April 16, 2014

Ban on Russian adoptions impacts Iowans

Several Iowans have been watching with concern as the leader of the Russian government signed a bill that halts all U.S. adoptions of children from the country. Lowell Highby of Nevada adopted a Russian son in 2009 and had sought to adopt a girl too. The decision that would block all adoptions is tough for him to take.

“It’s devastating news. It all seems to be happening in retaliation for a U.S. law that was passed as it relates to Russian human rights abusers,” Highby says. “I really don’t understand how the two are tied together and why orphans should be punished for a disagreement on another unrelated issue. But that seems to be what’s happening.” Highby adopted his son Alex through and Iowa program called Camp Hope.

“That program was started around 2000 I believe, with the hope of brining over older Russian kids who were in orphanages that had very little hope of adoption in Russia. Because as a rule, Russians do not adopt in the numbers that we do in the United States,” Highby says.

“And if you are an older child — say above seven — your odds are really almost zero that anybody will come forward to adopt you.” He says the program had a dual purpose of helping the children and families that took them in.

“Life is often not very good for Russian orphans after they have aged out of the system and are on their own. Of course nothing is 100 percent bad or 100 percent good, but life can be pretty rough for those kids,” according to Highby. “And this program allowed people to meet kids in person and allowed them to stay in their homes for a week to 10 days to see how the dynamic worked out.”

The Iowa program got a look at the future potential problems with the Russian government in 2011. The Russian children who were coming to visit potential parents in Iowa had their flight delayed by weather. Highby says they decided to extend the kids’ stay, but that became an issue.

“What should have been a five minute phone call to explain — here’s the deal they’re gonna stay a couple of extra days, they got here a couple of days late — it just turned into a huge, ridiculous inexplicable incident,” Highby says. “All the kids got back safe and sound, everything was good, but for whatever reason, this was used as an excuse to eventually stop the adoption of these kids when it was really nothing. It was an absolute nothing thing. But to turn that into a whole big problem is, it’s hard to even understand how it could had happened.”

Some 170 Russian children were adopted through the Camp Hope program before it was shut down following the problems in 2011. Highby says sadly now the leadership of the Russian government has taken the issue a step further. “I want to add, and I always try to say this, there are good people in the Russian childcare system. But too often these kids are used as political pawns, and that’s absolutely the case with what is going on right now,” Highby says.

“The focus is not about helping these kids, it’s about scoring some strange political points that really have nothing to do with orphan children and the families that want to open their homes to them.” Some 60-thousand Russian children had been adopted nationwide before the new law was signed to block adoptions.

Highby says you can help by writing your congressman or senator and asking them to work out a solution.