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Adoption ban spotlights thousands of children needing families

February 27, 2013

After 40 years of research and practice in child services, there’s one thing I know for sure:  it’s family that makes the difference for children. That’s why Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to deny American families the right to adopt Russian orphans is a cruel act that only harms Russia’s most vulnerable citizens: children waiting in orphanages.

Patrick W. Lawler, Youth Villages CEO

Patrick W. Lawler, Youth Villages CEO

Committed families – biological or adoptive – are often the only thing that can help heal children who have experienced repeated rejection, trauma and pain. Their unconditional love can change a child’s life forever. I have seen it happen over and over with children whose emotional and behavioral troubles improve with treatment but whose lives truly change only through the gift of family.

They are children like Nathan, who at the age of 9 caught up with me on a visit to one of our Memphis, Tenn., residential campuses. Nathan had a single question for me: “Will you find me a family? I need a  mom and dad.” The children we help are rarely that open about what they wish for, but I know Nathan speaks for virtually all of the children in this world who are waiting to be adopted.

Taking away the chance of adoption by American families condemns thousands of Russian orphans to lives in orphanages, without the hope of family. To top it off, Putin also is denying the adoption finalization of nearly 50 children who are already in the process of adoption now.  I cannot imagine the heartbreak these children and families are going through. To these children, stopping their adoptions means another abandonment, more broken promises and deeper psychological wounds. For their potential parents, their hopes and dreams of family are shattered.

Playing politics with the lives of orphaned children and parents hoping to start or grow their families is cold and misguided. Putin says he wants Russian families to step up and adopt more orphans. And they should! This is so important, because even with international adoptions many Russian children won’t find homes. There simply haven’t been enough domestic adoptions in Russia in the past to give hope for these children. Sadly, the situation is somewhat similar in the United States.

There are thousands of children like Nathan waiting to be adopted right now right here in America’s child welfare systems.  They are boys and girls of all ethnicities, backgrounds and ages. Some of them are given up at birth. Others, like Nathan, come into foster care after years of abuse or neglect, the death of a loved one who cared for them, a parent’s mental health problems, drug abuse or other family problems. Some come in sibling groups, others on their own. All of them want exactly what Nathan wanted: to have the chance to grow up with a loving family.

In the United States, adoption from foster care is mostly free, with many children also qualifying for ongoing subsidies to help adoptive parents care for the child financially.

The younger children are, the better their chance of being adopted quickly – here and in foreign countries. But, we’re also finding that teenagers and older children can have their dream of a permanent family come true.  We have children adopted just days before their 18th birthday. After all, the need for family doesn’t end at some arbitrary age. Young people need someone to walk them down the aisle, come home to every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and be grandparents to their children later on. Family ties should last forever.

Having a loving family like Nathan does today is so powerful. At Youth Villages, we’ve helped more than 5,000 young people who have aged out of foster care without family through our transitional living program. We know that just having family support makes it more likely that Nathan will grow up to be a successful, independent adult. Young people who don’t have that need intensive help after age 18.

I believe there are few things more important than helping give children in Russia, the United States and anywhere else the chance to grow up in a loving family. No child of any country deserves to ever be used as a pawn in international politics and have their chance for family, for childhood and adult happiness denied.

Patrick Lawler is CEO of Youth Villages, a national child services nonprofit that helps emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families through its Evidentiary Family Restoration™ approach.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tina flatt permalink
    February 28, 2013 2:26 pm

    How do I go bout adopting kids

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