The beginning of the year was marred by the scandal with an American family, which adopted three Ukrainian children. The foster farther killed 13-year-old boy. For Ukrainian authorities the case has become a catalyst in solving the problem pending for decades. Foreign families adopt our children, but Ukraine, as a state, cannot control the conditions of their maintenance. After all, before the age of 18 years old these children remain citizens of Ukraine regardless of the country of staying.

When Ukrainian diplomats checked on the remaining two children it turned out that the girl stayed with the foster mother, while the boy was adopted by another family. According to President's envoy on children's rights Yuri Pavlenko, children communicate with each other and with relatives in Ukraine.

It is not the first situation, when Ukrainian children have problems in foreign foster families. But this very case has pushed the authorities to revise the whole system of control over adoptive families.

Where they take Ukrainian orphans

Last year, 60% of Ukrainian orphans were adopted by US families. Every fourth adopted child was a child with special needs. In particular, these are children with Down syndrome, HIV, congenital heart disease and other health problems. "American families take our children with Down syndrome because medicine in US is better developed and children have an opportunity to socialize. It happens that a family already had a child with Down syndrome, but due to advanced stage the tragedy was inevitable. The parents already know how to live with such disease and take our children to treat them. Such children can study, learn certain skills and work," Pavlenko explains.

As of February 1, 2013, there are 21574 Ukrainian children living in 34 different countries. 8250 adopted children live in the US, 6212 - in Italy, 3121 - in Spain, 1310 - in France, 907 - in Israel. According to the statistics data, the number of foreign adoptions decreases annually by 20%. In 2007, there were 1670 orphans adopted by foreign families, while in 2012 - only 806.

Ukraine's law forbids foreigners to adopt children under five years old. According to Pavlenko, the authorities had to introduce such measure because there are 1.5 thousand Ukrainian families wishing to adopt babies every year. In 2005, foreigners adopted twice more children than Ukrainian families, but already last year there were six times more Ukrainian orphans taken by Ukrainian families than by foreigners.  "About 50% of American families want to adopt children under six years old, but there are only 3% of such children in Ukraine. About 50% of children for adoption are over 12, and only every tenth adoptive family wants to adopt a child over 12. The proportions change constantly: the number of small children reduces, while the percentage of older children increases. However, the total number of orphans in Ukraine decreases," the official informed.

According to Pavlenko, 26 thousand children registered in the Ukrainian database can be adopted, and about 12 thousand of them can be adopted by foreigners. Six thousand of those 12 thousand are teens over 16, but the US law, for example, allow adoption of children under 16 only.

Where is the problem?

According to Ukrainian legislation, foreign foster families must provide annual reports for the first three years. The reports must have detailed description of the socialization process. After the first three years, reports can be submitted once in three years until the full age of a child (18 years by Ukrainian legislation). The documents must be submitted to diplomatic institutions of Ukraine before February 1. This year Ukrainian diplomats have received reports only from 44% of foster families, and last year - from 28%.

According to Pavlenko, in the first three years children have difficulties to adapt, but foster families do not report about problems fearing that the child can be taken from them. Then the family and the child become so close that nobody wants to remember about the adoption. Families often move to a different place to cut all ties with officials and forget about sad memories. And how are Ukrainian diplomats supposed to control if everything is ok with the child?

Control over adopted children is one of the duties of consulate officials. However, according to Pavlenko, there is a problem: Ukrainian legislation does not explain the notion 'control', meaning every official can interpret it as he sees fit. Someone believes it is necessary to pay a visit, others think reading the report from a foster family would be enough. 

Another problem involves lack of financing. "We must find the money for financing the activity of consulate officials, namely for delivery of letters of reminder, for tracing foster families which changed the place of residence, for traveling to visit foster families in person. Moreover, it is needed to increase the number of officials working on adoption and foster families," Pavlenko says. According to him, consulates do not have enough personnel to follow all foster families with Ukrainian children.

What is next?

To find out what Ukraine should do to protect its little citizens abroad, the President's envoy on children's rights visited US right after the scandalous killing. Having learned the concrete problem and the situation in general, Pavlenko has submitted a number of propositions to improve Ukrainian legislation.

"We must work out a clear structure of supervision over adopted children. And this procedure must meet the legislation of the country of child's stay. Moreover, we need to unify the conduct of adoption cases in all diplomatic institutions. Presently, every embassy deals with adoption cases as it sees fit. Such state of affairs creates a problem for formation of single database and systematization of information. We also need a universal instruction for consulate officials, which says what to do in case of emergency situation. There is no such document for now, and consulate workers are limited in their actions," Pavlenko says.

According to the President's envoy, it is also necessary to approve order of following single case file of every child. Such file must contain all information about a child, including registration, family reports, information about the change of place of residence, correspondence between consulate officials and families. Moreover, it is needed to set selection criteria of families, which must be visited and to approve a single procedure of report analysis.

Pavlenko believes that Ukraine as a European state must provide adequate financing of its consulates and embassies. "This is not such big money, and I believe Ukraine can allocate necessary amount  to control living conditions of Ukrainian children adopted by foreign families." Most probably, the state budget for 2014 will provide for such expenses.

Despite the fact that Ukrainian families adopt orphans more often now, there are still tens of thousands of children waiting for moms and dads. And these children do not care where to live - in Ukraine or Australia. All they want is a loving family.

Tetyana Hryhoriyeva


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