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'It's Been an Emotional Roller Coaster' : Families: Perhaps it's a matter of national pride. But Russia's decision to curb adoptions to the West has left potential parents in a state of turmoil.

December 06, 1994|BARBARA SLAVIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There have been backlashes against American adoptions in Romania, which in 1991 sent more than 2,500 children to the United States, and in South and Central America. In Guatemala, villagers, outraged by rumors of baby-selling for organ transplants, bludgeoned a 51-year-old Alaskan woman into a coma earlier this year.

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Nothing so grim has happened in Russia, but nationalistic feelings have risen, along with anger at the large sums of money--up to $25,000--Americans are willing to spend to take home Russian kids.

While most of the money goes for legitimate expenses and gifts to orphanages, Russian middlemen, or "facilitators" as they are known, have been caught paying bribes and forging documents.

The new Russian law is intended to curtail abuses by transferring decision-making powers from orphanage directors and local officials to a central agency equipped with a computer data base of all children available for adoption.

But with more than 200,000 children in institutions and a faltering economy, many wonder whether Russia can create such a system.

"They don't even have fax machines or adequate food," said Linda Crumpecker, the adoptive mother of a Russian boy and the chairman of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, a Washington-based support group with 250 members.

If the law is passed, "there could be a substantial delay" in adoptions, said Mason, who is encouraging new clients to consider children from other former Soviet republics, such as Uzbekistan. "Nobody knows how the law will work because no structure is in place to make it work."

Janice Pearse, director of Adoptions Together, a Baltimore, Md., agency that has placed more than 100 children from the former Soviet Union, said it was unclear whether Moscow and some other areas might be excluded from the central organization.

"We've had many calls from our waiting families asking whether they should switch programs. We have encouraged them to hang in there," she said.

A State Department recording ((202) 647-3444) advises Americans that adoptions could be suspended for as long as eight months once the law is enacted. It cautions parents to "be sure their cases will be allowed to be processed to completion" before traveling to Russia.

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An earlier advisory from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow predicting a Dec. 1 suspension of adoptions caused a furor in the adoption community.

"We think the U.S. Embassy jumped the gun in its efforts to protect families and caused immeasurable anxiety for thousands of people," said Linda Perilstein, executive director of Cradle of Hope, a Washington agency that has arranged 320 Russian adoptions and is currently handling 30.

Meanwhile, her clients are trying to stay calm.

"We're stuck in the middle right now," said Kathy Locraft of Herndon, Va. "The State Department tells me one thing, the agency tells me another.

"It helps that we had to deal with the bureaucracy there and here before," said Locraft, who has a 5-year-old adopted from the Ukraine as well as a biological child of 7.

For the Rodericks, Katherine Elena would be their first child.

"I'm 44 years old and my husband will be 50 in January," Paula Roderick said. "It's hard to believe after you try for so long and have so many disappointments and heartbreaks. You're almost afraid to hope. Then all of a sudden you see the picture of your child."

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