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Russia adoption ban called heartbreaking

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 9:32 p.m.

Agency workers say a ban on Russian adoptions to the United States traumatizes all involved.

Russian lawmakers said the ban, which took effect on Jan. 1, responds to a law President Obama signed in December barring Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United State sand owning assets here.

“My heart breaks,” said Christina Groark, head of a University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development program that trains adoption agency staffers to help parents navigate Russian adoption regulations. “This is so disturbing. I do not understand why they would reach into families' lives to retaliate.”

Tens of thousands of Russian children came to the United States during the past 20 years. Americans adopt about 1,000 of them each year, the Department of State said.

About 740,000 children live in Russia without parental care, UNICEF reports. Dozens whose adoptions were near completion will remain.

Bill Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, a global nonprofit dedicated to orphans' needs, said the agency had several families scheduled to travel to Russia in January. Russia requires three visits before finalizing an adoption.

The agency completes about 20 Russian adoptions a year, Blacquiere said. Bethany Christian's offices include locations in McCandless, State College and Harrisburg.

“As citizens of the world, we should not let children be used in political conflicts,” Blacquiere said. “We should focus on what's in the best interest of the child.”

Groark, who traveled to Russia more than 30 times as co-principal investigator of a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant, said although most children she sees receive proper care, many orphanages are understaffed.

Many children lie in cribs all day and, on average, encounter 60 and 100 caregivers in their first two years. Some develop problems interacting with others as a result.

“I agree that domestic adoptions are best, but if you don't have enough families, it would be a real shame to close it to other countries,” Groark said.

International Assistance Group, a nonprofit Russian adoption agency in Oakmont, arranges about 100 adoptions nationwide each year. Alex Dzurovchik, director of operations, said the ban jeopardizes the agency's existence. It will try to help families to finalize their adoptions.

“We want to push through the families who have traveled for their first trip and met the children,” he said.

Linda and Patrick Halloran of Monroeville are adoptive parents to Natasha Herald, 16, a sophomore at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport.

Linda Halloran, 49, said she can imagine the heartache the ban is causing.

“It's so wrong to be putting kids in the middle of everything,” she said.

Groark worries that no matter what happens, families will be reluctant to adopt from Russia.

“I would imagine families would be gun shy,” she said. “Other countries are easier to adopt from. Put on top of that the potential that, at any time, the Russian government can use children in a political disagreement — the damage may have already been done.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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