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The Most Vulnerable.

Vladimir signed a law banning all  US adoptions of Russian children, the Kremlin announced today.  To average Americans, this just sounds in poor taste. For some, it’s even seen as good, because they believe that we should be adopting our own children out of foster care first. I don’t feel like anyone is wrong. I just feel like people don’t understand the full story.

Because, quite simply, the full story is a little tough to take. People don’t want to know.  In Russia and many other places in the world, having a child with special needs is stigmatized beyond anything we Americans can understand. There are no special programs for children with special needs, no special inclusion laws, and nothing like the rights afforded us in the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Last month, the US tried to ratify an United Nations treaty that would help bring the world up to our standard, based on our own ADA, but it was blocked and eventually defeated by misguided politicians who believed that even though the treaty had no enforcement mechanism, our sovereignty was at stake. My heart hurt when that treaty was defeated. It wouldn’t have changed a damn thing in this country. But it would have helped people with disabilities in other countries. It would have worked to destigmatize disability in developing countries.

In Russia, because there are no special programs for these children, they are housed in orphanages until they “age out”. When Americans think of “aging out” they think of 18 year old kids who have been in foster care; who have received an education, or were supposed to, and are sent out into the world. Our system isn’t perfect either, but in Russia, aging out means something completely different. For children with special needs like autism, Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, they “age out” of orphanages, usually around 4 or 5, and are sent to adult mental institutions. These kids receive very little care, and most die within a year. They die chained to cribs, their head shaved, cold and alone. 

I know no one wants to know these things. But hiding our heads in the sand doesn’t help anyone. There are so many people out there who have been working tirelessly to raise funds to bring these children home. I have friends who are ready, who have their court date, to adopt these kids. They’ve spent months raising money, getting home studies done, and jumping through the hoops to save these children- their children- who have names and places in their homes.  These children have met their would-be parents, have pictures of them and promises that they will return for them.

No more. The Russian government, in true King Herod style, has thrown it’s most vulnerable under the bus because they’re mad at legislation passed in the United States earlier this month. The legislation sanctions people who have committed human rights violations from Russia from traveling to the United States or owning real estate here.

Some want to argue that it’s because of the high profile cases of Americans who have adopted children from Russia where things have gone wrong. 19 children who were adopted from Russia have died in American homes since 1990. That’s not right. But that’s out of the 60,000 that have been adopted in the same time. That number, 19, is less than the amount of children that die in orphanages or institutions EACH DAY in Russia.

I’m sad. I’m mad. And I feel powerless. I think about the children I have met that were brought home last year from Russia. Around 1,000 kids were adopted from Russia last year. I had the opportunity to get to know the families of several of those children. I’ve watched as these children, now in families that ADORE them, grow, learn and light up the lives of those around them. They truly are lights.

My heart goes out to the families who now can’t get to their kids. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain they are feeling right now. When the bill was signed, it was as if I felt the cries of those children from within me. Cries that an evil and corrupt government do no here. Or care to hear. Cries from their own people. The most vulnerable among them.

There are things in this world we don’t like to think about. Things that are too hard to know. But now you know, too. And maybe that’s all we can do right now. Know.  Maybe we can’t change Russia. Maybe we can. But we can help to make sure this doesn’t happen to countries like China and other places in Europe. We can do more for those kids.  And then maybe the next time a treaty comes up in America that can change things in those countries we cannot get to, we won’t let them be defeated by the minority.

We need to know.

21 thoughts on “The Most Vulnerable.

  1. You're right. I didn't want to know this. But it is so important that we all know what is happening. I am so grateful my niece and nephew were adopted years before this ban was put into place. And you're right–they are lighting up the lives of those around them. And my nephew has special needs….

  2. We need to know this. I know there have been some awful things happen in American homes, but there are so many wonderful stories of adoption success. I have a friend who adopted a little boy from Russia last year who was born to a mother with multiple diseases, including HIV and syphillis. He is the sweetest most adorable little guy ever, and is in the most wonderful home anyone could ever wish for. Just thinking of what might have happened to him if he had remained there makes me very sad. When I worked in daycare, there was a family who had adopted a little girl with many known health issues. At the orphanage in Russia, she never even left her crib until she was almost two. She is such a loving home now. Another woman adopted a little girl who was too small to remember the orphanage that she had come from, but she could remember being so very hungry-it was hard to get her to stop eating because subconsciously she wasn't sure when she would get food again. The woman eventually adopted another little girl, and they are in a wonderful home.So many great stories of children who may have otherwise been left to die… 😦

  3. Keep in mind that the us hasn't held up its end of the bilateral adoption treaty – US officials have denied Russia access to Russian-born kids in the US and failed to provide timely info on the (admittedly minuscule) Russian-born kids abused/killed by their US APs. Both actions violate the treaty.Russia stopping adoptions in progress is awful (and possibly illegal). But it's not reasonable for the US to refuse to abide by the treaty and expect Russia to keep letting Americans adopt their kids. Russia's not obligated to allow Americans (or anybody else) to adopt their kids.

  4. Also, the options for Russian orphans are not limited to 1) be adopted by a US family and 2) die or age out of an orphanage to a shrt, miserable life. Russia's taking genuine steps to improve the welfare of its children, has significantly reduced the number of kids in institutions since around 2006, appointed an ombudsman for children's rights and really does seem to be making progress. Russia should be applauded for this. Yes, the progress is slower than folks would like, but that's the case in the US too – foster care is a mess pretty much everywhere, despite years of Herculean efforts.There's a great discussion of the steps Russia is taking here:http://www.reformtalk.net/2012/12/27/reform-talk-response-to-proposed-russian-ban-on-us-adoptions/What's fascinating is that the number of disabled kids adopted by Americans is minuscule — something like 44 (out of 1000) kids adopted by Americans had disabilities in 2010 (last year for which data is available).Rebeccajmarinecorpswife.blogspot.com has an interesting take on the ban too.

  5. You're right. But to me, that seems pretty paltry in significance. If they gave a damn about their kids, they'd work more on the institutions and the services there. They don't. This is political maneuvering. No country has an obligation to any other country for adoptions, true, but I do feel like they have an obligation to their most vulnerable. If they aren't going to care for them, why not let others to do the same? I mean really, when you look at it, what family is going to jump through the hoops, raise tens of thousands of dollars to bring a child home to abuse them? Those are ISOLATED cases. I DO think more needs to be done about families bringing home kids that will likely have reactive attachment disorder and the like, but this is not the way to do it.

    1. I am an American who had to pick up the pieces of an adoption gone wrong. I now live in Russia and am totally for this ban. I don’t view it as political retaliation, not this part. It is totally a need and has been a long time in coming. As I have visited orphanages here, I realize the old things we used to hear about Russia’s orphanages are no longer true. They are working hard to fix old problems. I have also seen a two year process of tightening foreign involvement in their social affairs. Certainly this is convenient timing to look like it was against the Magnitsky Act, but this law really has been coming down the pipe. And the law doesn’t just talk about orphans, it’s a minor part of it. It is part of a stream of laws that have been pouring out of the parliament since 9/11 Benghazi Gate, in response to what our government is doing in the Middle East. I wish that the news would have covered the whole law, to tell you the whole story, because as it seems now I wouldn’t be able to tell you for possibly interfering with politics. And from a Christian viewpoint, I want to say that the orphans here are going to make it. They are the light of this country, and they are the only youth who get access to church without needing parental permission. Something I never knew until I lived here.

  6. I guess I don't understand what you're getting at here. Sure, the Russian's have taken steps, but until those adult mental institutions don't constitute what is basically a death sentence for children with special needs, why ban those adoptions? If the number really is only 44, I still care about those 44. I have had the opportunity to get to know four of those kids. I worked to fund raise to bring them home. What are you trying to say here? That the ban is good and necessary? That we should be okay with it?

  7. RE: CTraanter, While I appreciate a calm, well-reasoned, response as much as anybody, I can’t help but notice that you really missing the point(s) here.First of all, this blog is written by a parent of a special needs child, who literally knows people being affected by this ban, so a discourse on the bilateral adoption treaty and the small number of children that are adopted by American families is more likely to inflame sensitivities than encourage reasonable thought.Second, you seem like a well-educated individual, so I wonder if you are kidding about the treaty? Like any treaty, there are ALWAYS grievances on both sides, in a healthy relationship you deal with those grievances and you move forward in the common interests that lead to the founding of the treaty in the first place. From top to bottom this situation has nothing to do with treaties or agreements or adoption, but everything to do with politics. Russian politicians are making hay with a story that was picked up by the Russian media and makes for easy sympathetic manipulation of the people. Hardliners (like Putin) are grabbing at every opportunity to engender nationalism and demonize the United States because it strengthens their positions creates support for their hard line beliefs, these are old tactics, transparently applied. That is why I feel that this article is so pertinent and powerful, it cuts to the heart of the issue, and brings to light the fact that so often this petty nationalist bickering carried out by narcissistic politicians (on both sides) tramples down “The Most Vulnerable” who are used as pawns in a great sycophantic game.Finally, while the US is no doubt partially responsible (they are, after all, playing the same game), I find it mind blowing that you would think this a good time or place to talk about how much "progress" Russia is making for these orphans or what a small difference people like the author if this post are making. Let me illustrate to you what I see in your second post, with a small analogy…Let’s say you and your neighbor are having an argument, we don’t care who’s right, because it doesn’t matter. As you are having this argument your neighbor pulls out a gun and shoots one of his kids in the foot. They weren’t doing anything wrong, just standing there, and he shoots them in the foot to make point, and then he looks at you and says, “See what you made me do!” Now, do you think the more appropriate response would be…A) “ What the hell! You are completely insane! What kind of monster would hurt his own child(s) to prove a point?!?! Somebody call the Authorities!!!”Or…B) “You know, I can see why you would do that, we have been fighting, and I can see why you would be angry. I mean just last year you shot one of your kids in the head for no apparent reason, so good for you for aiming for the foot this time… and you have been taking that hunters safety course… so what do you say we go inside and have a glass of lemonade and talk this over, you seem like a good guy, I’m sure the kid will be fine.” No kidding, B) is how you sounded to me in that second post. I can see what you were trying to say, but context is important, and right now the Russian response seems totally out of context and proportion to the action(s) that supposedly precipitated it.

  8. Yes, I'm trying to say that I don't think Russia's ban on Americans adopting is the worst thing ever. Russia's taken genuine steps to improve the care their children receive, which no one seems to mention. There's also the fact that we, as Americans, aren't ENTITLED to adopt Russian kids – it's a PRIVELEDGE that Russia has granted us for 20+ years (and is well within their rights to revoke, at any time, for any reason, seeing as they're a sovereign nation and all).There's also the matter of "thousands of disabled kids will die if not adopted by Americans" — which isn't quite the case. Yes, the 44 orphans with disabilities adopted by Americans may have died if not adopted by US citizens (awful, unnecessary deaths) – but whose to say they would not have been adopted by Canadian or Irish or Italian or English families?Russia's steps to improve their child welfare system are way too slow — but frankly, so are the state by state efforts in the US. It's a tragedy whenever and wherever kids are harmed.But would you let Russian officials dictate how American states should improve the welfare of American kids? Um, NO. So why do you feel the US should be able to dictate how Russia improves care for its kids?

  9. Yes, I understand and acknowledge that countries with treaties regularly have grievances – and resolve them through a mutually agreed upon (typically in advance) dispute resolution mechanism.It is also VERY unsual for countries with such a recently-signed agreement to violate it so soon (less than 2 months after it came into force, on November 1 of this year). As of right now, the US has definitely violates the treaty (denying consular access to Russian-born abused kids in Florida) and Russia has passed a law that likely violates said treaty, but has not yet taken any action that definitively violates it (seeing as Putin only signed the legislation into law this morning).

  10. My heart breaks for the parents with empty arms and the children who are parentless. I do hope other countries will pick up the slack for unspoken for children and that things will change so that American parents will still be able to bring their children home.

  11. Yes, the 19 cases of American parents who killed their Russian-born kids are the exception. Isolated cases relative to the 60,000 or so kids who have found living homes here in the USA.However, let's imagine that 60,000 American kids were adopted by Russian families in the past 20 years, and there were only 19 isolated Russian adoptive families who killed their American-born children. What are the odds the US passes legislation to be absolutely CERTAIN there won't be a 20th dead kid? That the legislation would be the result of outraged Americans DEMANDING their senators/congressmen/president do something to ensure there won't be a 20th dead American kid? It'd be a perfectly logic course if action, and I'd likely support it. (And perhaps it's just me, but this makes me see where the Russians are coming from with the ban. I can't bring myself to condemn it)."No country has an obligation to any other country for adoptions, true, but I do feel like they have an obligation to their most vulnerable. If they aren't going to care for them, why not let others to do the same? " The exact same could be said about the sad state of the US foster care system. American disappear, are abused, starved and killed on regular basis. An endless number of reviews and reforms at both state and federal levels have been completed and recommendations implemented with very little success. Somehow, we don't see letting foreigners adopt our most vulnerable children as a viable option for fixing this problem. Why should Russia?"mean really, when you look at it, what family is going to jump through the hoops, raise tens of thousands of dollars to bring a child home to abuse them?"The sad, scary thing is that families raise tons of money and jump through paperwork hoops and STILL end up harming the very children they promised to love and raise are their own. Poundpuplegacy.org lists a huge number of "isolated" cases. Washington State was so concerned about a spike (11+ kids in a year; including the death of Hana Williams who was adopted from Ethiopia) in adopted kids being starved by the supposedly well-screened folks who adopted them that they commissioned an investigation of it:http://m.tdn.com/mobile-touch-2/?disableTNStatsTracker=1&asset=7fac29c2-3f25-11e1-b980-0019bb2963f4#7fac29c2-3f25-11e1-b980-0019bb2963f4Th

    1. The 19 deaths are what is known and reported. Many others are secret and nobody can come forth to speak about it due to our confidentiality laws. Even what knowledge I know, I realize I walk a tightrope in discussing it. Many adopted kids have formed a coalition to raise the standard in international adoption and have covered the topic of how many kids we will never know about who didn’t succeed. In fact, if there are so many success stories, we should be getting non-stop news about them, and from the adults. So far I have only heard one.

  12. When I heard this my heart broke too and I was so pissed off. These poor children – being used as "the punishment" for the U.S. when really it is only they who are punished – to rot in an orphanage with no hope. It's sickening. Im glad you wrote about this – good for you for informing people!

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