An Adoption Law Only King Herod Would Sign

By Victor Davidoff |

After the State Duma passed a bill banning adoptions by Americans, journalist Valery Panyushkin wrote on Facebook, “I know of only two organizations in the world that scare their enemies by harming their own children: Hamas and the United Russia party.”

As a child welfare activist in addition to being a journalist, Panyushkin knows better than most how disastrous the situation is for Russia’s orphans. Today, more than 100,000 orphans live in state institutions, and about 11,000 are adopted in Russia every year. Children with cerebral palsy, other genetic conditions and HIV have it worst of all. Their chances of being adopted in Russia are nil. They are often denied basic care and grow up unable to speak or communicate. As  children’s rights activist Ksenia Fisher wrote on Twitter, “The last time I was in an orphanage, I remember what the kids with disabilities said. They all dream of being adopted by Americans. Otherwise, no one will take them.”

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West. In just a few days, more than 100,000 people signed a petition asking the Duma to vote against the ban. There was even opposition to the ban among some United Russia deputies, and the Kremlin was compelled to take unprecedented tough measures to tame their unruly deputies to vote for the ban. The deputies were given an ultimatum: Vote for the law or be ousted from the faction and lose your parliamentary seat. Deputy Alexander Sidyakin abstained, and he was asked to write a note explaining that the electronic voting system at his seat “broke.” Sidyakin refused and is now awaiting the party’s decision on whether his seat will be taken away.

That wasn’t the only dramatic moment in the debates. Vyacheslav Osipov, another United Russia deputy, had chest pains and didn’t attend the voting. But he left his electronic voting card with another party member. His colleague voted for him, and Osipov’s vote for the ban was duly registered. The twist was that by the time deputies cast their votes, Osipov had already died of a heart attack. Even the most rational mind would see a bad omen in a blessing from a dead man.

In the Russian blogosphere, the law was quickly dubbed “the law of scoundrels” and “the law of King Herod.” As television journalist Alexander Arkhangelsky wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “You can argue about whether the Magnitsky Act is good or bad. But you can’t argue about whether or not our orphaned children should be adopted by families that live in the country that passed the Magnitsky Act. Children are above political interests, sovereignty and citizenship. Any response that uses these children leads to dehumanization.”

The reaction of the country’s liberals could be predicted, but it was surprising to hear negative reactions from people who never disagree with the government. Even some members of the Russian Orthodox Church’s high clergy expressed criticism. On the Web portal “Orthodoxy and the World,” Bishop Panteleimon of Smolensk and Vyazemsk wrote: “It is unacceptable to make decisions that affect children based on political trends. All the laws passed by the government must be based on the interests of people. For the sake of people’s interests, you can even sacrifice the prestige of the state.”

Even more surprising was the opinion of Kremlin-loyal television commentator Mikhail Leontyev, whose anti-Americanism on a scale of one to 10 is a solid 11. Nonetheless, Leontyev came out against the law on his Odnako blog. While not renouncing his standard anti-U.S. rhetoric, he reasonably noted that “there are certainly problems with American adoptions, but not with American adoption in and of itself. Through these adoptions, about 50,000 children have gotten the help, care and love that they couldn’t have gotten in their homeland.”

Although passage of the law was formally motivated by concern for the health and well-being of adopted children, few deputies hid that their real goal was punishing the U.S. Liberal Democratic Party Deputy Sergei Ivanov made this very clear in his statement to the protesters: “We have a huge number of ill-wishers abroad. With this law, we can stop their activities in Russia.”

Just Russia Deputy Svetlana Goryacheva had an even more exotic justification for supporting the law. According to her theory, the U.S. is using these children to form an army to invade Russia. In her speech in the Duma on Wednesday, Goryacheva said that “60,000 children have been taken to the U.S. from Russia. And if even one-tenth of these orphans were used for organ transplants or sexual pleasure, there will remain 50,000 who can be recruited for war against Russia.” Josef Stalin would have applauded that speech with loud cheers of “bravo!”

Indeed, the Soviet government forbade foreign adoptions. They were first allowed during the warming of relations with the U.S. during the last years of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule. It looks like Putin’s time machine, set in motion at the start of his third term, is returning the country to that era. In the past year, inch by inch, Putin has been rebuilding parts of the iron curtain, creating obstacles to free flow of information and personal contacts. On the same day the law on adoptions was passed, the Duma also ratified a law prohibiting people with dual citizenship from heading Russian nongovernmental organizations. It is widely believed that this measure was taken against two people: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a leader of the Yabloko party, wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “This law not only is cruel but also speaks of the Bolshevik nature and Stalinist roots of the Russian political system. This is capitalism with a Stalinist face.”

Now the only question is: How far back into the dark days of the Soviet Union will Putin’s time machine lead the country?

Victor Davidoff is a Moscow-based writer and journalist who follows the Russian blogosphere in his biweekly column.


Hopscotch State Department Conference Call Regarding Russian Adoption

The Hopscotch staff have just finished a State Department conference call and wanted to inform families that the Consul section of the US embassy in Moscow, will be working Saturday and Monday to process children’s visa with same day processing if you have a completed I-600. In addition, the state department will be monitoring/responding to emails from any family in process with a referral from Russia throughout the weekend and holiday.

Saturday is a working day for the Russian government and our state department is urging families with the 30 day court required waiting period completed, to obtain any final documents by close of business on Saturday in order to allow them to process your child’s visa prior to January 1, 2013 when the ban goes into effect.

The State Department is urging all families with an active case in Russia to connect with their office via email

There is a huge task force working tirelessly from virtually every state department office. Hopscotch appreciates the gravity of how serious this development is and the level of attention it has received from our government on behalf of American families and Russian orphans.

Our thoughts and prayers are with each of you during this most difficult time.

Robin, Sarah, Michelle, Megan, Heather, Elizabeth and the Hopscotch Adoptions Board of Directors.

North Carolina Family Adopts Child From Russia

eb16b3a9a65c8e3f693a5b1e4795b956Glade Valley, NC — Not being able to have a child is an emptiness that hundreds of thousands of couples know all too well. The dream of adopting fills that, but now, many families’ dreams may no longer come true.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will sign a bill, which bans Americans from adopting Russian children.

Putin claims US authorities deny access to the adopted Russian children and that Americans suspected of violence towards Russian adoptees go unpunished.

Americans adopted close to 1,000 Russian children last year, according to U.S. State Department figures.

In 2007, Dawn and Keenan Mustin adopted their son Gavin from Russia.

“He was mine from day 1,” explained Dawn. “There are not words to explain it; it’s a wonderful connection and a beautiful thing that this is your forever child, and you will be a forever family and he will love you and you will love him and it will be no different than if you had given birth.”

The Mustin’s adoption process was stalled when Russia temporarily closed the door on international adoptions.

“It was devastating… it’s almost like your world comes crashing down,” said Dawn. “The families right now are very devastated about what is happening to them. They may have met their child and they can’t go back and get their child. Or they’re preparing for their second trip and they may not be able to go get their child and they’ve already had a connection with that child so it would be very hard.”

“For parents that are caught up in the mess, hang in there, there is a child there for you. Somewhere, God has a perfect child planned for you,” said Dawn.

The Mustins are in the process of adopting a little girl from Bulgaria. They hope to make their first trip sometime next year.

UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia.

Today’s Headlines Show the Need for the Donaldson Adoption Institute


To understand just how important the work of the Donaldson Adoption Institute truly is, look no further than today’s headlines:

Putin Signs Law Barring U.S. Adoptions
Internet Adoption in Need of Greater Regulation

Thanks to the support of compassionate and engaged people like you, the Institute is able to play a unique role in improving the lives of all the parties to adoption, especially children who need families. There are few better examples today than two of our current projects: developing best-practice standards to address the decline in intercountry adoptions and providing cutting-edge research and resources relating to the Internet’s historic impact on adoption.

Whether the beneficiaries are children in foster care in our country or in orphanages abroad, whether the issues relate to first/birth parents or adoptive parents or adopted persons, whether the question is about professional practices or better laws and policies, whether the people using our work are legislators or teachers or journalists, the Adoption Institute is there. Just Google either of the headlines above and you’ll see that we are making a real difference by being a voice of reason, a source of vital information and, most important, by working for systemic change that genuinely improves millions of lives.

As 2012 comes to a close, please consider making a tax-deductible, year-end contribution to the Adoption Institute by Dec. 31 so that we can keep our work going at this important time in adoption history.

Thank you and, on behalf of us all at the Institute, I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.


Adam Pertman
Executive Director

Russian Adoption Ban

In what we can only describe as a tragedy, earlier today President Putin signed the ban on intercountry adoption.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2013 and while some details remain unclear, it is being reported that the law supersedes the bi-lateral adoption agreement between the US and Russia.  The status of the adoptions currently in-process is not assured at this time.

The closure of Russia to intercountry adoption follows what is now an all too familiar strain of tragedies.  Children in Vietnam, Nepal, Romania and too many other countries suffer the life-long effects of institutionalization due to the elimination of intercountry adoption as a viable option.  However unlike other closures which were generally based on child protection issues, the Russian ban is particularly stinging in that it is an act of politics, pure and simple.

As a professional advocate for children and the father of two Russian born children, this ban by the Russian government is a loss for my head and my heart….but most of all a loss for the children of Russia.

Best Wishes,

Tom DiFilipo

Adoption Alert: Russia

Federation Council Approves Legislation to Ban Intercountry Adoption by U.S. Families

alertThe Department of State continues to follow developments in Russia related to Federal Law No. 186614-6 and remains actively engaged in discussions with the Russian government regarding concerns that, if signed into law, this legislation will needlessly remove the opportunity for hundreds of Russian orphans to join loving families each year.  The Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian Parliament) approved the legislation in a unanimous vote on December 26 and it will now go to President Vladimir Putin for signature or veto.  The Department of State has not received any notice that adoptions to the United States are suspended, and both the Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continue to work closely with Russian authorities on intercountry adoption issues as set forth in the U.S.-Russia adoption agreement.

U.S. families currently in the process of adopting a child from Russia are encouraged to reach out to the Department of State at to provide information regarding where they are in the adoption process.  We encourage families to use the subject line “Intercountry adoption in Russia – family update.”  We will seek to provide information directly to families that contact our office through email as it becomes available.  Information regarding the passage of any legislation that affects U.S. citizens who are in the process of adopting a child from Russia will also be posted on

Russia: Sign the Petition

Young Adoptee Responds to Ban on Intercountry Adoption in Russia

joint-councilSasha D’Jamoos is a young Russian adoptee with special needs who last week started Voice of the Child, a campaign to encourage the continuation of adoptions between Russia and the United States.  As part of his campaign, Sasha has published a letter and petition to President Putin. Please sign the petition and encourage others to do so as well. Click here to sign the petition and please forward to others who may be interested. Thank you for your support.

Best Wishes,

Tom DiFilipo

IAC 236 Results

IAC results December 20, 2012The following referrals were issued in IAC Session 236 which was held on November 13, 2012. Download the PDF here.

Adopted Children Greeted by Doctors who Specialize in Their Needs

Physicians specializing in adoption medicine are experienced at identifying and helping to care for the unique medical, mental and developmental needs of adoptees.

pprsa1217aBy Carolyne Krupa, amednews staff. Posted Dec. 17, 2012.

When Eleanor Rybicki first came to the office of Elaine Schulte, MD, MPH, in August, she was a frail and tiny baby — so small she didn’t register on U.S. growth charts for her age group.

Joseph and Kimberly Rybicki, who adopted Eleanor from a Chinese orphanage, were nervous, but Dr. Schulte quickly put their fears to rest.

“Eleanor was malnourished and understimulated, both cognitively and physically,” Kimberly Rybicki said. “She could sit up, but just barely. She was not crawling, and it was clear that she had not spent much time on her stomach. Dr. Schulte was very helpful. Because of the experience she has had seeing these children over the years, she didn’t panic.”

Dr. Schulte assured them that Eleanor’s condition was common for children who had spent their earliest months in institutions and advised them that the child would improve with proper care, love and stimulation.

As an adoption medicine specialist and medical director of the International Adoption Program at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Dr. Schulte routinely sees children who come from challenging circumstances. She is one of about 65 physicians in 31 states who focus much of their practices on treating adopted children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Care.

Adoption medicine is not a board-certified specialty. Most pediatricians see at least some adopted patients, but adoption medicine specialists have a specific interest in this patient population. Many have adopted children themselves, and they understand adoptees’ needs and focus on helping families meet those needs.

Most adoption medicine physicians are primary care doctors, or they specialize in infectious diseases or developmental-behavioral pediatrics, said Sarah Springer, MD, a general pediatrician with Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh and medical director of International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania.

“It is definitely a focus of interest that is really interesting and fulfilling,” she said. “You get to know some amazing kids and some amazing families. It’s really fun to see kids blossom who may not otherwise have had the chance.”

Drawn to treating adoptees

Jane Aronson, DO, has treated adopted children for about 25 years. An infectious diseases specialist, she started getting inquiries from adoptive parents, and those questions increased as international adoptions spiked in the 1980s and 1990s. For many years, she had a primary care adoption practice in New York.

Though inspired by the children she treated, Dr. Aronson found that she also wanted to do something for children who weren’t adopted.

“I became aware that there were millions of orphans living in developing countries who weren’t getting the care they needed,” she said.

In 1997, she founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation with the goal of improving living conditions for orphans around the world and helping them become healthy, independent and productive adults. The foundation has helped orphans in 14 countries and remains active in five.

Being an adoption medicine specialist means focusing not just on the unique medical needs of adopted children, but also on their mental, behavioral and developmental health, said Dr. Aronson, who has two adopted sons from Vietnam and Ethiopia.

“Most pediatricians and family doctors are not aware of the issues of adopted children,” she said.

Dana E. Johnson, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics with the divisions of neonatology and global pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, got into adoption medicine after he and his wife adopted their son from India in 1985. At the time, it was difficult to find anyone specializing in treating adopted children. Many adoption agencies seemed to deny that the children had any special needs, he said.

“When we first posed the idea of an international adoption clinic in 1986, we were told no one needs it, because these kids are doing so well,” Dr. Johnson said.

Orphanages provide a rough start

Children who are institutionalized can have a variety of emotional, developmental or behavioral problems, said Dr. Johnson, who has visited orphanages in Russia, Romania, India, China, Nepal and Kazakhstan. Such children don’t receive needed stimulation early in life. They are seldom touched, and that can lead to problems such as trouble with personal contact or balance. The longer children are in an institution, the worse their problems, he said.

“Early institutionalization is catastrophic,” Dr. Johnson said. “What a child really needs is a family as early as possible.”

For many adopted children, the challenges begin before they are born, Dr. Aronson said. They may have birth defects, or are born underweight or premature, because their biological mothers did not get appropriate prenatal care or used drugs or alcohol while they were pregnant.

Many adopted children also come with emotional challenges because of their experiences. Dr. Schulte said many adopted children have attention, learning and behavioral issues. They often struggle with anxiety issues akin to posttraumatic stress disorder.

Because of these children’s unique needs, physicians should perform comprehensive evaluations of newly adopted children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics’ clinical report in the January issue of Pediatrics.

“There are so many issues that we as pediatricians may not normally think about,” said Veronnie Faye Jones, MD, PhD, MSPH, the report’s author. She is a pediatrics professor and an associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “There may be genetic predispositions that you may not know about. A lot of these kids may have unsettling pasts, and there may be a lot of issues that are lingering for them.”

More than 100,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year, including about 22,000 international adoptions, the report said.

Increasingly complex cases

Dr. Springer said it’s important to educate physicians about the needs of adopted patients. She routinely sees children with physical, mental or developmental disabilities, such as complicated heart problems and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

“We work hard to help educate all physicians about what the needs of these kids are, and to help them understand that — while they may look as healthy as all the other kids walking into your office — you need to consider the trauma they may have experienced,” Dr. Springer said.

International adoptions have decreased in recent years as countries like China and Russia have increased restrictions. As a result, more special-needs children are being adopted from abroad, Dr. Springer said. “The numbers of kids are way down, but the complexities of their needs are way up,” she said.

Adopting a healthy child from China can take several years, so the Rybickis adopted a child with special needs. They selected from a list of special needs they thought they could handle. They were matched in March with Eleanor, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, and held her for the first time Aug. 6.

“The nanny walked up and just handed her to us. It was completely surreal,” said Kimberly Rybicki, a registered nurse in the cardiac progressive care unit at Cleveland Clinic. “There is nothing that can prepare you for that experience.”

Eleanor’s lip was repaired in China, and she had surgery to fix her palate in mid-November. Dr. Schulte has been a guiding force through it all, Rybicki said. Early on, she ordered several tests to make sure Eleanor didn’t have any other health issues and brought her up to date on vaccinations. She also helped the Rybickis find the best way to solve Eleanor’s sleep problems as she adjusted to her new environment.

“Dr. Schulte was very, very helpful in helping us know what to do and what to expect,” Rybicki said. “Adoption in and of itself is a special need. You want a primary physician who understands the needs of your child.”

Resilient young patients

Like Eleanor, many of Dr. Schulte’s patients are malnourished and understimulated initially. Dr. Schulte became an adoption medicine specialist after adopting two girls — now 15 and 16 — from China in 1997 and 1998. In 2007, she started Cleveland Clinic’s International Adoption Program.

Dr. Schulte said it’s incredible to watch her patients’ resilience as they grow and flourish with their new families.

“One of the greatest pleasures for me to observe as a physician is to see what happens between the first visit and the follow-up visit [four months later],” said Dr. Schulte, also chair of the Dept. of General Pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.

Dr. Johnson said the specialty can be rewarding and challenging. In one instance, a family he worked with was preparing to pick up their child in India when the government raided the orphanage. The adoption was delayed, and the child spent more than six months in a government institution. Her growth stagnated as a result, Dr. Johnson said.

When the family finally brought her home, she was put into therapy. Now a teenager, the girl is thriving. She plays the violin and speaks at fundraisers for international adoption.

“She is a star and just a shining example of how resilient children are and how important families are,” Dr. Johnson said. “It is just enormously gratifying to see something like that.”

Dr. Springer, who adopted two children in the U.S., said as many as 75% of her patients are adopted or in foster care. They provide many inspirational moments.

“You see miraculous changes in kids all the time,” Dr. Springer said. “With the right family and the right support, kids can do more than you would ever imagine.”

Correction to Article: 2011 brought only 9319 children home through international adoption.  The number quoted in this article reflects 2004 statistics.

Russian Adoptees Finding Their Voice

Young Adoptee Responds to the Ban on Intercountry Adoption in Russia

3863Sasha D’Jamoos is a young Russian adoptee with special needs who just yesterday started Voice of the Child, a campaign to encourage the continuation of adoptions between Russia and the United States.  As part of his campaign, Sasha has published a letter and petition which he will personally deliver to the Russian Embassy in Washington DC on Wednesday, December 26th.

Sasha has asked for our support, and yours, in publicizing his campaign and requesting that as many individuals as possible sign the petition.   I told him that he could count on us – that we would as an organization and coalition, support them in helping other children find what they found, a safe, permanent and loving family.

Sasha’s letter and petition can be found at Voice of the Child.   Please consider encouraging your colleagues, clients, families and friends to sign the petition today.

Best Wishes,

Tom DiFilipo

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