Adoptions from Russia plunged into uncertainty

Christina and Ken Zukor of Havre de Grace have adopted four children, all siblings from Russia, and were hoping to fly there in May to get their older sister. But a dispute over a separate case has put that on hold.
By Donna St. George and Philip P. Pan
Friday, April 16, 2010

Russian officials announced Thursday that they would suspend adoptions by American families, but the U.S. State Department said it had received no notification of a suspension, leaving would-be adoptive parents waiting and worried.

The mixed signals marked the latest turn in an international adoption saga that began last week when a Tennessee mother sent her adoptive 7-year-old son alone to Russia on a plane with a note saying he was violent and troubled. That decision infuriated officials in Moscow, prompting them to threaten to suspend all adoptions by American families.

Officials in Washington said Thursday that they had received conflicting reports from Russian sources about whether adoptions had been suspended. They added, though, that a U.S. delegation plans to leave for Moscow this weekend to meet with their counterparts on the issue.

That visit had been in the works since Russian officials expressed concern weeks ago about a Pennsylvania case in which a couple was accused of beating and killing a son they adopted in Russia. But the incident involving the Tennessee mother -- and now reports of a suspension -- have added to the urgency of the trip.

"We'll go there, see how we can improve the system and we'll be open to their ideas," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

On April 8, Torry Ann Hansen, a nurse in Shelbyville, Tenn., arranged to have her adopted son, Justin Artem Hansen, board a flight from New York to Moscow and then be delivered by a guide to officials at the Russian Education Ministry. The boy was given a note saying that Hansen, after struggling to care for him, was sending him back because she had become concerned for the safety of her family and no longer wished to parent the child.

The incident left many in the U.S. adoption community horrified, and listservs for adoptive families have been buzzing with developments since news broke. More than 2,000 U.S. families are at some point in the lengthy process of adopting a Russian child.

"We are on pins and needles," said Betsy Lowry, of Alexandria, who had hoped to travel this summer to Russia to meet an adoptive daughter.

Lowry, a moderator of a listserv of parents who have started or completed adoptions from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said many are hopeful that the U.S. delegation will be able to address Russian concerns and that any changes to the adoption process will not force it to be shut down even temporarily.

If it is shut down, Lowry said, "kids are going to lose opportunities, and waiting parents are going to feel constant agony."

Linda Brownlee, executive director of the Adoption Center of Washington, said one of her organization's families had tickets to fly to Russia on Friday and was left wondering how to proceed. They were set to meet an adoptive son for the first time -- and still hope they will.

"They are very anxious," she said.

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