MOSCOW - Russia is going through a home-grown adoption boom.
In the changing landscape of adoption, 6,700 children were adopted or placed with foster parents inside of Russia last year. It is a marked change since the mid-2000s, when most adoptive parents were foreigners.
Now the majority of Russian adoptees are adopted by Russian parents. Last year, only 31.4% of the children adopted in Russia were adopted by foreigners.
But there’s also another, less optimistic figure: last year 6,337 adoptees were returned to orphanages, the vast majority at the initiative of their new parents. It is clear that in nearly all cases, the children were rejected by their new parents due to conflicts in the family.
Russia has begun instituting "adoption schools," which provide training for prospective adoptive parents, to limit such unfortunate conclusions. These schools have opened all over the country, and since September are required for anyone who wants to adopt a child in Russia.
One adoption school has been in operation in the Moscow Orphanage No. 19 for the past 20 years. Here, prospective parents could meet with a child only after having gone through the training. The orphanage’s specialists would choose parents for the children after this. Some were ultimately refused. Then the child would live with the family as a foster child, until the child either reached legal age or was officially adopted. The orphanage helped the foster parents financially and also gave them psychological, medical, social and legal support.
“More than 900 people took part in the training,” says Irina Osina, head of the department that prepares families for adoption at the Orphanage No. 19. “A successful adoptive or foster family requires much more than the typical signs of success. They have to have a certain level of knowledge, skill and experience in order to structure their relationship with the child correctly."
How to provide support and help, and to avoid hurting the child or giving him or her false promises or hopes, is at the heart of the training. "In our experience, only 30% of those who want to become adoptive or foster parents realize what kinds of problems they will have to face," says Osina.
Now, the Ministry of Education has made these specialized three-month training courses mandatory for everyone who is planning to take in a child. The prospective parents are told about the fears and disappointments that they might go through during a foster child’s adaption to the family. They are also taught how to prepare their own relatives for the new child’s arrival.
For foreign parents hoping to adopt a Russian child, it is not necessary to take the course in Russia, but they will have to show proof that they have completed a similar course in their home country.
In general, specialists welcome the new law, but it was not completely free of controversy. Some have been exempted from the course, such as those who have been successful foster parents, as well as close relatives, including step-parents. The paradox, though, is that most of the time when children are brought back to the orphanage, it is by relatives who had adopted them, not by unrelated adoptive parents.
This can be explained by several factors, both psychological (unrelated adoptive parents are often more prepared to take responsibility for the child) and material. It turns out that relatives, especially elderly relatives, will give up guardianship voluntarily if they do not have money to feed the child or provide adequate housing.
Another problem related to the organization of the adoption schools is that there are not enough specialists to teach them. Without good teachers, experts say, the future of these well-meaning reforms is still unclear.