Eastern European Adoptions

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Eastern European adoptions

With the exception of the children adopted for a brief period following World War II, before 1989, nearly all intercountry adoptions were of children from Latin American or Asian countries, and Korea was the principal country from where children were adopted by Westerners. But with the downfall of despot Ceaucescu in Romania also came the revelation that many thousands of children languished in Romanian orphanages. When the terrible plight of the children was shown to American television viewers, many individuals who had never considered adopting a child began actively pursuing the idea.

As it became known that it was possible to adopt the children, adoptive parents from Western countries surged forward to adopt them. The leading country adopting Romanian children was the United States, whose citizens adopted 2,594 children in 1991. (See ROMANIAN ADOPTIONS.) This number declined dramatically as adoption abuses were uncovered and Romanian officials struggled to put appropriate controls in place.

Several years after Ceaucescu's fall, adoptions of children from the former Soviet Union to other countries began. In 1994, 1,530 children were adopted from these countries and that number surged to 3,816 in 1997 and 4,491 in 1998. The total number of intercountry adoptions to the U.S. in 1998 was 15,774, so adoptions from countries formerly part of the USSR represented nearly one-third of the total. In fact, Russia was the country from which the most children were adopted in the most recent two years as of this writing. (See RUSSIA.)

Reasons for These Adoptions

Experts have postulated a variety of reasons for why so many Americans have chosen to adopt children from Eastern Europe. One reason is probably that many of the children are of the Caucasian race and white parents from the United States and other countries believe or know that it can be difficult to adopt white children from their own countries. Another reason is the generous spirit of many adopters, who felt a surge of sympathy and love for the children abandoned to orphanages and wanted to share their home and family with those children.

Who Adopted

In contrast to most adoptive parents in the United States who adopt children "domestically" (adopting children from their own country), many of the adoptive parents of Eastern European children already had biological children, and some could have had more children had they chosen to. Most people who adopt from adoption agencies who place U.S. children are infertile individuals who have no children.

Much Success and Some Problems

The vast majority of parents who have adopted children from Eastern Europe have expressed satisfaction with their children. Children who came to them with serious problems usually showed dramatic catch-up growth and improvements that amazed pediatricians and researchers.

However, to the dismay of some parents, they found that the developmental delays caused by orphanage living and other problems were not as easily surmountable as they initially believed. As with foster children adopted within the United States, research revealed that the older the child was at the time of placement, the higher the probability that the child could have some developmental problem. In some cases, these problems were severe.

In addition, some of the children were found to have FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME (FAS), a condition complicated by the fact that FAS may not be clearly detectable. Many people mistakenly believe that the features of FAS closely resemble DOWN SYNDROME, but in fact, FAS features can be far subtler and it is a very different problem.

In response to the intense desire to adopt, hundreds of adoption agencies were created, some with experience in adoption and others with none, seemingly almost overnight in some cases. In addition, individuals in Romania also responded to this pressing desire to adopt, and in some cases, it was clear that BABY SELLING was going on, and substantial sums of money were surreptitiously (or even openly) exchanged as cab drivers and others made adoption arrangements.

Romanians and Americans became horrified by these practices, and Romania temporarily closed its doors to adoption until policies could be developed to manage the adoptions. The number of Romanian adoptions fell to 621 in 1997 and to 406 in 1998, replaced by a surge of adoptions in Russia.

Adoption experts hope that the HAGUE CONVENTION ON INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION, once ratified and implemented by the U.S. and other countries, will create a system to enable a humanitarian, orderly and noncorrupt system whereby children can be adopted from country to country. The Hague Convention, which is a treaty, is expected to be signed and implemented in the early years of the twenty-first century.

The Future

As with all intercountry adoptions, it is impossible to predict even 6 to 12 months in the future. The only certainty is that countries will continue to "close" and "open" their doors to adoption. The adoption of Russian and Romanian children may continue or may cease altogether, and quite abruptly. Should that happen, it is likely that the plethora of intercountry adoption agencies will turn their sights to other Eastern European countries that may agree to the adoption of their institutionalized children who live in orphanages.


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