US-Russian Bilateral Adoption Agreement enters into force Nov.1
Prospective U.S. adoptive parents of Russian orphan children have waited months for the clarity provided in an Oct. 18th U.S. Dept. of State conference call on the terms of the agreement. First signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian representatives in July, 2011, it passed the Russian Duma last June. The bilateral agreement on Inter-country Adoption between the U.S. And Russia will enter into force November 1, 2012.
A key feature of the agreement will be the formation of two executive bodies, in both the US and in Russia, which will become the key points of contact on inter-country adoption between the two countries. In the US, that point of contact will reside in the Dept of State within a committee in the Office of Children's Issues. In Russia that Executive Body will be an appointed committee within the Ministry of Education and Science.
The new procedures and time lines are intended to provide assurances to parents and key stakeholders that the needs of children and families are being met. After the 2010 return of seven-year-old Artiem Hansen, alone on a plane, to Russia by his American adoptive mother, Russia demanded a reset in the handling of inter-country adoption by U.S. parents and more protection for its children, who remain duel U.S.-Russian citizens until at least age 18. The subsequent negotiation left thousands of U.S. prospective adoptive families in limbo.
Over the past two years as the negotiations have proceeded, FRUA has been a background resource for the U.S. Dept of state's Office of Children's Issues. (OCI) When the crisis erupted, the FRUA National Board published a FRUA position paper outlining our key positions, including the rights of children to parents and a family, the rights of adoptive parents to information about their adoptive children, the critical need for a supportive community surrounding an adoptive family to assure it's success, and the successful record of FRUA families. The OCI has remained in contact with FRUA as adoption policy negotiations have been finalized, signed and confirmed. FRUA Vice Chair, Jan Wondra, has acted as our main policy contact and her presence on an October 18th Dept. of State conference call provided the background for this article.
“We made a point of providing the OCI with examples of information gaps at the time of adoption,” notes Wondra. “So often precious months have been lost that could have been devoted to getting children the help they needed, if the parents had only known a missing piece of information about their child. We pushed for more pre-adoption information for families. With this information, and a supportive community, the likelihood of a family being able to meet children's challenges can be significantly improved.”
The terms of the agreement provide special consideration for adoptions already in process versus those in the beginning stages of adoption. Those families whose dossiers have been or are registered in Russian regions by November 1, 2012 will be considered grandfathered in and their adoptions should proceed with little or no interruptions. Those prospective adoptive parents whose documents are not filed by November 1, 2012 will be considered part of the new process and they must meet all requirements of the new agreement terms. Both countries will work toward an agreement in full force by March 1, 2013.
Authorized adoption service providers will have 60 days to provide documentation to continue providing adoption services in Russia. Russia officials will have 30 days to review submitted documentation and issue their response. All new adoption service providers not already working in Russia are encouraged by Russia to wait to apply until after the new provisions take effect. This is to avoid authorization delays due to a pipeline already full with those organizations in the re-accreditation process.
Provisions to take effect immediately
On or before Nov. 1, 2012, the Russian Ministry of science and Education made an announcement specifying which adoption providers currently working in Russia are authorized to continue. If an agency is now authorized by the Hague agreement, the U.S. Dept of State's Office of Children's Issues anticipates that it will be able to continue as in force now under the “grandfather” language of Article 17 of the agreement. (The language of the agreement specifies that those agencies now authorized and/or Hague-accredited will be carried forward.) The few organizations who are now authorized to operate in Russia, but who are not Hague accredited, will be grandfathered in under Article 17 of the agreement.
For prospective adoptive parents the term “grandfathered” means that those parents whose dossiers have already been registered in the regions from which they are requesting adoptions, or whose dossiers will be registered on or before November 1, will proceed under the old rules and will be processed. Nothing will change for those grandfathered. Because the first step in the current process is to register in the adoption region, most already in process will be unaffected. This grandfathering applied to all cases including independent adoption resources. Those prospective parents whose dossiers are NOT registered by November 1 will not continue until/unless their agency becomes Hague-accredited and the parents meet the new requirements.
A time of transition
The interim between November 1, and the March 1, 2013 full- force agreement, will be a time of transition. A new pre-approval process will be added to the inter-country adoption process with Russia, designed to assure that prospective parents are aware of the children's medical, emotional and special needs and have put in place the necessary support structures for the child and the family to ensure positive outcomes.
Before the adoption can be approved to proceed, the parents must complete educational/parenting training hours. They will be required to verify that they have seen the child's files, understand the potential challenges and special needs of the child, and with their adoption agencies, set forth a proposed plan for handling the challenges. “This protects both the child and the parents,” commented officials of the Office of Children's Issues, the U.S. Dept. of State. "We seek to ensure that families have full information about the child and any special needs and that parents are fully informed, trained and equipped to handle those needs.”
The remainder of the processes are being hammered out by negotiating teams from the U.S. and Russia, togehter with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information, including continuously-updated FAQs, go to www.adoption.state.gov.