Dima Yakovlev Bill, Russian Adoptions, and Dissolutions by Death

Many in the adoption community are discussing the December 28th Dima Yakovlev Bill or ban on Russian children adoptions by US citizens. Dima Yakovlev was the original name of a toddler Russian boy, adopted by US parents, who was left in a hot car in the summer months and died. The news has brought forth high emotions on social media and in the articles’ comments sections. The themes that are most common seem to be the following: the United States has many children needing homes, why go abroad? Adoptive parents (majority white) choose Russia to adopt same race, white children, and thus do not have to worry about cultural socialization, and finally, white adoptive parents do not want to adopt children in the US because they are of color and because first parents can still be involved. All of these are valid points but don’t address the current ban, it’s purpose, and motivation.

This ban, clearly retaliatory in nature, came after the US instituted Magnitsky Act. That law imposes asset freezes and visa restrictions on Russian officials linked to the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail in 2009 and other alleged human rights abuses. Now Russia is reportedly outraged by abuses of Russian children that happened in the past decade and instituted this ban. This is incongruent at best and a downright fabrication at worst.

Last summer a group of adult adopted persons, self included, many of whom are founding members of the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) met with members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) on Capital Hill to discuss many policy concerns. Among them was adoption dissolutions and disruptions and the fact that these largely go unmonitored.

Here is an excerpt of what I said:

I will take a moment to highlight the Dissolution by Deaths for internationally adopted children. We are grateful for the Forever Family Forever Dead tribute found on the Daily Bastardette blog. It acknowledges the over 18 Russian children who have died because of murder or gross negligence by their adoptive/forever parents. More recently we acknowledge the death of Hana Williams, an adoptee from Ethiopia, who was slowly starved and tortured to death at age 13 by her adoptive parents. Dissolutions by death or less drastic means are NOT monitored in a central database. Agencies are NOT held accountable for reporting dissolutions.

If these deaths were truly the motivation for this ban than Russian most certainly would not have entered into a new negotiation on international adoptions with the United States as recently as November 2012 and this ban would have been enacted years ago. Perhaps after Artyem was returned at age 7 by a US mother who reported that she no longer could parent him. What is outrageous is the timing of this ban and impact on Russian children in institutions.

Yesterday, on the President of Russia homepage, this post revealed new orders to establish policies that would encourage more inter country adoption and provide support for adoptive families. Vladimir Putin indicated that maybe the quality of life in Russia was not as good as elsewhere (meaning the USA) but questioned why they are sending their children to live abroad when they should be caring for them at home. Somewhere I read that he questioned their loss of national identity and culture. These also are valid points. Ones that are made frequently in the international adoption arena. My hope is that Russia is serious in its new policy mandates to care for its thousands of institutionalized children.





Ethics in Multicultural Practice

I am a Latina person who was raised in suburban Philadelphia. There were very few Latino or Hispanics, as this group was called at that time, in my community and school. I learned by the second grade that it was easiest to pretend I was Italian than risk social isolation and teasing if I disclosed my original home country.  This dodging and weaving of my true identity made adolescence that much more complicated. I think about this a lot as the holidays approach and I make my way home to be with family. The surrounding area of my growing up town has changed demographically. Mexican and Central American taquerias and mercados replaced most of the former Italian owned stores and eateries. Every time I make the drive back home I wonder if and how my identity integration would have been accelerated or not if I grew up with this community in such close proximity.

So I was particularly saddened when I saw yet another unpleasant story out of Penn State. This story is not of the same tragic magnitude as the disgraceful news of last year, but rather another glimpse into racism and long held stereotypes. A sorority posted a photo of their Mexican themed party. Most wore sombreros and serapes. They held signs that said “Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it”. I thought about the large percentage of my graduating class that went to Penn State. I did not even visit knowing that my goal was to get out of the state as soon as possible. And I thought about how things seem possibly worse than they were 20 plus years ago. The sorority apologized for upholding “untrue stereotypes”. But the truth is that many janitorial staff, grounds crews, and child care workers remain largely populated by Latinos. There are many reasons for this and I will not go into them here but all the reasons remind me that we still need to be especially mindful and sensitive to providing culturally sensitive and quality services to immigrant and minority populations.

By choice I live in an ethnically and racially diverse area of northern Virginia. The local Family and Child Services department utilizes independent therapists to work with Spanish speaking immigrant first families seeking reunification with their children. I applied to be one of the therapists and am finding that I exceedingly enjoy this aspect of working with this population. It combines all the things I am most passionate about: parent and child relationships, trauma and its impact on families, the Spanish language, and cultural awareness. I am often horribly outraged when I learn about the injustices many clients have endured during their time in this country and this includes extremely poor mental health service delivery. I am fully aware of the privilege I have experienced and continue to maintain, as a documented citizen with a professional position and economic means, when I work with these families. The Penn State episode reminds me that we still need to be hyper-vigilant towards ensuring social justice, multicultural and racial sensitivity issues are taught thoughtfully and passionately in higher education counseling, social work, psychology, and marriage and family therapy programs.  We have a lot of work to do.