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How the new Russian adoption ban affects US families

Children play in an orphanage in Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin has just signed a law that bans further adoptions of Russian children by families in the United States.
Children play in an orphanage in Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin has just signed a law that bans further adoptions of Russian children by families in the United States.
Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

Now that Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a bill banning Russian adoptions to the United States, the implications for hopeful adoptive parents are enormous. Russia is one of the top three foreign countries from which American families adopt children.

The measure is named for Dima Yakovlev, a Russian-born toddler who died in 2008 after his American adoptive father left him in an overheated car. Observers regarded it as a punitive step in retaliation for a new U.S. trade law that denies visas to Russians involved in the 2009 murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption attorney, and any others believed to have violated human rights or defrauded the Russian government.

What happens next? While the most immediate impact will be to a reported 46 American families who are in the later stages of adopting a Russian child, and an estimated 1,500 more who have begun the process, it also affects would-be adoptive parents who have yet to get started.

One thing the measure does is limit Americans' choices for adopting foreign children. Russia and neighboring Ukraine, both among the top source country for U.S. adoptions, are in part popular because they've allowed Americans to adopt white European children with relative ease. Will the new Russian law steer more couples toward adopting nonwhite children domestically or from non-European nations? Will some would-be adoptive parents give up on the process?

There are many unanswered questions, among them whether there is any way Russian adoptions  in progress can be grandfathered in, says Lori Weiner, executive director of Adoption Options, Inc. That San Diego-based adoption agency specializes in international adoptions and has placed hundreds of Russian children with families in the U.S.

Here Weiner addresses a few basics, and what hopeful adoptive parents need to know:

M-A: How many families could be affected? Is your agency representing any at the moment, and what would be the emotional fallout for these hopeful adoptive parents?

Weiner: Thousands of families will be affected by this ban, as there are people in different phases of their adoption process throughout the U.S. We have numerous families who are currently in the process of their adoptions from Russia, whether they have gone to court in Russia and are waiting the 30-day waiting period to bring their children home, or have gone to Russia to meet their children and are waiting for a court date.  

We also have families who are waiting to be matched with a child or children. All of these families are having a difficult time right now and are anxious that they may not be able to bring their children home.  

There are thousands of children in orphanages in Russia. Those children who are available for intercountry adoption would be affected by not being adopted into “forever families.”  I have had many families in the past few days report to me how they wish the Russian government could see how well their children are doing and how much they are thriving in their “forever families.”

M-A: Might these families have any legal recourse if the bill becomes law?

Weiner: There are very few answers as of now in terms of legal recourse.

M-A: What is your agency advising families in the adoption process with Russia to do?

Weiner: We have been advising our families to write letters to President Obama, state representatives, senators, and Congress members as well as contacting the U.S. State Department. Now that the bill has been signed, we will be waiting until after the Russian holidays, which end January 9, to find out more information regarding the adoptions that have already gotten started, etc.  

For the families who are in the earlier stages of the process and have not yet traveled to Russia, we will also be looking into adoptions from other countries.

M-A: Do you think it might it drive some families to consider domestic or non-European adoptions?

Weiner: Though Russia has been one of the top countries to adopt from for many years, there are many other options for people who are starting the adoption process if they choose international adoption.  

It is hard to say if people may choose to consider domestic or non-Eastern European adoptions. There are often specific reasons that people choose to adopt internationally versus domestically; these are often very personal to the people adopting. We have done and continue to do international adoption home studies for families adopting from countries all over the world.

M-A: Why, based on your experience, is Russia one of the top sources for U.S. adoptions? 

Weiner: The longer a country has been doing international adoptions, generally the more developed the adoption system is in that country, and Russia has been doing international adoptions for quite some time. Though the rules and laws have changed over time, adoptions from Russia have been consistent until now.  

Additionally, a large majority of the children in Russia are Caucasian and many Caucasian families who are adopting wish to adopt a child that looks similar to their family.

M-A: Lastly, what if any other steps should hopeful adoptive parents take?

Weiner: I would advise families who are looking into international adoption to do as much research as possible by talking to agencies, talking to other families who have adopted, and researching online.  A great place to start is the State Department website, they have quite a bit of information on international adoptions country by country and their intercountry adoption website is easy to navigate. Another good website to look at is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Read more details about Russian adoptions and the new law here.

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