US parents keep abusing Russian foster children on the brink of new treaty

In the past 10 years, dozens of Russian children have been neglected, while at least 17 have died in the care of their adoptive American parents. A new agreement regulating the process between the two countries may be signed as soon as May.

For now, the well-being of hundreds of foster children across the US remains unknown.

An American mother recorded a video of how she punishes her adopted Russian boy and sent it to a popular TV show. The tape caused outrage across the country and beyond.

But ramming hot sauce into seven-year old Christoph’s mouth did not seem enough for Jessica Beagley.  A freezing shower was next.

“We have tried a lot of different things to punish the kids. Spanking we have learned doesn’t work with Christoph,” says Jessica Beagley, the adoptive mother.

It was only after the television show that authorities looked into the wellbeing of the adopted Russian boy. Jessica Beagley was charged with child abuse.

The adoption system in the US is such that once a child is adopted by American parents, the government does not provide any oversight as to how they are doing – the opposite would be seen as an encroachment of privacy.   

Some believe because of the absence of supervision, the suffering of many adopted children remains unheard.

“Adoption agencies in this country are set up as a business…because of the fact that they are dealing with human lives, not selling cars or toasters, it certainly seems there should be a lot more oversight,” says adoption expert Mirah Riben.

More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by US parents since 1991.

“Fortunately, most of these kids live happily with new American families, however 17 murdered children, dozens harmed, and hundreds disappeared are losses which cannot be just allowed,” says Russia's child rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov.

One of the recent incidents that sent shockwaves throughout the world was the killing of the 7 year old Ivan Skorobogatov, who was beaten to death by his American adoptive parents.

Last year, Russian authorities suspended adoptions by US parents after an American woman put the Russian boy she’d adopted on a plane back to Moscow – alone – with a note saying she no longer wanted him.  

Now Russia and the US are working towards an agreement, which would provide better government oversight on the wellbeing of adopted Russian children in American families – something that would mean regular visits to the families by social workers from both countries.

Some say the biggest obstacle to reaching the deal is the overall secrecy surrounding adoptions in the US.

“In the United States of America once the adoption is finalized that child is considered the same as if born to the adoptive parents, a birth certificate gets re-issued. The adoptive parents never even have to tell the child they were adopted,” says Mirah Riben.

But Russia says Americans' privacy issues should not be an argument for leaving thousands of adopted children without any oversight and protection. 

“Any lawyer understands you cannot transport even a bag of potatoes across the border without any contract but small children were being taken by thousands without any agreements,” says Pavel Astakhov. 

In the US, people wanting to adopt pay private agencies for assessments of their suitability as parents. This of course raises questions as to how objective those assessments can actually be. Once a child is adopted, there is no follow-up to see how they are doing. If Jessica Beagley had not sent her video to a TV show, no one would have known about her punishment methods – just as we don’t know about how many other adopted children are now subject to domestic violence in the US.