Adopting a Child from Eastern Europe

Archived Q&A and Reviews

August 2002

Hi, We're considering adopting a child (already the biological parents of a toddler), and we're looking at an infant or toddler from Eastern Europe. My doctor unnerved me a little by talking about her sibling's experience. Apparently both children had extremely complicated needs and the younger child had to be returned to the agency and readopted because s/he was so violent and disruptive. I'm not looking for the ''perfect child'' but do not want to be placed in such a heartbreaking position. If you have any positive or negative experiences about adopting from Eastern Europe please share them. I'd also welcome agency recommendations or warnings.

My daughter is adopted from Romania. We are members of a parents group all of whom have adopted from Romania. None of us has experienced major problems. However, some Eastern European (as well as other sources) adoptions have certainly had major problems. If you'd like to contact me directly I can discuss the issues more fully. David
I feel compelled to share my incredible experience with an Eastern European adoption last year. My son, who is now 19 months old, was in an Ukraine orphanage for the first 11 months. The Russian Adoption Facilitation Service (RAFS) on Union Street in San Francisco aided me (enormously and impeccably) in identifying the baby, provided me with tapes and a medical overview and then facilitated my trip to pick up my son last November.

He was very small and anemic when I arrived, but in the past 8 months has truly blossomed into an incredible little being. Developmentally, he is not behind at all, either physically or mentally, and I remain deeply grateful to those who helped me locate him and bring him here to the U.S., as well as the caretakers and doctors at the orphanage who are tremendously under-resourced, but still offer alot of loving support to the babies and children in their care. My son is just one of four children that I have met in the Bay Area from that specific orphanage, and all of the children are just fantastic. Simply in need of love, attention and good nutrition. Victoria Shusterova, the attorney who runs RAFS, has brought over 2000 children from Russia and Eastern Europe in the past decade, and is a true pro at all aspects of this process (which can be a bit intrusive and lengthy, but you forget all of that once you have the child who was always supposed to be yours..)

This is a highly emotional and personal decision, but I would be more than happy to discuss it with you one on one. There are fantastic resources available to us here in the Bay Area, including the strongest chapter of FRUA (Families for Russian and Ukranian Adoption) in the U.S. Feel free to email me any other questions or concerns you have. jmr

My sister's best friend adopted two children from Russia. Both of them had significant physical and emotional problems which the parents did not find out about until the adoption was completed and the children were already living with them. The older one (a girl) was diagnosed with attachment disorder, and the family has spent many years dealing with her emotional issues. The younger one had developmental delays. The family is doing well now, but it took years of hard work (especially for the mother) to help the children reach a place of emotional and physical security. Before you adopt, it's very important to think through what special needs you are willing and able to deal with, because with a foreign adoption, you may not have full information ahead of time. My husband and I decided against a foreign adoption partly for that reason. Instead, we adopted a two-year-old girl right here in Alameda county. She had a history of being neglected and abandoned by her parents, and it has certainly been an adventure to help her feel at home in our family, but we knew her whole history in great detail and had a good idea of what we were getting into. We also got great support from social workers, therapists, etc. I really recommend that route if you decide a foreign adoption is not for you. As for the age, my impression from our own experience and the feedback I get from other people who have also adopted is that the older the child, the more time and energy the adjustment will take for everyone. But it's worth it! Good luck. Christine
We've adopted two boys from Russia -- one is from a very rural part of the Ural Mountains and the other is from a more urban area near the Black Sea. Both boys lived in orphanages until they came home to us at the age of 12 months. They are now 8 and 6 years old.

Do they have scars from their early life? Yes. Any adoption agency will tell you that any child spending any amount of time in an institution will be impacted developmentally. However, once the child is in a loving, nurturing, caring home - how they blossom! But... I've come to believe that how quickly and to what extent they overcome their early life experiences is based as much on what they were born with than on anything else.

In our case, one son has developmental delays, a communication disorder, sensory integration issues, obsessive tendancies, intense anxieties, and was diagnosed as Autistic spectrum (however, that has since been revoked). Yet, if you saw him, you'd never know. He is a charming, loving, intelligent little boy who is no more high maintenance than some of the birth children discussed on this list. Our theory is that institutional life compounded his challenges - but he was probably born with certain pre-dispositions. Many children coming out of orphanages have language/developmental delays, sensory issues, or social challenges -- all of which can manifest into misbehavior. Most kids overcome or compensate quite successfully if given the support of a loving family. By comparison, Second Son demonstrated no delays and is completely ''normal'' by all U.S. standards.

We, too, have heard the stories of failed adoptions. But, the percentage is so small compared to the success stories. Remember, we don't know all of the facts and all the variables in those circumstances - so please don't let that deter you. Instead, do a little research, know the risks, set your expectations accordingly and choose a reputable agency.

For some insight, check out the Parents Network for Post- institutionalized Children ( -- but don't let them scare you off!

As for agencies - we used ACCEPT in Los Altos to do our homestudies. ( Don't let the location bother you - their social workers live in the East Bay and can meet at a location convenient for you. The rest of the business was done by phone and mail.

For our first adoption we used an agency that I won't recommend. Not because of our son's issues, but because they were totally unorganized. I've talked with several other families who had similar, unsatisfactory experiences with this agency. For that reason, we chose a different agency for our second adoption. I wholeheartly recommend Small World Adoption Foundation in St. Louis, MO. ( Again, all contacts were done through phone, mail and email. We really liked this agency because they are well organized and well connected (an important qualification in foreign adoption). The founders/directors of SWAF are Russian physicians who immigrated to the U.S. and are practicing pediatricians. They personally select the children they will place - and, while they are not allowed to perform physicals on the children, we felt their background could only be beneficial. I believe they have programs in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia - and perhaps a few other countries.

Whether or not to adopt is a very personal decision. However, if you are open to parenting a non-biological child - and if you're willing to invest in that child all you've got to give - then the experience can be extremely rewarding. We consider our boys a special gift - one that takes 20 years to unwrap - and we're willing to take all the surprises along the way!

I hope you're encouraged enough by the responses from this group to pursue more information about whether or not adoption is right for your family. Best Wishes --- An Adoptive Mom