Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Relatives of Russian adoptees

from USA Today, 04/09/07

By Wendy Koch<http://www.usatoday .com/community/ tags/reporter. aspx?id=643> , USATODAY Ruslan Pettyjohn lives in a home with a pool, plays on a soccer team,goes bike-riding with friends and has two doting parents. He seems tohave everything a 13-year-old American boy would want. Except he doesn't have his big sister, Olga.When Ruslan was adopted from Russia nearly four years ago, she was leftbehind in their village, sweeping floors and living in a condemnedbuilding with broken windows and no running water. She looked after himfor years in the orphanage after their birth mother died. To give him abetter life, she signed off on his adoption.As international adoptions have soared, American parents are dealingwith an unintended consequence: siblings torn apart. More parents aresearching for their children's biological relatives, hoping to help themreconnect with their roots. Some want to adopt the kin; others just wantto visit.Now families are working together to seek a U.S. immigration fix, suchas a visitor program, that would allow brothers and sisters to see eachother. They're getting help from Empire Bay Group, a Washingtonconsulting firm, in approaching members of Congress. FIND MORE STORIES IN: Russia Family Ronald Federici Federici "We're committed to creating a path" for relatives to come to the USA,says Joan Knipe, Ruslan's adoptive mother. She and her husband, StevePettyjohn, of Scottsdale, Ariz., didn't know about Olga Lukinova untilRuslan's adoption was nearly complete. He didn't speak English, so hecouldn't tell them.They have tried to adopt her, but so far, she has been denied visas. Shelacks the formal schooling to qualify for a student visa and thefinancial assets for a tourist visa. Now they are seeking specialpermission because they're running out of time. For her to be adopted,Arizona state law requires her to enter the USA by her 22nd birthday,May 25."She doesn't know how to ride a bike. I could teach her," says blue-eyedRuslan, who clings to pictures of Olga when his mother reads HarryPotter to him at bedtime.To help other families in a similar plight, Knipe last year founded SaveOrphaned Siblings, a non-profit group that has attracted about 50families with children adopted from Russia. "We're just a group of moms who want to get some laws changed," saysJohanna Babcock, a kindergarten teacher who adopted two boys fromRussia. "We want to get these kids here."Her younger son, Sergei, 8, adopted at 2, has two teenage sisters inRussia. She found out about them when she got his final adoption papersand tracked them down. "I felt when I met these girls, they are themissing piece," says Babcock, of Locust Valley, N.Y. "My boys don'tunderstand why they're not here."Obstacles abound The families face obstacles. Many say they can't get visas for relativesto visit the USA because the relatives often don't have enough assets toassure authorities they would return to Russia. "Congress didn't create any special category" for adopters' relatives,says Tony Edson, deputy assistant secretary for visa services at theState Department. An application to adopt an orphan from another countrymust be filed by the time the child is 16 unless a younger sibling hasalready been adopted, in which case the age limit is 18. Once in theUSA, foreigners may be adopted as adults, depending on each state's law.Another obstacle is a new Russian process for accrediting adoptionagencies that has left most American agencies waiting for approval to beable to send orphans to the USA, says Thomas Atwood, president of theNational Council for Adoption. He says the Russian government has beenrestricting international adoption, prompted partly by the few buthorrific cases of Russian kids adopted by Americans who later abusedthem. The number of U.S. adoptions from Russia rose dramatically between 1992and 2004 but has since fallen markedly. Legal obstacles have left the Pettyjohns desperate. They're requesting aspecial kind of visa, known as "humanitarian parole," that theDepartment of Homeland Security grants in rare cases for what it calls a"very compelling emergency," such as medical treatment. Their firstapplication was rejected, but they're filing a second one. "I do believe this is life or death," says Knipe, a director atCaremark, a pharmaceutical firm. She says Olga has been sick twice thisyear with respiratory infections and is so thin that size 0 pants arebaggy.When Knipe mails Olga clothes or English-language tapes, they're stolen,Knipe says. She is careful not to send much money because she doesn'twant Olga to be a target of thieves. She wants to educate Olga and giveher a family. Olga's mother died at 33, and Knipe doesn't know whathappened to the father. Two other brothers were adopted by a relativeand stayed together.Russian orphans are exposed to "shocking levels of cruelty and neglect"and carry a lifelong stigma that results in many ending up homeless,according to a Human Rights Watch report in 1998. The report says 95% ofchildren in orphanages have a living parent, but many families are toopoor or abusive to take care of their kids.Jane Aronson, a pediatrician who has visited orphanages in manycountries and runs the non-profit Worldwide Orphans Foundation, saysre-establishing sibling ties makes "a huge difference" for adopted kids,who often struggle with questions about their birth parents."The more adoptees are connected to their roots, the better they are,"says Aronson, who adopted a boy from Ethiopia and another from Vietnam."Every parent who adopts feels guilty about a child left behind." Shesays she's 55, but she would adopt her sons' siblings "in a heartbeat,"if she could.People adopted as kids from Korea, which sent more orphans to the USAthan any other country in the early 1990s, are now going back as adultsto find relatives.In the USA, there has been a growing sensitivity in the past 25 years tokeeping siblings together in foster care or adoption, says BarbaraHolton, project manager of Adopt US Kids, a federally financed programthat promotes domestic adoption."Brothers and sisters who've lost everything don't need to lose eachother as well," says Holton, who adopted two children from Korea and onefrom Vietnam in the 1970s, when there was less push to adopt U.S. kids. Holton says her family recently returned from Vietnam, where she lookedfor the orphanage her 32-year-old son came from. It was gone, along withall records. She says it was a sad moment when they realized he'd neverfind his relatives.'Fraught with potential pitfalls' Still, re-establishing such ties is not for "the faint of heart," Holtonsays. "It's fraught with potential pitfalls," she says, including thepossibility that the adoptive parents could get scammed.Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist and author of Help for the HopelessChild, says he has seen too many naive American parents being extortedfor money by the relatives of their adopted children. "The majority ofthe cases I've dealt with have been disasters," he says. In some cases,he says, the adoptees are traumatized again when they find out theirsiblings are living on the street or their birth mother doesn't want tosee them.He says one client, a stockbroker, sent $5,000 a month to a Romanianorphanage to help the siblings of his adopted children but later foundout that the orphanage director was pocketing the money.Federici says reunions can be valuable for children like Ruslan who wereadopted when they were older and had clear attachments to a sibling. Buthe questions the value for kids adopted so young they don't remembertheir original families. "It's not always the healing, holistic factor some would think," saysFederici, who knows where all the siblings are of the seven children headopted from Eastern Europe. He says his kids, now 18 to 25, have "nodesire" to meet them, although one visits her birth mother in Belarus.Some adoptees push their parents for answers about their pasts. OnMother's Day 2000, then-first-grader Tatiana Kirkpatrick tearfully askedwhat her birth mother looks like. Mary Kirkpatrick, who had adopted thegirl from a Siberian orphanage when she was 18 months old, says she felthurt at first by the request but later understood. She hired a freelancereporter for his investigative skills and spent $2,400 to track down thewoman, whom Tatiana has since met.In 2003, Kirkpatrick launched Russian Family Search, a non-profit effortto help others locate relatives. She now has three full-timereporter/photograph ers and three part-timers in Russia who do the work.Kirkpatrick charges families only what the reporters charge her,typically $500 to $600 per search if several are done at the same time.She's working on 50 requests now and expects to receive 200 this year.They take four to six weeks.She has helped find dozens of people, including Olga. Since Kirkpatrickand Knipe both live in the Phoenix area, they frequently meet tocoordinate efforts, hoping to assist families adopting from othercountries, too.Knipe and her husband, who have no other children, originally planned toadopt a child from foster care in this country, which has about 114,000kids waiting for adoption. A friend suggested they give parenting abrief try first. They agreed to host a Russian child visiting their areain a three-week cultural-exchange program.Three days after Ruslan landed on their doorstep, Knipe says, herhusband came to her in tears, saying, "We have to adopt him." Ruslanreturned to Russia, and nine months later they followed. They went backlast year to visit Olga."I knew when we were all together for two weeks, we were a completefamily," Knipe says. They arrange to call Olga, who has no phone, at theorphanage every other week. Knipe has promised her that regardless ofwhether they can adopt her, "I'll always be your mother."They've called, written and met with members of Congress, requestinghelp to rescue Olga. And they wait, with a bedroom in their housepainted in light blue and white, Olga's favorite colors.Knipe says Olga and Ruslan need each other: "These two will seek eachother out for the rest of their lives."[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

No comments: