WASHINGTON (BP)--In a milestone for the international adoption community, the United States and Russia have reached an agreement that will allow adoptions between the two countries to continue, more than a year after a Tennessee woman angered adoption advocates and the Russian government by sending her adopted son back to his home country.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the bilateral agreement July 13. Each country now must take steps to implement it, although both sides indicated those were a formality.
The agreement is significant for two reasons. First, Russia had threatened to cease adoptions to the U.S. after a Shelbyville, Tenn., woman placed her 7-year-old son on a plane bound for Russia in 2010, approximately seven months after she had adopted him from the country. Russian's president called her action a "monstrous deed," and it was only the latest in several incidents involving Russian children adopted by U.S. families.
Second, Russia has an estimated 250,000 orphans in various orphanages, and adoption is not a popular option for the country's citizens. If the orphans are to find a home, it often must come from outside the country.
The agreement will place additional safeguards to better protect children adopted by U.S. families. According to a State Department release, the agreement means that:
-- only adoption agencies authorized by the Russian government will be able to operate in Russia and facilitate adoptions, meaning that independent adoptions won't be allowed. Exceptions will be made in the case of an adoption of a child by his or her relatives.
-- prospective adoptive parents will receive more complete information about children's social and medical histories and needs.
-- Russia will receive periodic reports about children who are adopted by U.S. families. The information -- completed by the family's U.S. social worker -- will include the child's psychological and physical development.
"We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents, and this agreement provides new, important safeguards to protect them," Clinton said. "It also increases transparency for all parties involved in the adoption process."
In a conference call, a State Department official said the U.S. government would not be involved in the periodic reports to Russia. The official also emphasized that the Russians would not have the authority to bring the child back, once he or she is adopted.
Russell D. Moore, an adoptive father and the dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., applauded the agreement. He and his wife adopted two boys from Russia. The steps outlined in the agreement are "not only reasonable, but just," Moore said.
"Those of us who care about orphan care shouldn't want adoption to be easy," Moore wrote in a column on his blog July 14. "We should want it to take as long as necessary to ensure the best interest of the children involved."
He added that the "best possible news would be the end for the need for any kind of accord because the orphanages of Russia would be empty" if the need for them could be alleviated.
"Adoption is an important but secondary aspect of orphan care," Moore wrote. "The first priority is to keep families together, and to alleviate the conditions (poverty and substance addiction, chief among them) that create fatherlessness in the first place."
Orphans who are never adopted, Moore noted, move out of the orphanage at age 18 and often turn to drugs, prostitution or suicide.
"The orphans of the world, whether in Russia or India or Alabama, are among the most vulnerable imaginable," Moore wrote. "And Jesus has identified the 'least of these' as his brothers and sisters (Matt. 25:40). When we care for them, we care for him."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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