This article is based on a trip to Vladivostock, Russia where Douglas visited orphanages and met with Russian government adoption officials.
Outside the courthouse, where an adoption has been finalized, the streets of Vladivostock are filled with Russian men and women enjoying the bright sunshine. Set in a spectacular natural setting, Vladivostok, which receives 250 days of sunshine a year, looks like a combination of Vancouver and San Francisco. And this city of 800,000 is starting to become known to the world. For many years it was closed to foreigners and Russians alike as it was the head-quarters of the Soviet Pacific Fleet. Now it is open, and foreign business and tourists are starting to come.
Women outnumber men here as men leave the area to find work. This has led to the relinquishment of many babies as the father often leaves, and the mother cannot support the child. The orphanages here are full with many babies to a room.
Children are available for intercountry adoption through four avenues. The first is through the voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. This usually occurs at birth, but in Russia this can also occur later in the child’s life as well. The second is through termination of parental rights. This usually occurs when a child is considered to be living in an unsafe environ-ment. The third is through abandonment. In these instances, very little is known about the child’s birth history and heritage. The fourth avenue would be if a child is orphaned and has no relatives to care for him or her.
Ideally, children remain in their country and are adopted by a Russian family. Children available for adoption are listed on a public registry for up to six months to be reviewed by prospective Russian adoptive families. If a Russian family does not adopt the child by the end of the registry period, he or she is then available for intercountry adoption.
Orphanages are located in older institutional buildings, and sometimes are the first two floors of a hospital or other institution. Orphanage amenities are limited; however, staff appeared to care about the children. Upon arrival at one orphanage, we were surprised to find two young American men dressed in white shirts and ties holding babies on the ward. The two Mormons had come to the orphanage to provide human contact and cuddling for babies as part of a stint performing community service in Vladivostok.
There are 500,000 children in orphanages in Russia, of which only 14% are available for adoption. (The remaining children have been placed there by the parents who have not surrendered their rights and have not abandoned the child, at least in a legal sense). The children being adopted are usually between eight and 24 months old.
A visitor to the orphanage is struck by the overwhelming need to find parents for these babies. If no parents are found, then the babies are moved by age two to the next level of orphanage where they will stay until they are about seven. If children haven’t been adopted by that age, their future becomes even bleaker. They are placed in senior orphanages with disturbed and mentally challenged children and kept in difficult conditions. The ones who are adopted into Russian or foreign families have a much more promising future.