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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

How Does Russian Adoption Work?


Slowly. Very slowly. If, however, you can find a good, American accredited/registered adoption agency to assist you, the process could come in at under a year, start to finish. Some of us have languished in the system for a number of years. I like to think of that as the exception, rather than the rule. But there are no firm stats.

First, you apply to the adoption agency. They determine if you are too old and crotchety to be a parent for their tastes, or too young and naïve. You tell them your annual income and they either grin with glee, or frown and reject you. Much of the onus is placed on “Russian requirements”, but Russia has very few requirements other than you are living, breathing, and willing to take the gamble of your life. For the pleasure of applying, you write your first check because you dare to take up the agency’s valuable time and have them consider you as a client.

Truly, there is no other industry with so few regulations and such uncomfortable operating procedures as international adoption agencies. Just take a look at any of their “contracts” and gag. Your rights are negligible, if not nonexistent. Prices may go up at any time, and you are promised nothing in terms of a child. Everything is “out of their hands”, except for your regularly-scheduled checks coming in.

None of this will be overtly mentioned in your multitude of phone calls or e-mails with the agency. Instead, they will speak of your “forever family” and show you cute photos of gorgeous babies who have already been adopted. This is good. Keep your eye on the goal. If you don’t get hooked up with a greedy agency, you’re of all people most blessed. They do exist.

Once your application is “approved”, you gather a whole lot of documents. Togther, these are called a Dossier. The documents range from birth certificates, to police clearances (are you running from the law or a low-life?), to child protective services report (any child abuse in your background?), to fingerprints (wanted by the FBI?), to medical reports (any terminal illnesses, HIV or TB?), and family earnings versus expenditures balance sheet (can you say “debt”?). This is a brief sampling of the way of sorrows you are about to traverse, the heavy labor of adoption. Add to that fingerprints for the FBI and USCIS (immigration), copies of your US Passport (which better not expire anytime soon), and marriage license (God help you if you were married in any exotic get-away location—just try getting copies of those wedding documents!).

These should all be notarized, one at a time, and then apostilled (“ah-pah-STEELED”) by your Secretary of State, which means a verification of the notary for foreign purposes, i.e., more gold seals and more money out of your pocket.

The Dossier also includes a Home Study, written up by a licensed social worker who comes to your home, inspects the premises for basic living conditions, fire escapes, and general cleanliness. Some open closets and visit your basement, while others glance quickly around to see the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. As though you’re not nervous enough, he or she then discusses the story of your life from childhood to adulthood. Do you plan on using corporal punishment for the child? (Do not pass go, do not adopt from Russia.) Did your parents spank you? (Umm, back in the Dark Ages, didn’t they all?) Were you a happy child? Did you have many friends? What do you do now in terms of a career, or spare time, other than collect documents and write out checks?

Divorce is usually deemed okay for Russia, but ugly custody battles, or previous felonies may be the kiss of death. It all depends. Your existing children, whether age 8 or 18, may be interviewed and asked their opinion of an adoption. Best to take them out for ice cream before polling. As with airport security jokes, any jocular comments can be held against your family. And if you have any older relatives living in your domicile, they will need to be fingerprinted, frisked, and otherwise vetted, as well.

The visits are conducted either separately, or together with husband and wife, usually a combination of both. Make sure your answers match. Choose a story and stick to it. The social worker then writes up the Home Study in story form: “Benedetto was a happy child, born into a family of wolves in Lower Slobovia….” This process of the Home Study might take anywhere from two to four months to complete, and cost hundreds, or thousands. Imagine the joy of paying someone to tell you what you already know about yourself! I like to think of it as my very own public relations machine, making us shine for the Kremlin.

This goes along with eight to twelve meaningful photos of your family: people, places, pets. Try to make all look as non-menacing as possible, for instance, Misha and Grisha smiling, is better than the two of them growling and snarling. The goal is to appear likeable and benign, which is far easier for some families than for others. Avoid pictures involving alcohol or chainsaws. The living room should not be decorated for Halloween with skulls and skeletons.

The social worker will have the Home Study notarized, which you afterward take to be apostilled. Your adoption agency then receives it, reviews it with a fine-toothed comb, and forwards it, along with all of the other documents, to Russia for translation. This is following the passing of additional big checks from your hands to theirs.

The Dossier is sent to a specific region to be registered. If you have a preference for Vladivostok in the Far East of Russia, or Moscow Region near the capital, all can have an impact on your wait for a child. Most people do not want to take another long flight after their first international flight. Keep in mind that Russia has the largest land mass of any nation, so it can be much more time and money to travel big distances. That often turns into more children being available for adoption in far-flung areas.

Contrary to popular opinion, parents don’t go “shopping” for adoptive children. You don’t pour over the pictures of a blue-eyed blond baby, or a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, and then make your decision. You have virtually no decision-making process, other than to accept or reject the Ministry of Education’s referral which may come anywhere from right after your Dossier arrives, to a year later. Prior to travel, you may not even see a photo of the child, you may simply hear, “There is a referral waiting, a girl between the ages of 18 months and 3 years (or whatever your specs in your Home Study), somewhat healthy.”

And then you go and see, halfway around the world, heart in throat.

You might meet a child with a shaved head (lice outbreak) and green or purple spots (a type of mercurochrome for mosquito bites?). Frightening, to say the least. But how do you look on a bad-hair day? Add mismatched clothes, rocking in the corner, and a fear of strangers, and you feel like heading for the hills.

But nothing is significantly wrong with the child. He or she will be delayed due to living in an institution—not well-developed speech, or socialization, or education. A toddler may not be walking or talking simply because no one took one-on-one time with him. An older child may be behind in their studies. This can be overcome.

If you suspect more serious diagnoses, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (brain damage to the baby when the birth mother drinks during pregnancy), you may need to send photos (of the child, not yourself) to an International Adoption Doctor for an expert opinion. Often, this can be sent in an e-mail overnight from Russia. You will have your answer within hours.

Should you reject a child for any reason (the only valid reason being medical), you may or may not receive another referral on that trip. You may need to return to the US and wait for another referral. Terrible, but true. If your agency rep is strong in your region of Russia, you may have a greater chance at seeing another child on this same trip.

With a best-case scenario, you visit the child on Trip #1 for several days. Who’s counting that we were given ten minutes with our second son, we were a Special Case (Mother always told me I was special). You are asked to accept or reject and sign corresponding documents. Then you go back home and wait for a court date to be issued. Before and after every trip you write more big checks. During the trip itself you spend millions of rubles in Moscow, the most expensive city on the face of the earth (Google a room at the Marriott if you don’t believe me).

Might be anywhere from one, to four, to sometimes six months for Trip #2 and court. Back again to answer a whole bunch of questions from the Prosecutor and the Judge: “Will you let him pursue his Russian heritage? Will you take him to a museum? How could you possibly have time for such a LARGE family (two)? How much money do you make? What method of discipline will you use? Are you aware of any health issues listed in his record? Can you state his old name, new name, and birthdate for the record?” Should you make it through the gauntlet, you are then asked to recite the Cyrillic alphabet backwards, while your mate sings “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and you are granted your baby.

Ninety-nine per cent of the time you will be approved. More and more, the Russian courts are enforcing a ten-day waiting period, which used to be waived for adoptive families. It’s a normal judicial procedure. Given the warm and fuzzy feelings presently emanating from downward spiraling Russian-American relations, it’s hard to imagine but NATO bases have some connection with you spending an additional couple of weeks in-country, or flying home and back again to pick up your child. (This is a happy blog entry, so we will deal with possible third trips, 8-doctor medicals, and other nonsense at a later time.)

Finally, a Russian birth certificate with your name on it is obtained (on paper, I was there in 1996 giving birth twice within two months), along with a Russian passport for the child. Then you fly to Moscow for his or her medical exam, which is presented at the US Embassy the next day… along with another hefty check, your last three years of tax returns, and a few other forms, and the ring from the Cracker Jack box you got when you were four.

In order to leave the country, there are certain adoptive parent rituals you are expected to perform: pose for a photo in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, eat at any of dozen or so McDonalds, and pick up a city-stamped mug from Starbucks. Other than that, you’re on your own to hit the airport and head on home.

May your long flight seem short. May you suffer no baby diaper blow-outs, or older child melt-downs. May your sanity be preserved despite two hours of sleep during the last ten days. May you recall all of your important Russian phrases: “Nyet. Don’t touch that. Give it to me. Nyet!!!”

You are a family. You will be home soon. Your dream is coming true.

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