That's even more reason, says Shaginian-Needham, why Russia should not bar foreigners from adopting. "There's still a stigma about adoption in Russia, not to mention adopting disabled kids," she said.
Those Russians who would be willing to adopt have a difficult time because of the stringent salary and housing requirements, she said. She believes orphans would be unfairly penalized by the government's recent efforts to have Russian children remain listed in a regional databank for eight months -- compared to the current three -- before they can be added to the international database of children for adoption.
The adoption process in Russia also became hampered by President Vladimir Putin's government overhaul. For a year, mass confusion surrounded each ministry's role so that international adoptions remained overlooked. The backlog of adoption requests piled up, with parents and children in limbo. A Russian-American game of ping-pong ensued as adoption advocates pushed to get Putin to act. In March, the Ministry of Education took over the process and started re-accrediting agencies to move international adoptions forward.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers continue their attack on adoption by foreigners, calling it "international trafficking of children." A member of the Duma's Committee for Women, Family and Youth, which is led by lawmaker Ekaterina Lakhova, said foreign adoptions were stimulating the country's demographic crisis, according to a Moscow Times report.
Shanigian-Needham accuses Lakhova of riding the anti-American wave for political advancement. "Only 1 percent of children are adopted by foreigners," she said. "What about focusing on the 99 percent that stay in Russia?"
Reform needs to take place in Russia, Shanigian-Needham said. "Start by weeding out corruption and illegal adoption."
Irma Pavlis said she wished she had been better informed about Alex's background, and she blamed the independent adoption agency for not giving the family a full picture. That's why, Shanigian-Needham argues, families should only use accredited agencies.
Kidsave's Baugh couldn't agree more. Meanwhile, her agency is trying to get more Russian orphans placed with families in their native country. "We are trying to move more kids into Russian families and get laws changed," she said.
Baugh suggested creating adoption incentives and easing restrictions on Russians looking to adopt. She also called for programs where prospective parents and young orphans would be able to get to know each other before taking the plunge.
"Once people meet these kids, they fall in love and stay connected," she said. "And that's what these kids need."