Friday, April 23, 2010

US families persevere in seeking Kyrgyz adoptions
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

Friday, April 23, 2010 at 12:48 p.m.

NEW YORK — Amid high-profile furor over adoptions from Haiti and Russia, about 60 American families are persevering with a two-year struggle to complete adoptions from Kyrgyzstan - an already emotionally draining quest further complicated by recent political upheaval.

The families were formally matched with the children - most suffering from serious medical problems - in 2008 and have grown deeply attached to them after visiting their orphanages and bringing back photographs and videos.

"I feel that's my daughter, and she's my responsibility. I can't let go," said Angela Sharp, a 36-year-old cosmetology instructor from Flint, Mich., who visited for a week in April 2008 with the now 2-year-old orphan she hopes to adopt. A room with a crib and children's clothes awaits the girl, already given a new name by Sharp - Mia Angelina.

The nearly completed adoption proceedings for Sharp and the other families ground to a halt in late 2008 when Kyrgyzstan said it needed to overhaul its adoption system because of suspected corruption. A reform bill was introduced but never finalized, an investigation launched but never finished, and Parliament was dissolved following a bloody revolt this month that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Meanwhile, one of the waiting children has died and another suffered such severe neurological damage that her prospective mother in Florida - a pediatrician - shifted from trying to adopt to campaigning to help ailing Kyrgyz orphans get better medical care.

"These children in Kyrgyzstan - their level of care is sub-par at best, and they've been waiting there now for two years," said Tom DeFilipo of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. "The commitment of the families to these children is astounding. Once they get attached to a child, it's their child."

Lisa Reickerd of Orange, Calif., the single mother of a girl adopted from Kazakhstan in 2003, is now trying to adopt a 3-year-old girl she met in an orphanage in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, in August 2008.

"I knew she was meant to be with me," said Reickerd, who has served as the waiting families' main liaison with the State Department, which handles international adoption matters. "I feel no less love or compassion for this little girl than for the daughter I have now. We're all very committed to waiting this out."

However, recent events have compounded the frustrations of the waiting families. They noted that hundreds of pending adoptions of Haitian orphans by Americans were expedited after the earthquake in January, and they felt neglected amid the tumult this month that prompted Russia to freeze U.S. adoptions after a Tennessee woman sent her adopted son back to Moscow alone on a plane.

The families are now making two specific requests - that the State Department draw up a detailed plan to resolve the stalemate and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton telephone the new Kyrgyz leader to raise the issue.

The State Department says it empathizes with the families, while noting that the new Kyrgyz leaders are struggling to restore basic government functions and may not consider adoption a high priority for the moment. The department also accepts Kyrgyzstan's position that its corruption probe must be completed before adoptions resume.

"The Kyrgyz authorities should urgently complete the criminal investigation into alleged adoption fraud and resolve the pending cases so that eligible children can be placed in loving homes," Michele Bond, the deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services, said Friday.

She stressed that many of the waiting children have serious health problems and that the U.S. families, despite the challenges, remain committed to adopting.

The families and their supporters say the Kyrgyz investigation appears to be stalled and are pleading for the pending adoptions to be finalized now.

"There is no legal concern over these pending cases, no concern whatsoever regarding these children's orphan status or their availability for adoption," said Chuck Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Council for Adoption.

Both Johnson and Reickerd suggested that U.S. officials have placed the adoption issue on the back burner while they try to make sure the new Kyrgyz leaders will let the U.S. continue using a strategic air base for the war in Afghanistan.

"The air base and oil are on the top of their minds; our children are not," Reickerd said.

One of the waiting Americans is Ann Bates of Bernville, Pa., who is not only persisting with her Kyrgyz application, but also trying to adopt a child from Russia - and thus is affected by Moscow's new freeze.

The Kyrgyz group initially numbered 65 families, Bates said, but four have dropped out to pursue adoptions from elsewhere, while Dr. Suzanne Bilyeu of Jacksonville, Fla., shifted to pushing for broader orphan assistance after the severe deterioration of the hydrocephalus-afflicted child she'd been matched with.

One couple, Kevin and Shannon Fenske of Reeseville, Wis., already have an adopted child from Kyrgyzstan - a boy named Esen who turns 4 next week. They were part of the first significant wave of U.S. adoptions from Kyrgyzstan, which increased from four in 2005 to 78 in 2008 before the delays began.

Eager to expand their family, the Fenskes were matched in July 2008 with a Kyrgyz baby girl afflicted with a severe cleft lip and palate. They hoped she could start corrective surgery this month, but the political upheaval forced cancellation of a mission to Kyrgyzstan by German doctors who were going to operate on her.

Meanwhile, Esen has been learning about his native country and the plans for him to have a sibling.

"It's hard for him to understand why the country he's from won't let his little sister come home," Shannon Fenske said.

A New York City couple, Drew and Frances Pardus-Abbadessa, had been hoping to adopt a child from Vietnam, but when corruption problems disrupted that system they turned to Kyrgyzstan.

The couple, both in their 40s, were matched in June 2008 with a newborn boy named Vladimir, and they've visited his orphanage several times.

"We think of him every day - when we're eating dinner, we're thinking what would he like to eat," said Frances Pardus-Abbadessa. "I can't imagine abandoning him at all."

"As time goes on," she added, "we get older and it gets harder."

The Associated Press

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