Russian adoption ban influenced by Shelbyville case

Sunday, January 19, 2014

NEW YORK -- A year after Russia imposed a ban on adoptions by Americans, some affected U.S. families are reluctantly looking elsewhere to adopt. Others refuse to abandon flickering hopes of uniting with the Russian children who won their hearts.

Russian authorities have spurned requests from U.S. officials to reconsider the ban.

The adoption ban was intended in part as retaliation for a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russians deemed to be human rights violators.

Local case's effect

However, Russian authorities used debate on the bill to complain about mistreatment and lack of post-adoption oversight affecting Russian children adopted by Americans, including the high-profile 2010 case where Torry Hansen, at that time a Shelbyville resident, sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Moscow on a plane alone.

Hansen said in a note sent with the child that he was violent, had psychological problems and she didn't want him anymore.

Thirty-three of the families have filed appeals with the European Court of Human Rights, contending that the ban violates the rights of the orphans whose adoptions were thwarted. But there's no tight time frame for the case, and even a favorable ruling might be unenforceable if Russia objects.

"I don't see movement on the Russian side, and on the U.S. side we've heard nothing," said Diana Gerson, a New York City rabbi who had her heart set on adopting a Russian toddler. "I feel in many ways we were abandoned."

Many halted

By the Russians' count, the ban halted the pending adoptions of 259 children. Roughly 230 U.S. families, some seeking to adopt more than one child, were affected -- including scores of Americans who had bonded face-to-face with the children during visits to their orphanages.

The Americans have been dropped from Russia's official roster of prospective adoptive parents, and many of the orphans -- possibly more than half -- already have been placed with Russian families.

At Christmas, several dozen of the Americans signed an open letter to the children they had hoped to adopt. The letter, published by some Russian media outlets, expressed gratitude to the Russian families who had taken in some of the children, while also hinting at a whirl of other emotions.

"It has now been one year since we've held you in our arms and promised you we would be back and together as a family," the letter said. "We only want you to know that we love you today, tomorrow, and forever even though we are miles across the ocean."

Some attention

Throughout the 12 months, the issue has occasionally resurfaced, then faded from the news spotlight.

There was a flurry of activity in May, when more than 150 members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A congressional delegation visiting Moscow urged Russian officials to allow completion of the pending adoptions. And many of the affected families visited Washington, seeking support for their cause.

Developments related to the ban have been followed closely by some American parents who'd previously adopted children from Russia.

Challenges

Among them is Tina Traster of Valley Cottage, N.Y., who is writing a book, "Rescuing Julia Twice," about the sometimes wrenching challenges that she and her husband faced after adopting an 8-month-old girl from a Siberian orphanage 11 years ago.

It took years for the couple to conclude that Julia had a condition known as reactive attachment disorder that limited her sociability and emotional outreach.

"We've made it our life's work to make her as grounded and stable and attached as possible," Traster said. "But these children are different... The journey is complicated. It's heartbreaking at times."

While Traster would like Russia to lift the ban, she also hopes the dispute helps educate more Americans about the challenges of adopting children with emotional difficulties, as was often the case with Russian orphans.