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By The Numbers: Adoption Is Safe

Max Shatto was known as Maksim Kuzmin in Russia.
Max Shatto was known as Maksim Kuzmin in Russia.
The death of 3-year-old Maksim Kuzmin, an adopted Russian child in the United States where he was known as Max Shatto, has put international adoptions at the forefront of U.S.-Russian relations. The death is still being investigated, but several Russian Duma deputies have reacted with indignation, some even urging the Kremlin to seek to repatriate Russian children currently living in adopted homes in the United States.

Russian children's rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov, who has offered some of the most scathing statements on the issue, said that the death was "the 20th time in the past 11 years an adopted child from Russia has died at the hands of adoptive U.S. parents." Although he has provided no documentation to back up this claim, it is possible that such data exist, as adoptees maintain Russian citizenship and any death would need to be reported to a Russian consulate or embassy.

Astakhov noted that Russian authorities were notified by Texas law enforcement about the Kuzmin case, and a U.S. Embassy in Moscow statement said that the "State Department and local authorities [in Texas] have worked closely with Russian consular officials in Houston, facilitating consular access to Max’s sibling as well."

Astakhov has taken to throwing the entire adoption program under the bureaucratic bus. "Just looking at the numbers -- when we compare the number of children on consular reports as taken out of Russia and [the number of] children who were actually sent from here, they don't match," he said. "Over the last 10 years, about 2,000 children have been lost -- just in the process of transfer from Russia to the United States. They are lost. We don't know about these 2,000 children -- are they alive, murdered, living happily, or not?"

It's not clear where this 2,000 number comes from.

Kuzmin’s death is the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving Russian adoptees in the United States. The formal ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans came into effect at the beginning of 2013 and bears the name of Dmitry Yakovlev, an adoptee who died after being left in a car for nine hours in Virginia in 2012.

There are a lot of numbers floating around about orphans, orphanages, adoptions between Russia and the United States, and several other issues related to the row. A look through the numbers shows that U.S. adoptions from abroad are in decline but that, generally speaking, adoptive parents rarely abuse the children they take in.

According to the U.S. State Department, Americans adopted 9,319 children from abroad in 2011. Of those, 962 came from Russia, two-thirds of whom were under the age of three. The last seven years have seen a steep decline in American adoptions from Russia, a decline that coincides with an overall decline in adoptions from abroad. For perspective, in 2008 Americans adopted 17,500 children from abroad with more than 1,800 coming from Russia. In that same year there were a total of 136,000 adoptions in the United States. Overall, international adoptions play a small role in the U.S. adoption picture.

On February 19, "The Moscow Times" reported:

Twenty-four children died at the hands of their Russian foster or adoptive parents in 2011, down from 82 in 2006 and 105 in 2009, according to the National Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, citing data from the State Statistics Service.

According to official statistics from the Russian government for 2011, there are 82,000 orphans in Russia and a total of 654,000 children living without parental care.

As journalist Howard Amos notes in this discussion of the U.S.-Russia adoption row, between 70 and 80 percent of Russian children living without parental care are actually "social orphans" -- children whose parents (or at least one parent) is alive. Overall, adoption in Russia is not nearly as common as it is in the United States. According to the same data, there were just under 11,000 total domestic adoptions in Russia in 2011.

The Russian government reports that there were 137,000 reported violations of the rights of children in 2011. Like stats in the United States (see below), the Russian government numbers do not filter exclusively for adoptive parents. In 2011, 66 cases of crimes against children were registered against parties identified as "adoptive parents, guardians, and foster parents," and another 60 cases of children having their "health harmed" by someone in that same group. That number was down from 94 in 2010 and 105 in 2009.

All in all, the recorded cases of mistreatment by adoptive parents is relatively low in Russia, and lower yet in the United States. According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 2011, there were 787,000 "maltreatments" of children reported in the country. This includes medical neglect, neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, and sexual abuse. Of this, there were 1,258 child fatalities.

Of all of these instances, biological and step-parents make up more than 90 percent of the total number of perpetrators. Adoptive parents make up less than 1 percent of total perpetrators. In cases of child fatalities -- nonparents were responsible for 155 of the total 1,258 deaths. When filtering out categories like "neighbor" and "friend," that number is reduced to 90. Meaning that at most, adoptive parents were responsible for 0.7 percent of child fatalities in the United States in 2011.

This glance through the statistics seems to show that adoptive parents in both Russia and the United States are relatively caring and tend to raise children without major issues. Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, noted as much in an interview with RIA Novosti on February 14. Tucked in a piece focusing largely on negative examples of Russian children adopted in the United States is this item:

Kislyak, 62, a large and jovial career diplomat with an easy smile and a fluent command of English, said he recognized that many Russian children adopted by American parents over the past two decades had been taken into loving families and given a safe and healthy start in life. But he also pointed to a number of cases – statistical aberrations that have received extensive media coverage in Russia but little in the United States – that caused real alarm in Moscow and that he said testified to problems specific to the United States that Russia has grappled with in its efforts to ensure the well-being of its children.

Kislyak cited a recent situation in Florida, a notorious case in Virginia involving an adopted child whose Russian name – Dmitry Yakovlev – was attached to the adoption ban law, and questions about a facility for Russian orphans in Montana that has been the focus of intense Russian scrutiny in recent years.

Although the numbers say the practice is perfectly safe, it looks like the days of Russian children finding adopted homes in the U.S. may be at a near-permanent end.

-- Zach Peterson

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