The issue of Americans adopting Russian children has become a hot button political issue since 2010 when a Tennessee mother shipped back to Russia an 11-year old boy on an 11-hour flight that led to a temporary suspension of all Russian adoptions and a greater scrutiny of the type of parents who adopt. This leads us to the case of three children in Texas who were adopted from Russia and have had many difficulties with their new life in America. Joining us now to tell us their story is Diana Black, she runs a home for abused children in Silsbee, Texas.
So, tell us about these three children in Texas?
I first met the children when I was sent by Child Protective Services to spend time with them and to do an interview, because numerous reports of abuse have been made. I went to their home in August in 2008 and talked to the 3 children and documented information from them and then I returned this information to Child Protective Services. I had a concern immediately because little response was made and the children weren’t removed from the home which concerned me because the abuse was the worst type of child abuse I’ve ever seen: the conditions were deplorable and things that were being done to the children were outrageous. And actually child abuse is against the law as you know, but in my experience I found that often times instead of legal action being taken civil servants were sent to take care of the situation and the philosophy in Texas is that the children should remain with parents if at all possible, I agree with that. But sometimes it goes too far and when children are in danger we have a responsibility to protect them. These three Russian children don’t have any extended family in Texas and so I was unable to give them the help they needed. Over the years the children repeatedly ran away from the home and they oldest child has been missing now for about a week and the two younger children ran away this past Sunday, they were found on Thursday and returned to their home. There is another CPS case that’s been open. This has been going on since they arrived in America in 2002.
What types of abuse were you seeing?
Oh, god. When I talked to a little boy, he had his teeth broken and I asked him about that he told me his adoptive mother had hit him in the mouth with a shoe. Also he was undernourished, he was 12 years old and he weight about 58-60 pounds and I know that because we weight him at some point at the children’s home. He was being denied food occasionally, he was punished by not receiving food and he was often times locked in a room with a bucket to use as a toilet. There was a mattress in the room and on the floor. I saw this, I went to his home. And he said sometimes they left a mattress for him to sleep on and sometimes they dragged it out of the room and he had to sleep on the floor. When child abuse reports were being made and numerous reports were made by many people and I have names and numbers of at least 2 dozen people who made reports from 2002 to this current day, it was very difficult for me to speak to the child and hear these awful things that were being done to him. It just broke my heart.
And when you see these types of things happening and continue to happen, who do you put the blame on? Is it the adoption agency, is it the state of Texas, of course, the parents, but when you try to get things to have changed where do you see to be the root of the problem?
I think the problem is in part the lack of requirements of the adoption agencies. Post-adoption services are very important, once children are placed, someone needs to go into the home periodically to make sure that everything’s ok. It’s partly because the adoption agency doesn’t have strong outlines and it’s partially could be because at a home study that wasn’t done carefully enough, Child Protective Services in Texas, like I said, have a philosophy of leaving children in the home when at all possible and sometimes they just carry that too far and they do family safety services. So, first thing they did, I guess, after they were involved in the case, the adoptive mother had to leave the home and so she left for about 6 weeks and then returned. Things like that don’t actually solve any problems when there are more abuses of the two.
We saw that as many as hundred thousand Russian children have been adopted by foreigners since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago and fewer than 20 of them have died as a result of negligence or abuse. So, when we look at this case as tragic as it is, do you think it’s more just a horrible tragedy of one particular family abusing these children rather than a symptom of something larger?
I think most children who were adopted by Americans are in wonderful homes and I know some families who have adopted Russian children and they are in just fabulous situation. I think that just like there is abuse of American children in the United States, occasionally children who are adopted from other countries fall into some of these unfortunate situations. This particular situation we are talking about, I don’t think is typical. I was really surprised that I was unable to find anyone to protect the children and I turned to detective services and the law enforcement and I was unable to get any help for the kids. The boy, the oldest boy who was 12 at the time, he is now 16, continued to run away repeatedly and to stay in the woods several neighbors helped him to come in, gave him a place to stay. Each time he was found and returned. He was in the children’s home, I ran the home for abused children, I had him 4 times and 6th time he ran away I took him here to Child Protective Services in the state because I was unable to attain help for him locally. So, I went to the top and I had full confidence that they would resolve the situation and take care of these children but that didn’t happen.
What do you think the role of the Russian government should be in this particular case?
I think that Russian government should enforce any law, I don’t know the laws they have, but if they have any law, any requirement, any even recent things that have been agreed upon between Russia and the United States, any improvements that have been made since 2002 when these children were adopted, I think that should be retroactive and that someone should be able to go into the home and talk to the children, the two who are still there.
Speaking of that, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security announced back in July 2011 that there was bilateral agreement about adoptive children and cooperation to strengthen safeguards between Russia and the United States. The agreement provides the safeguards to protect the welfare of children and the agreement also designs to improve post-adoption reporting and monitoring to insure that perspective adoptive parents can receive more complete information about adoptive children’s social and medical histories and anticipated needs. What do you make of that agreement and do you see any ramifications of that agreement in this particular case?
The things you’ve just mentioned are wonderful and necessary. I think we’ll go a long way in preventing situations like this in the future. I am hopeful that those stipulations can be applied to these children. The children I am speaking about were adopted in 2002 before these new regulations were put into place but since the children are still underage, I think those regulations you just told me about should apply to all underage children in America and not just the children who are being adopted in the future.
You mentioned that this case is still fluid. Where do you think it stands now and what do you think is going to happen in the future? I guess the oldest child is going to be an adult in 2 years. What do you see things happening from here?
With these particular children?
There is an new CPS, Child Protective Services, a new CPS case was opened I think sometime last week. The investigator has, I believe 10-14 days to gather information and to make a determination. The problem with this situation is right now, that the two children are still in the abusive home, are afraid to say anything because in the past they’ve told the truth to Child Protective Services and they weren’t removed. So, they have been put in a more dangerous situation and if they are being asked questions and if they are not taken out from home, they are afraid to talk about the things that have been done in the home because when the Child Protective Services worker leaves, then the children stay with their adoptive parents. The oldest child, the one who is missing right now, was very brave and he always told the truth and he told to anyone who would listen to him and he bagged for help and asked for help. In 2008 when I met him, he has been asking for help for quite sometime and I don’t know if I mentioned the children were taken out of public school and were kept in home for about 2,5 years because school authorities were calling Child Protective Services. The children weren’t allowed to leave the home, the windows were boarded up with plywood. And after I met them, some changes were made and the children were in public school but they were under strict instruction cause the adoptive parents did not just say anything to teachers or anyone in the school and so still they have controlled the two youngest children in particular, and the oldest child, a boy, like I said he has been very forthcoming in asking for help and he told me at the day when I met him “I keep telling my sisters to tell the truth so that somewhat would help us”.
We are out of time. But thank you so much for bringing in this issue to light.
It was Diane Black, she runs a home for abused children in Silsbee, Texas.