The XX Factor

Russia Suspends U.S. Adoptions

Russia formally suspended U.S. adoptions today. With the outrage and publicity that’s surrounded the case of Torry Hansen, the woman who put her adopted 7-year-old son on a plane back to Russia, the suspension was almost a foregone conclusion. (iI’s worth noting that when a woman abandoned an adopted Guatemalan boy in a Florida airport upon arrival in the United States to little or no publicity, no formal actions were taken by either country.) Russia is embarrassed; it was bound to act, and now it has, seeking an agreement that will allow it to “monitor” the living conditions of Russian children adopted to the United States . They might also want to look closer to home.

Doctors and other professionals who, anecdotally, say they see a higher percentage of adoption disruptions (that’s the word used when an adoptive family gives up a child) and the need for serious psychological help among children adopted from Russian and other Eastern European countries have long placed some of the blame on the institutional systems . Children who are physically cared for, but not given a chance to bond with a particular caregiver, can later have a more difficult time “attaching” to anyone at all. It seems counterintuitive, but the harder it is for a child to part with his previous home-whether it’s an orphanage or a foster home-the easier it is for him to grieve and then adapt to a new place. That’s all very cold, clinical language to cover a messy reality.

Russia can suspend adoptions-and it’s not clear yet what that will mean: The two families traveling in Russia that I mentioned in my article about my own adoption process report that they’ve been allowed to continue, while families who’ve traveled once to meet their children and are waiting to return and finalize their adoptions are uncertain what will happen next. It can increase its “monitoring” of Russian children adopted to the United States, but without improvements in its own institutions, it will still be monitoring the same children, in the same situations. A disrupted adoption that tears apart the family and the child involved is still a tragedy, even if it isn’t news.