who was charged in Magnitsky's death has just had his charges lifted. Since nothing was done on the Russian end, the bill in Congress basically decided to name and shame the people involved in this case, the Russians involved in this case by denying them access to the United States, denying them visas and denying them the ability to put their assets in U.S. banks.
NNAMDIAnything you'd like to add to that, Tom DiFilipo?
DIFILIPOOnly that one of the comments that you made in the opening as compared to what we just heard from Corey is that this really isn't about children or their safety or any of those issues. This is really a political act, pure and simple.
NNAMDICorey, what's been the reaction in Moscow to this adoption ban?
FLINTOFFYou know, it's been quite mixed. On the one hand, there is a lot of sentiment against foreign adoptions, and this is true in many countries. People in Russia regard it as a shame that Russian -- Russia hasn't been able to take care of its own children, you know, especially in the early days right after the break up of the Soviet Union, Russia really wasn't able to, you know? But, you know, when you're not able to take care of your own children, you know, you feel terribly humiliated about that and ultimately angry about it.
FLINTOFFAnd I think, you know, that's part of the sentiment. But at the same time, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition against this law, asking Putin not to sign it. And many of the members of the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, later said that they were actually coerced. They were forced into voting for it.
NNAMDIWell, there have been a handful of abuse cases involving Russian children adopted by American families that have prompted outrage in Russia. Some people have cited those cases as a rationale for this new ban. Did that come up at all?
FLINTOFFIt comes up all the time. You know, we -- you noted that it's -- there are more than 45,000 Russian children -- in fact, the State Department now is saying that it's closer to 60,000 who have been adopted over the course of the 20 or so years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and yet, Russians continually cite 19 or so cases of deaths and maltreatment of Russian adoptees in the United States. Those things made big headlines in Russia at the time that they happened, and they're something that people remember very well and were really outraged about.
NNAMDITom DiFilipo, can you rain on the numbers issue? Have the numbers of Russian children adopted by American families been rising over the last several years?
DIFILIPONo, not at all. Actually, the opposite direction, and that's true with all international adoptions. About worldwide, a few years ago, say, in 2005, there were about 50,000 international adoptions, into the U.S., about 25,000 approximately. In this past year, that number is way down below half, so worldwide, maybe 15,000, and into the U.S., somewhere around probably 8,000. So the same numbers from Russia, a high of around 6,000 down to below 1,000. In fact...
DIFILIPO...that's not because of a lack of families willing. It's because of a lack of access to...
NNAMDIOh, that's an issue we'll get to...
NNAMDI...in a second. Janice Goldwater, in many countries, international adoptions are governed by the Hague Convention on protection of children and cooperation and respect of intercountry adoption. Could you tell us exactly what that treaty is, does and who participates in it?
GOLDWATERAbsolutely. The Hague Commission on Intercountry Adoption has a whole set of regulations and stipulations that provide safety and security for children who are adopted internationally. Each country has the opportunity to sign on, to choose to sign on to this commission or not, and then once they signed on, they're governed by a set of rules and regulations. The United States signed on -- what was the time? About three years ago?
GOLDWATERIn 2008, yes. And so then providers, licensed adoption agencies who choose to do international adoption have to become accredited by a governing authority. Now, because each country has the opportunity to sign on or not, those countries that do sign on have to then comply with the regulations. Russia is not a member of this commission, but, you know, we mentioned the issue of the safety and security of children.
GOLDWATERAnd on Nov. 1, Hillary Clinton facilitated the summit -- in fact, what is just called the summit -- that was a whole set of regulations that stipulated new requirements for Americans adopting children from Russia.
NNAMDIIndeed. Tom, you can talk about the fact that, as you pointed out, Russia is not a member of the Hague Convention, but there is a bilateral agreement that Russia signed with the United States...
GOLDWATERThat's what I was going to talk about, the summit.
NNAMDI...involving adoptions that Janice is referring.
GOLDWATERYes, it's the bilateral...
NNAMDIWhat did that agreement do, Tom?
DIFILIPOIt did I think, you know, primarily two different things. One, it established a clear line of communication between the Russian government and the United States government. So prior to that, there was no real clear line. There was no in Russia, nowhere for a Russian official to just pick up the phone and call someone at the Department of State. So it established authorities within both governments where they could communicate directly on any specific issue, especially the condition of children in adoptive families.
DIFILIPOAnd the second thing it did was it elevated certain protections for children and for families. So, for instance, the number of hours required for parental training dramatically increased and other pieces along the way there. But primarily, it was the protection side and then also the communication piece.
NNAMDISo, Janice, how does this new ban contradict the bilateral adoption agreement between Moscow and Washington?
GOLDWATERIt really doesn't make sense because Nov. 1, 2012 is not very long ago. And all kinds of stipulations were set forth in this, including how we would end the relationship, and that there would be a year for things to be -- cases to be grandfathered in, and the fact that the safety and security of children were -- this is what this was all about. It doesn't make sense to then, you know, 45 days later say we're stopping this adoption with Americans because we're concerned about the safety and security of the kids when they just signed this.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about international adoptions in the wake of the recent Russian ban on adoptions to the United States. Our guests are Janice Goldwater, founder and executive director of Adoptions Together. She joins us in studio, along with Tom DiFilipo, president and chief executive officer of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. Joining us by phone from Moscow is Corey Flintoff, NPR Moscow correspondent. Here now is Frederick in Handover, Md. Frederick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDERICKThank you very much, Kojo. I want to talk about two things. I want to bring up the social aspects of these adoptions. And I do think that the Russians have the right to stop these adoptions, and we should be happy that they did because we do have a lot of kids here in the United States that also need the same services.
FREDERICKIn most cases, when people adopt kids, most likely these people can afford -- if they can afford a plane ticket to Moscow to bring these children in, that means they're probably doing well over here. But we can use those same resources, probably less, to adopt our own kids here, and then we won't have all this drama. We wouldn't have all these problems as far...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt and ask Corey Flintoff. Corey, that seems to be a reflection of the sentiment you referred to earlier in Moscow that Russians apparently believe that their kids should stay in country.
FLINTOFFExactly. The idea that we take care of our own, and it's -- I think it's true for every country. I should add to what, you know, Tom and Janice had to say too is that, you know, the Russian foreign ministry work long and hard on that agreement that they were describing. And Russia's foreign minister came out and said that he believed that rejecting the agreement and signing this law was a bad idea. So there's division within the Russian government about this.
NNAMDIPlease continue, Frederick.
FREDERICKAll right. Kojo, I have been -- I have traveled extensively in the former European countries pretty close to Russia itself, not in Russia. And I've seen the orphanages. And because Americans are sympathetic most of the time -- that's why we are going out there to try to help them out. But we have to look within here in the United States to try to do something for our own kids. We have a lot of kids here that we can provide the same services to at less cost, which would create upward mobility in their life, put them through good schools, educate them because if most of these families adopt them have...
NNAMDIBut, you know, Frederick, that does not address what the wants and needs of individual parents or families might be. You seem to be suggesting that their needs should somehow be subjected to whatever those of us who may have different opinions. Think if some...
FREDERICKNot at all.
NNAMDI...if there's a family that wants to adopt the child, wherever that family wants to adopt a child, why should that family not be able to do that?
FREDERICKOn the contrary, I mean, let's say, what if those rules were not there before? Then we're going to have to deal with what we have here, right?
FREDERICKSo this is something that happened way later on. These rules came in, and it was accepted to adopt these kids. We (unintelligible) there are some – countries that we are not allowed to adopt any kids from. And we don't have any problem with that. So this Russia thing should be...
NNAMDIWell, I don't know that we don't have any problem with that. We do follow the law in those cases. But allow me to do this, Frederick. We're going to take a break, and then we will talk with someone who has the experience of adopting someone from Russia and was recently trying to do the same thing again.
NNAMDISo, Frederick, thank you very much for your call. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll get to your call. the number is 800-433-8850. Do you think international adoption policy should be tied to foreign policy? 800-433-8850 or just send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about international adoptions. We are talking with Corey Flintoff, NPR Moscow Correspondent, Janice Goldwater is founder and executive director of Adoptions Together, and Tom DiFilipo is president and chief executive officer of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. We put out an inquiry on our Public Insight Network and heard back from a number of people about their experiences with international adoptions.
NNAMDIWe spoke with two of them. You can listen to their stories through our website, kojoshow.org, where you can also join the conversation. Joining the conversation now is Katie Horton, research professor George Washington University and the mother of an adopted child. She joins us by phone. Katie Horton, thank you for joining us.
PROF. KATIE HORTONYou bet. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIIn 2008, you adopted a girl from Russia. Can you tell us about what that process was like?
HORTONSure. Happy to. I traveled -- it was three trips and quite a bit of paperwork to get my daughter, Emma, home, but well worth it. She's the light of my life, and, you know, she's just fantastic. She's thriving. She's happy and healthy in every way, and I'm just so thrilled to have her here and appreciate all the -- both the Russians and the American stakeholders did to help me get her here.
NNAMDIAppreciated it so much that you went to Russia this year to adopt a second young girl. What happened then?
HORTONI did. I traveled in February to a region north of the Arctic Circle and met a little 9-month old girl named Paulina, and she was fantastic. And I signed the paperwork to bring her home that the thought leaving from the folks and country was that I would probably return in May for a court date and then hoped to have her home by June. Obviously, many months have passed since that time, and it's been a very, very difficult time period knowing that she's still in the orphanage waiting for a home.
NNAMDIAnd what -- how did you decide to adopt from Russia, Katie Horton?
HORTONWell, I appreciated the caller's question, Frederick, earlier. I -- and I think it's an important point. And every adoption journey is different for each family. For me, I had worked for humanitarian organization in developing countries for a number of years, Operation Smile, and international adoption really spoke to me. I wanted to do something in that realm. I also had a number of close friends who had adopted very successfully from Russia and had wonderful children and -- that join their loving family, and it's just been a terrific situation for many good friends.
NNAMDIWell, you apparently were expected to return in May of this year to make final arrangements for this second adoption. That didn't happen.
HORTONIt didn't, and I, of course, during the summer and fall, have been trying to talk with the State Department and certainly my agency to ask for any help possible. It was quite clear that things were slowing down in this particular region anyway. They weren't processing American adoptions anymore. Although I understand they were processing families from other countries. And when we heard the news about the new law in Russia, just so heartbreaking and just devastating, I can't even, you know, begin to tell you how tough that was.
NNAMDII can see how emotional it is for you. So ultimately, you decided not to go ahead with your own plans. Is that correct?
HORTONWell, I have to say, a little bit of hope still remains. You know, I know that folks are working very hard to try to get clarity from the Russian government about whether families who have met their children could possibly still proceed with adoption. I'm not very hopeful, but I feel like I have to wait and try and hear back whether that's still a possibility.
NNAMDIJanice Goldwater, a year and a half ago, your organization gave up its accreditation in Russia. At that point, you've been placing Russian children with American families for nearly two decades. Why did you end your relationship with Russia?
GOLDWATERWe ended our relationship with Russia because it became so difficult for families to actually bring children home, and there were so many barriers that were put into place. So while in 2005, we brought home 60 children. In 2009, we brought home 11, 2010, six, 2011, three. So there was the decreasing number of regions in Russia that felt comfortable placing their children with American families.
NNAMDICorey Flintoff, I'd like to get back to the politics of this because we got an email from Beth in Washington, D.C., who says, "Well, I don't understand about -- what I don't understand about the Magnitsky Act is why it aims exclusively at Russia. It should have been a blanket prohibition on human rights offenders regardless of their country. Sen. McCain was its chief sponsor. During the 2008 campaign, McCain was eager to drum up a war with Russia over the Republic of Georgia."
NNAMDI"So this law does in fact seem to be some kind of attack on Russia." Let's look at the international politics here, Corey, Tom and Janice. The U.S. ambassador to Russia and the State Department spokesperson have strongly criticized the Russian adoption ban and urged the Russian government not to make orphan children into political pawns. What does this all mean for our relationship with Russia? Corey, first you, and what part is politics playing in all of this?
FLINTOFFWell, you know, in fact, it's exactly what the Russian officials have said about the Magnitsky Act, that they feel that it singles out Russia. And at every opportunity, they point out that the United States has human rights problems of its own and they -- then they go on to talk about Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay and that sort of thing.
FLINTOFFYou know, so they're saying that, you know, basically, there's a double standard that's aimed at Russia and specifically at Russia and not at other countries and that it's coming from a country that has human rights problems of its own. So that's a cause of some of the resentment here. They genuinely feel that the Magnitsky Act is an interference in their domestic affairs and a violation of their sovereignty.
NNAMDITom, the politics.
DIFILIPOYeah. Yeah. The part, I think, that many of us just can't get our head around on this is not whether or not the United States did something that targeted Russia or Russia is now doing something that targeted American citizens or our country as a whole but the fact that as a result of that, it's damaging Russian children. And there's just no doubt that more children will grow up in institutions in Russia as a result of signing this law.
DIFILIPOAnd every bit of science over the past 20 years clearly demonstrates that it's detrimental to a child's development. Their brain mass is smaller. Their IQ is smaller. Their incidents of incarceration is higher, so moving from it, the damages that's done in an institution to a productive member of society is very, very, very difficult, almost nil. So this law that couldn't sign -- the president couldn't sign may in fact be targeted at the U.S. But ultimately, it's going to be impacting Russian children more than anyone.
NNAMDII wanted to get back to our earlier phone call, wanting to keep children in their own countries. And in many places, the first goal is to keep children in their home country. But how often does that in fact happen?
DIFILIPOWell, in Russia a few years ago, there were no domestic adoptions. Now they do about 7,000. They have a foster care system that's been ramping to about 9,000 a year, but more and more children are entering institutions there. So the balance is still off. There's more kids going in than coming out. So no country in the world, by the way, including United States, can care for all of its children. We use international adoption as well.
NNAMDIWell, you heard our conversation with Katie Horton, someone who has adopted and is, again, trying to adopt from Russia. But how about a child who has been adopted from Russia? Joining us by phone now is Tatyana McFadden. She is a member of the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team 2004, 2008, 2012. She is an adoptee from Russia. Tatyana McFadden, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. TATYANA MCFADDENThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDITatyana, talk about your own experiences of being adopted from Russia by a family here in the United States.
MCFADDENSure. I was born with spina bifida, and I was adopted at age 6. Being born with spina bifida in an orphanage, I was extremely sick. I didn't know how long I would have to live. My health was pretty bad. And I think the day that my mom walked in was the day that she saved my life. I didn't know how long my life expectancy was going to be. I didn't receive any medical health. I was just, you know, was just there surviving by a string. You know, I was there surviving with hope.
MCFADDENAnd definitely God was, you know, on my favor. I decided to live, and I had a purpose to live and the will and drive to live. But, you know, being adopted, I had no idea of all the new experiences, you know, being put into a loving home. And I had no idea I was going to be an Olympic athlete and a three-time gold medalist. I had no idea I was going to be going to college and making new friends and traveling the world and then going back to Russia. I had no idea over these experiences. And, you know, that day in May, that was the day that changed my life.
NNAMDIDo you think that the fact that you were adopted in fact helped to inspire you to become, well, a much better athlete than I ever hoped to be and probably a better student too?
MCFADDENYes. It did 'cause being adopted -- no Russian family wanted me. And so my -- an American woman wanted me, and she gave me the love and care and support and that made me live again, you know, that brought my spirits up. And that made me wanted to live life again. But in the orphanage, there was hundreds of kids and few caretakers, and you don't get any attention. You don't get the love and support, and you can only hang on to life for so long.
NNAMDIWell, I guess I can anticipate that your feelings about the current ban would be one of sadness, if not anger.
MCFADDENYou know, when the president signed that law, it was a very sad day. All those kids, I, you know, kind of cried a little bit for them because I know the experience that, you know, they're going through. And you're -- it was such a sad day and especially those kids who know who their parents are. And it, you know, broke my heart, and I don't know how those kids are going to survive, especially children with disabilities. They don't have the medical means. You know, they don't have that. And they don't have the love and care like a family would.
NNAMDITatyana McFadden, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
MCFADDENOh, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd continued good luck to you. We're talking about international adoptions and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Trina in Brentwood, Md. Trina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TRINAHi, Kojo. I'll try to keep this brief because I have lots and lots of questions. But I'm curious about the amount of pending adoptions right now from American parents seeking to get Russian kids, how many of them are pending. And I think that I read that there were several dozen of these Russian children who are either special needs or disabled. And I'm curious if your guest could tell us, I guess, about the support system in Russia. Is -- are they able to care for children with special needs? Certainly as well or equal to what we have here in the U.S. And I'll take my comments off the air.
NNAMDIWell, you raised two questions. The first, I'll have Katie Horton begin to address. Katie, what is your understanding about how this ban affected people who have already, like you, started the process?
HORTONWell, we have not received much information from the State Department, to be honest. I think they are struggling to get information. Russia is on holiday right now and so the families wait. And we checked the email every minute and look for any possible new stories that could offer hope. There are several categories of families, of course, one, you know, set who has gone to court and is -- and they're waiting 30 days for their wait period before they can actually pick up their child.
HORTONAnother set, like myself, I've met Paulina. I've signed the paperwork, you know, with my intent to adopt her, and I'm waiting on my court date. And I think the families are so anxious to understand whether leeway might be given to those of us who have met our children in either category.
NNAMDITom DiFilipo, what is your understanding of the effect of this current ban on people already involved in the process? And as our caller said, what do you know about the support system in Russia?
DIFILIPOThe numbers right now are anywhere from, say, six or 700 up to around 1,000 families who have started the process in some way. Not all of them are certainly in Russia or have a finalized court decree from a Russian court, but around 1,000 have started the process is our best estimate at this point.
DIFILIPOAnd in terms of what is going to happen, I don't think any of us know yet. We just have to wait to see what the Russian officials say. But according to the law, as of right now, there will be no more adoptions even if you have started the process, accepted a referral, go into court. That's the way the law stands. How it will be implemented in Russia, we'll have to wait and see how that goes. And then very briefly on...
DIFILIPO...the care system there, it's like anywhere. I mean, there are areas or institutions that provide excellent care in terms of housing, food and nutrition, some medical attention. And there are those that are just horrific in nature, and they don't have enough heat, they don't have enough clean water. Use your imagination when you use the word impoverished. And that's true in Russia. That's true in most developing countries. So it's not unique to Russia.
NNAMDITrina, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Hassan in McLean, Va. Hassan, your turn.
HASSANGood morning, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call.
HASSANYeah, this is really sad, and at the same time, I wonder why the United States don't look in the mirror and see what they do in terms of violation of human rights. United States killed people in Pakistan (unintelligible) by the drone. People are sitting in the tables eating, and they get killed.
NNAMDIYou know, in our next hour, Hassan, we are having Your Turn where you can weigh in on any matter that you want to, but in terms of making a relationship between drone killings in Pakistan and the adoption of children in Russia, that's quite a bit of a stretch. But, Corey Flintoff, since Hassan raised the issue of the use of American power, one gets the impression that the response in Russia, in affecting this ban, has a lot to do with challenging what Russia see as America's use of its power.
FLINTOFFI think that's exactly right. You know, it's not just this particular law. This law actually does more than simply ban American adoptions. It also bans different kinds of NGOs that work on political issues and accept money from the United States. It bans people with dual Russian and American citizenship from hitting up those organizations.
FLINTOFFAnd it's just one of a whole string of laws that either crack down on internal opposition in Russia or somehow blame the United States for that kind of opposition. So, you know, this is definitely a big thorn in the side of the Russians and the Russian government at least. And they're responding with, you know, what -- I talked to an analyst here who said, you know, this is beyond rational or beyond irrational. It's just striking out in the dark, in a way.
NNAMDIHassan, thank you very much for your call. And we got this tweet from someone who says, "With the United States failing to ratify the 20-year-old United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, can you blame Putin?" Was that mentioned at all, Corey Flintoff?
FLINTOFFIt has been mentioned. As a matter of fact, Russia is a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and as such, analysts here believe that this anti-adoption law actually violates Russia's commitment there. But Russia, of course, the Russian government says, look, the United States has never ratified this, you know, so why should we stand by it?
NNAMDIAnd the political drumbeat goes on. We're going to take a short break, but, Corey Flintoff, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDICorey Flintoff is NPR Moscow correspondent. He joined us by phone from Moscow. When we come back, we'll be taking your calls at 800-433-8850 and continuing our conversation with Tom DiFilipo, Janice Goldwater and Katie Horton. You can call us, 800-433-8850. Are you an international adoptee? What has been your experience? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on international adoptions in the wake of the Russian ban on the adoption of Russian children in the United States. We're talking with Janice Goldwater, founder and executive together of Adoptions Together. Tom DiFilipo is president and chief executive officer of the Joint Council on International Children's Services.
NNAMDIAnd Katie Horton is a research professor at George Washington University and a mother of an adopted child. Janice Goldwater, talk about the time and expense involved in adopting a child from another country. How much does it differ in different parts of the world?
GOLDWATERIt's really variable. And I think, when we talk about adoption, we need to talk about children in this country. We need to talk about children throughout the world.
NNAMDIBecause you facilitate adoptions domestically.
GOLDWATERYes. At Adoptions Together, we find parents for children that are in state foster care, children whose parents voluntarily want them to be adopted and children around the world. And then, you know, since safety is an issue that we're really focusing on, you know, I have to mention that we provide lots of education and training before families adopt children, and then lots of support as they're raising their children.
GOLDWATERThe cost can vary, in doing an adoption, between -- from adopting a child out of state foster care, which there's plenty of children in our community who need parents, and that comes with no cost to the adopting families, to children -- I believe that adopting a child from Russia today is somewhere, by the time they get their three airplane tickets, about $40-, $50,000. So it's really -- the span of what a family can spend to adopt a child is really variable.
NNAMDIWell, Tom DiFilipo, it's my understanding that the United States has a tax credit available to families that adopt children. How does it work?
DIFILIPOWell, fortunately, just a few days ago, the tax credit was extended because it was one of the tax credits that was going to expire.
NNAMDIDidn't go over the fiscal cliff.
DIFILIPOIt did not. Nope. They grabbed it right at the end and brought it back up on the table. So it looks like, moving forward, families will be able to deduct up to $10,000, and it depends on their income. Once they hit about $190,000 in family or total income, that tax credit will go away, but it's a big, big help. Unfortunately, it's not going to be as big a help as it was because it's been reduced to a certain degree.
DIFILIPOFamilies adopting from foster care who are generally middle to lower income aren't going to be able to benefit from this deduction. But it is nonetheless a very big and important piece of helping a child find a family.
NNAMDILet's hear what Corey in Burtonsville, Md., has to say about that. Corey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COREYWell, it's interesting you just started talking about that because I noticed none of your callers -- just one of them mentioned money, and he seemed to imply that everybody who does this is some wealthy American that's got nothing better to do. And my girlfriend adopted a little Korean baby. He's about 10 now.
COREYIt cost her almost everything she had. She had to go to Korea a couple times. It cost her a bunch just to adopt him, much less go to Korea. So this is a love thing. She did this 'cause she really wanted this child, not because she's just some wealthy American, you know, who's got nothing better to do today.
NNAMDII guess, Janice Goldwater, that's one of the points, I guess, we have failed to make so far in our conversation, that for a lot of people, it's not the affordability of it that's the question. It's the desire. It's the love.
GOLDWATERAbsolutely. There are so many adults who have the love, the capacity, the emotional resources, the financial resources to welcome another child into their family. And, you know, I think that one of the saddest things about Russian adoption shutting down in the way that it is is that opportunities are lost for children. I mean, in the best-case scenario, children can be raised in the families they're born into, but often that doesn't happen because of any number of problems.
GOLDWATERThe second-best case is that they can be raised in the community that they were born into and in the country. But, unfortunately, you know, given the issues in the -- in, you know, around the world, that doesn't always happen, both in this country and in other countries. So having options -- options are everything when it comes to opportunity in life.
NNAMDICorey, thank you very much for your call. Joining us now by phone is Susan Branco Alvarado. She's a licensed professional counselor in Falls Church, Va., and a member of the Adoption Policy Reform Collaborative. She is an adult adoptee from Columbia. Susan Branco Alvarado, thank you for joining us.
MS. SUSAN BRANCO ALVARADOHi, Kojo. Thank you. Hi, everyone.
NNAMDIThis decision by the Russian government to curtail these adoptions took place in the context of political tensions between our two countries, and many people were quick to dismiss the safety concerns raised by Russian politicians. But you say you actually think that those concerns should not be dismissed.
ALVARADOThat's correct. We certainly have evidence that in the past decade or so, there have been abuses and deaths of Russian children. We certainly can't forget about the case of Artyom, who was sent back on a plane by his adopted mother. And I don't say this to in any way disrespect all the parents who are waiting and the children who are waiting, but it's certainly something that we can't forget nor dismiss.
NNAMDIAnd I'm not sure it has been forgotten because, Tom DiFilipo, it is my understanding that the bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia involving adoptions had a great deal to do with safety.
DIFILIPOAbsolutely. That bilateral agreement took two years to negotiate, and primarily it was focused on the safety issues of the children from Russia adopted into American families and the responsibility of our government for those children, and also the Russian government's access to know where the children are, their status, their safety, whether they are, you know, doing OK in school, not in school, all those pieces.
DIFILIPOSo all of that was played out -- laid out in detail in this agreement, and it was just starting to now unfold. So we didn't have time yet to see what actually -- how that would impact the safety of the children.
NNAMDIAnd why the concern? Well, Susan Branco Alvarado, we mentioned that number earlier involving deaths of Russian adopted children living in the United States: 19 out of roughly 60,000. That sounds like a small number, 19, but you say it actually exceeds the average death rate among adopted kids.
ALVARADOMy understanding is that the average death rate to abuse or neglect among all children in the United States is .002 percent. However, in adopted families of Russian children, the average is .03 percent, which is higher. And that's shocking given that these are families that have been specifically screened to be safety nets in safeguarding children particularly from different countries.
NNAMDITell us about the Adoption Policy Reform Collaborative. What does it do?
ALVARADOWe are a recently organized group of adult adopted person, clinicians and scholars and all walks of life professions that we look at policies and concerns within the adoption community in the United States, and that does include international adoptions.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. Susan Branco Alvarado is a licensed professional counselor in Falls Church, Va. and a member of the Adoption Policy Reform Collaborative. She is an adult adoptee from Columbia. Once again, thank you for joining us. Tom, international adoptions are not one-way street for the United States. How many American-born children are placed in families outside the U.S.?
DIFILIPOWell, the best number that we have is from the Department of State, and it looks like somewhere around 200 a year. That number is a little bit in question because we're not certain that all the courts here in the United States are reporting all of the adoptions to the Department of State yet, but it's somewhere, say, 2-, 300, right around there. And that number has been pretty consistent, we believe, for the past decade or so. It might fluctuate up to 400 and back down but somewhere around that number.
DIFILIPOWe would like to actually see -- we're a big proponent, a joint council of using inter-country adoption to help children in the U.S. foster care system 'cause we have well over 100,000 children that are available for adoption that have not been adopted by American families yet. So we don't seem at all, and most in the social services community that we've talked to seem to agree with that. That if there's an opportunity for a child to grow up in -- with family versus growing up without one, that they should have that right and that option.
NNAMDILet's see what Jennifer in Westminster, Md. has to say about that. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFERHi. I adopted a daughter from Russia through Adoptions Together in 2004. And regarding your caller earlier who said we should focus domestically, we considered that. We also had a biological child. And we were told that would be harder for us to get placed having that biological child and get chosen than if we went international. So that's one of the reasons that we chose to do that.
NNAMDIHave you heard that before, Janice Goldwater?
GOLDWATERHave I heard that families that have biological children...
NNAMDIThat biological children may be a bit farther back in the line that I guess...
GOLDWATERWe don't necessarily experience that presently, that I don't see that as a, you know, as a reason that families adopt internationally. In 2004, there -- the -- there was many, many children, young children in the orphanages that were very readily accessible and available to be internationally adopted. And so we had information about a number of young children that needed parents. And so in 2004, for a family that wanted to adopt a young child and was looking to considering anywhere in the world and Russia was a fabulous option for them.
NNAMDIKatie Horton, care to weigh in on this?
HORTONWell, I think I had mentioned earlier, I think every family's adoption journey is unique. And their decision process is personal and excruciating. I have looked domestically as a single mom. I can tell you our system is not perfect, and it is easy to adopt domestically. I have talked to a number of attorneys here, and I would hope that as we continue to talk about the Russian situation, we, too, talk about the adoption situation in the U.S. It continues to need some work.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up. And I think Hillary in Arlington, Va., would like to bring it up also. Hillary, your turn.
HILLARYHold on, hold on.
NNAMDIHillary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HILLARYHi. My name is Hillary (word?). I live in Arlington. And I have two adopted relatives, and actually is in the process of adopting a child myself. My experience is that one of the reasons -- let me back up. The caller we're discussing who implies that Americans should be concentrating their resources on local children...
HILLARY...would -- makes a valid point. However, many -- I'm sure many of the adoption experts on your panel will back me up that adoption laws for American children still favor the biological parent, that adoptive parents can never be comfortable that the children they adopt will not be removed at any time when reneging on adoption agreements (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIYou mean biological parents who would like -- who have agreed to adoption but would like to re-enter the lives of their children?
HILLARYWell, not even to re-enter them but reclaim those children, not just re-enter. And it might not be the kind of people you'd like to invite into your family...
NNAMDIAnd so, Hillary, you feel that's why people go overseas. The only reason I'm hurrying up is because we're running out of time. Tom and Janice, I'm afraid that our discussion could be interpreted by some listeners as a discussion of supply and demand. Is there a danger that orphan children in Russia and elsewhere may be viewed in terms of supply and demand especially for families in the U.S. who are eager to adopt? How does you -- how do you balance the desires of adoptive parents with the best interest of the children?
DIFILIPOWell, just to go the first point you made, Kojo, which is, you know, the terminology, we see in the papers all the time. As a matter of fact, even in the Hague Convention itself, it uses terms like sending and receiving country, or you'll see things like we are sending our children or we're exporting them. I think it's just a disgrace to use that kind of terminology even for an international convention like the Hague. Children are finding families.
DIFILIPOYou know, we would hope that they would be able to be preserve in their family of birth. We should recognize that any adoption is borne out of pain and loss and suffering even when there is a celebration that a child finds a new family. There's just so many aspects to this. And the last thing we should be doing is using business terminology where anything other than social services terminology to describe what is going on here.
NNAMDIIn the final analysis, Janice Goldwater, we should be talking about children.
GOLDWATERAbsolutely. This is about children. And I think the saddest part of what Putin did was that he used children as a pawn, as a pawn to strike back. And that's about the lowest common denominator that we can have is when we use our children to hurt each other because they are the ones that suffer, and children are our future.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Miguel, who says, "I'm from Spain. And in Spain, you have to be certified to be able adopt nationally and internationally. You have to show that you can be trusted. Children need a home. But some events have shown, not everybody that wants to adopt is able to be a good parent. You have to attend classes. You and your family will be inspected for abuse or pedophilia risks, and you will have a serious background check to make sure your new child will be in a good family."
NNAMDIAnd I guess you can get a hear, hear for that, Miguel, from both of our panelists because those are the best practices that they would -- they'd follow and would advocate that other people follow. Is that correct, Janice?
GOLDWATERAbsolutely. And that's what we do here in this country. And when working with ethical providers, there's a tremendous amount of support, screening, education and...
NNAMDIJanice Goldwater is founder and executive director of Adoptions Together. Thank you for joining us.
GOLDWATERThank you so much.
NNAMDITom DiFilipo is president and chief executive officer of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Katie Horton is a research professor at George Washington University and the mother of an adopted child. Katie Horton, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
HORTONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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