- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The near-moratorium on adoptions with Russia was lifted Wednesday when top U.S. and Russian officials signed an unprecedented pact on intercountry adoption.

“We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a signing ceremony at the State Department with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“This agreement provides new important safeguards to protect them. It also increases transparency for all parties involved in the adoption process,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The adoption agreement is “absolutely bilateral,” with guarantees and safeguards to make sure Russian children will be well cared for by U.S. adoptive parents, Mr. Lavrov said. Officials in Russia will soon be ratifying the document to “speed the process up,” he added.

U.S. adoptions of Russian children have slowed in recent years because of reports of abuse, molestation and death in adoptive homes. A media furor broke out in April 2010 after a Tennessee adoptive mother sent her young Russian son back to Russia on a plane by himself with a note saying she didn’t want to parent him anymore because he was mentally ill.

Under the new agreement, only “authorized organizations” will be permitted to conduct adoptions with Russian children, and all adoptions must be conducted through those organizations. This will “eliminate independent adoptions of children from Russia by U.S. families, except in situations where a child is being adopted by a relative,” the State Department said.

In addition, intercountry adoption officials will ask for new assessments of prospective adoptive parents, including their psychological well-being, and gather more details on the medical and social histories of adoptable children. This is to ensure that adoptive parents receive training on how to handle each child’s special needs.

Adopted children must be registered with the Russian Embassy or local consulate in the U.S. and meet other post-placement reporting rules required by Russian law. These will include social-worker visits to the adoptive family’s home and reports to Russian authorities about each child’s psychological and physical development. Adoption disruptions must be reported as soon as possible to U.S. and Russian authorities.

The agreement is not retroactive, and adoptions already in progress may be able to continue without meeting the agreement’s rules, the State Department said.

Despite the tensions, Russia is still the third-largest “sending” country, with 1,082 children adopted in 2009, according to federal adoption data. However, in the 1990s, thousands of Russian children who were left in institutions or abandoned by their families were adopted each year by Americans.

Mr. Lavrov said it took more than a year to negotiate the pact because “this is the first agreement of such a nature” and U.S. states have regulations about adoption.

Mrs. Clinton, a longtime children’s advocate, said she was especially pleased to sign the pact. “We want all children, whether they be Russian children or American children, to be able to have loving homes with families that will take good care of them,” she said.

In addition to the adoption pact, the two officials signed agreements about travel visas, the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, and air traffic and safety.