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A Nation in The Mirror: Ugly Truths About the Russian US Adoption Ban

2013 January 3

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Last week Russia signed into law the Dima Yakovlev Act. A provision in the act will put a ban on further adoptions of Russian children by US citizens effective  News Years day 2013.  It is estimated that more than 60, 000 Russian children have been previously adopted by Americans since 1992 —the year Russia lifted a block on out-of-country adoptions.

The story is heartbreaking for the roughly 1,5000 families who find themselves in the midst of incomplete adoptions. Families united in heart but physically torn asunder by souring relations between Moscow and  Washington. At present it appears that the Russian government will not allow these in transition adoptions to be completed.

Of course it is most devastating for the estimated 650,000 Russian orphans, many who are plagued by disability or illness, who may continue to languish in the bleak soul-killing facilities  in which they are housed.

US Mainstream media is widely reporting that the ban is retribution for the Obama administration signing the Magnitsky Act on December 14, 2012. This particular legislation was named to honor the slaying of a Russian activist who was killed in prison for reporting widespread graft by Russian police. The bill aims to address Russian human right violations. It effectively restricts visas from being issued to Russians who allegedly engaged in human rights violations.

The Russian legislative counterpart, the Dima Yakovlev Act was signed on December 28 , 2012 .

Of note, within the passages of the Yakovlev Act is legislation that also prohibits US citizens with known human right offenses from entering Russia. It also attempts to quash involvement in Russian politics from those US citizens not on official US government business within the country. Perhaps, these particular tenets—alone — of the act are retaliatory measures.

I am not an expert on Russian history or politic. But, it seems disingenuous to specifically label the adoption ban, singularly, as a retributive act.  There is more at play here than an international tit for tat. Beyond this I’ll leave the greater political nuances to the experts. Of import, is the real ugly elephant in the room that mainstream propaganda machine only gingerly wants to address: child abuse in the United States. And more topically, the issue of adopted Russian children being abused by their adoptive American parent(s).

In fact, the Russians are sensitive to the 19 known cases of abuse and neglect suffered by Russian children by their American parents over the last 15  years. And although this number may statistically be “low” in comparison to the average annual adoption rats of over 3,000 per year, it is still wrong and appalling.

Here is a sprinkling of abuses that have made headlines:

Tory Hansen Adoption

Tory Hansen made global news in 2010 when she “returned” her seven-year old adopted son to Moscow, unaccompanied aboard a plane, tagged with an explanatory note that she no longer could care for him. Hansen cited fear of her well-being, and that of family and friends due to the youngsters severe “psychopathic issues/behaviors”. She felt that Russian adoption officials had not properly disclosed the mental health of the boy. A recent US court ruling has refused to annul the adoption and is holding Hansen liable for child support. The child remains in Russia.

Thorne Adoption

The Thorne’s also drew media attention and Russian ire, when they were prosecuted in the US for physically and verbally abusing their adopted four-year old girls on a flight from Moscow to the US. They were arrested at the airport.

While the case maneuvered through the courts the children spent a year in multiple US foster homes.

During the legal proceedings eyewitness accounts, including testimony from Delta flight attendants, stated that the children were hit multiple times and verbally abused in attempts to calm the children. The Thorne’s denied the extensive claims and asserted that they had only delivered a solo slap to each child in restraint attempts.

Ultimately, the children were returned to the Thornes upon successfully completing counseling sessions, parenting classes and agreeing to routine welfare checks.

Dima Yakovlev/Chase Harrison

This case was the tragic, indirect abuse, of a toddler left unintentionally left in a hot car for nine hours which resulted in death. Miles Harrison, the adoptive father, had “forgot” that he had placed the child in the car seat. Three months prior he and his wife had adopted the toddler. Apparently he had driven straight to his office, and had not remembered that he was to drop the baby off at daycare. He learned of his fatal error at the close business.  Mr. Harrison was acquitted despite Russian outcry.

Maxim Babaev/Maxim Taylor

This might have been the last straw for Russian officials.  A five-year old Russian boy, Maxim Babaev (or Maxim Taylor), was witnessed being brutally beaten in a Florida neighborhood by his adopted parents. Police were summoned to rescue the child.  On official examination it was also discovered that the boy had also suffered sexual abuse. He was placed into protective custody and the parents, “Mr and Mrs Taylor ” were arrested and shockingly only placed on probation: A five year term for Mr. Taylor and a one year term for Mrs. Taylor.  The boy remains in foster care.

Children are a nations pride and joy. Is it any wonder that Russian fury would be drawn from these incidents? From a political standpoint how could they continue to let their deepest international rival abuse their own. Political psychology just doesn’t compute that these children may have been just as worse off in a Russian orphanage. National pride….a people’s pride is at stake here. Leaving Vladimir Putin to state that the Russians should care for their own children. Clearly the uninspired notion that if things are going to go bad, you can do bad all by yourself.

Prior to the passage of the Yakovlev Act, repair work had seemingly begun on Russian-American adoptions after the Russians had voiced strong concerns about alarming abuses.  In the summer of 2012, the 2011 Bilateral Agreement Regarding Cooperation in Adoption of Children was signed. The agreement became effective in November 2012 and had provisions for a transition period. It had sought to establish better safeguards and monitoring capabilities relative to the adoption of Russian children. However, the strength of the measure was recently tested in the Maxim Babaev case and found to fail in Russian eyes. Russian diplomat,Sergey Chumarov, who is working with the Russian Embassy tasked with handling adoptive cases, was denied access to the child by Florida courts. It appears that an intersection of state and local laws between that of the newly passed Bilateral Agreement has yet to materialize. The Russian’s are deeply disturbed that courts failed to properly punish the boy’s adoptive parents in light of strongly documented physical and sexual abuse. The boy continues to receive psychological and mental care in Florida.

Clearly there were (and still are) issues surrounding Russian-American adoptions that require more than just a mere finessing.

Some have cited the short acclimation period between parent and child as the source of blame. Others have claimed lacked of disclosure about a child’s true well-being. Inter-Country adoptions are not for the faint of heart.  Parents and children can encounter cultural and language difficulties. For the immature mind of a scared child, often littered with inhumane treatment, it can be difficult to conceive a better world beyond the doors of the orphanage.  These facilities are what they have grown to know, and a sudden seizure from that setting —-away from routine, change in caregiver, surroundings, language, food, etc —can give rise to or exacerbate already existent behavioral deficits.

In reading a New York times interview from the Thorne’s, it becomes obvious that many of these adoptions were ripe for trouble at the start. Guilt or innocence aside, the plane ride from Moscow to New York that the Thorne’s and their daughter’s endured was prime ground for an ugly occurrence at 40,000 feet.  Their daughters were severely emotionally troubled, they had no interpreter, there was no transition figure for the girls, and a lack of professional skills for dealing with special needs children.  The adults snapped. The children snapped.

Of course, added into the complexity of an international adoption are all of the hurdles any American parent needs to navigate.  Think time and money resources, childcare, health management, educational choices. Multiply those inherit duties/needs by the strains of having a child with mental or physical challenges and the domestic situation is prime for under-supported parents to engage in abusive or neglectful activities.

Child abusers don’t always fit a neat stereotype. They come from all manner of educational status, all religions and races, they are neither just rich or poor.They can be American, Russian or any other country person. But, we in American need to look in the mirror and know that according to “The United States has the worst record in the industrialized nation – losing five children every day due to abuse-related deaths.” We have a problem in the US and it is one that is clearly obvious to the Russians.  The Russians are not simply “crying wolf”.

On December 28th the US department promised prospective parents caught in the midst of incomplete adoptions , via an alert notice, that the US will remain “actively engaged” with Russian authorities to communicate status of those adoptions and urge adoption completion.

In this adoption stalemate, both countries need to take a long hard look at what is ravaging the souls and bodies of their most precious assets. Their children deserve better.

Update: As of February 2013, Russian officials are currently investigating yet another tragic death of an adopted Russian toddler.  A medical examiner’s office has confirmed that the body of Maxim Shatto had bruising.  An autopsy is still pending. Russian officials have accused the American adoptive mother of Maxim of  physical abuse including the dispensing of psychiatric drugs.


Asian News

US State Department

Los Angeles Times

Mail Online


New York Times

New York Times

 Voice of Russia

The Russian Adoption Handbook: How to Adopt from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova

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