Boy's Death May Halt U.S. Adoptions

Before her sentencing in early May, Pavlis encouraged prospective parents to seek more information before rushing to adopt. "If anything, learn from what happened to me," she said.

At sentencing, Judge Thomas Fecarotta said he believed Pavlis was sorry but that she was unwilling to accept responsibility for her son's death. She blamed the adoption agency for not telling her the full extent of his problems, the judge said.

Pavlis is now in the Dwight Correctional Center and will be up for parole in 2009. Her husband was not charged in the case. Alex's sister was removed from the home after the boy's death. She remains in foster care.

Riding the Anti-American Wave

While the trial and sentencing barely made news in the United States, the Russian press seized on the story. Russian newspaper headlines appeared claiming that American parents were selling the organs of Russian-born children. Rumors of babies being sold for up to $150,000 started circulating.

Debates raged on in the Duma, Russia's parliament, as the anti-adoption faction called for reform. Federal prosecutor Gen. Vladimir Ustinov sent the government proposals May 5 to draft special agreements with countries whose citizens were seeking to adopt Russian orphans. He would like the government to keep track of all Russian adoptees and be allowed to take action if a Russian orphan falls victim to violence after being placed overseas. The government still hasn't made a decision whether they will pursue the proposals.

Russian-born Natasha Shaginian-Needham, founder of the New York-based adoption agency Happy Families International Center, says if these measures were imposed, they would bring foreign adoptions to a screeching halt.

"There is no way the United States will give Russia control over their adopted children once they are in America," she said.

Americans have adopted more than 43,000 Russian-born children since 1991, according to the National Council for Adoption. In that 14-year period, eight to 12 children have been killed [depending on whom you ask] by their adoptive parents.

"Death could happen with biological or adopted children," said Shaginian-Needham. "Child abuse happens everywhere and it's very hard to predict."

Adoption advocates say the success stories largely outnumber the deaths and almost anything is better than staying parentless. One in three former orphans in Russia is homeless and one in 10 commits suicide, according to Kidsave, an international adoption advocacy group with an office in Moscow.

Kidsave President Terry Baugh said Russia's proposed bilateral agreements aren't necessary, since there is already a multilateral protection agreement called the Hague Adoption Convention in place. And Russia's licensed agencies demand post-adoption placement reports (twice the first year, once for two years after that) filed by a social worker who tracks the children in the American family's home state, she said.

In her opinion, parents need more education about orphans before they bring them home and they also need better post-adoption support. "Families are so eager for blond-haired, blue-eyed kids they don't really listen to the training," she said.

Every child coming from a foster home or an orphanage has been neglected at one time or another, and that creates a whole range of problems, she said.

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