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Russia: Foreign Adoption Agency Invites Tight Screening

Bellingham, Wash., 12 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The World Association for Children and Parents is an American private and not-for-profit agency created 21 years ago by parents who had adopted foreign-born children.

Since then WACAP, to use the English-language acronym usually employed, has provided health care, medical supplies, vitamins, clothing and scholarships to more than 100,000 children in 10 countries -- among them, in more recent years, Russia and Romania. It has also placed nearly 8,000 foreign children without families with American families. And it maintains a project in Romania that seeks to help children out of institutions such as orphanages by returning them to their families, if possible, or, if not possible, find new parents for them.

WACAP remains loyal to its guiding philosophy that "every child deserves the right to experience family life." The 43 members of its staff adopted 35 adopted children of their own.

The agency is based in Renton, Washington, the home of the giant airplane and aeronautics company, Boeing, adjacent to Seattle. Last month it received a visitor from the Russian Ministry of Education in Vladivostok, Nikolai Shugai. His visit was prompted by two recent cases of extreme abuse by American couples who had adopted Russian children -- neither of whom were placed by WACAP.

WACAP's executive director, Janice Nielsen, told RFE/RL that she was "shocked and saddened and horrified" by those two cases of abuse. But, she adds, they really are the exception, not the rule among foreign adoptions of which she is aware.

Nielsen estimates that fewer than one percent of the adoptions arranged by her agency have failed. And, in those cases, she adds, the children were placed with other, more compatible adoptive parents.

The more than 99 percent of successfully arranged adoptions of foreign children with American parents, she calls "an amazingly positive statement about what is best in human nature."

All the same, Nielsen adds, the welfare of the children is her organization's prime concern. Given that, she says she welcomes whatever additional protections the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament, may provide in the lawmakers' current inquiry into foreign adoptive practices, which was triggered by the well-publicized two cases in the United States involving adopted Russian children.

Says Nielsen: "We respect the right of the Russian government to take whatever steps it must to protect their children," who, she adds, are "always best served in their own families." But if that is not possible, she says, then WACAP will use "every tool we have acquired in our 21 years" to find effective and loving adoptive parents -- including visits in the would-be parents' home, investigations of their background, attitudes, financial stability.

Adoption, she says, involves a "great leap of faith." So the agency probes the would-be parents' expectations and weeds out those who are not ready to live up to the real and human responsibilities involved -- as WACAP's own staff of adoptive parents is well aware.