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Updated Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 12:46 AM

Snoqualmie family worries about impact of Russian ban on U.S. adoptions

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

It's a little emotional for Elena Larson, 22, of Snoqualmie, to think about what Russia's ban on adoption of its children by Americans could mean.

Unlike her three siblings, who were adopted from orphanages in Russian cities, she came from an underfunded rural facility where food, attention, education and resources were scarce.

Larson, who is majoring in English and minoring in women's studies at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, said she was labeled "retarded" as a child because she was quiet and shy.

"Kids in the country who are not people persons don't get enough attention," she said. She wasn't taught to read or otherwise educated, she said.

Had she not been adopted when she was 7, she said, "I would have never had that second chance."

The fate of 52 Russian children who are in the process of being adopted by American parents remains uncertain after the adoption ban signed into law Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The law, which is to take effect Jan. 1, is part of the Russian response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be human-rights violators.

Although some top Russian officials including the foreign minister openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it less than 24 hours after receiving it from Parliament, where it passed both houses overwhelmingly.

The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children.

UNICEF estimates there are about 740,000 children without parents in Russia. Over the past two decades more than 60,000 have been adopted by Americans.

Putin, along with signing the adoption ban, on Friday, issued an order for the government to develop a program to provide more support for adopted children.

This is not the first time the Russian government has acted to suspend or ban foreign adoptions. Two years ago, adoptions to Americans were temporarily halted after a Tennessee woman sent her 7-year-old adoptive Russian son back to his homeland on a plane alone.

"It's a shame to see people using children as political pawns," said Matt Larson, who is Elena Larson's father and the mayor of Snoqualmie.

The World Association for Children and Parents that facilitated the adoption of Larson and her three siblings said it would not comment on the matter until more information about the law and its effects is known.

The association spokeswoman Julie Snyder, however, said the agency stands by the words of the National Council for Adoption, which posted a statement on its website Friday.

"Russia's decision to ban intercountry adoption with the United States and deny children an opportunity of a loving family is most certainly a great tragedy, but it is just one example of a greater tragedy lived out daily by millions upon millions of orphans worldwide who are victims of war, famine, disease, and political systems that deny them a voice," said the council's chief executive officer, Chuck Johnson.

Matt and Jennifer Larson, a human-resources director at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, lived down the road from the Renton-based World Association for Children and Parents when they began the process of creating their family through adoption.

While they were in Russia to pick up Nick, a Mount Si High School student who was adopted as an infant 15 years ago, they began looking at pictures and videos of other children. They saw Elena who looked like Jennifer's mother, they said, and fell in love.

A few years later, they were back in Russia again to pick up 6-year-old Eddie.

Eddie, who is now 18 and a math student at his father's alma mater, Saint John's University in Minnesota, remembers being told of a family that wanted to meet him.

"It would be pretty sad to think that you were going to have a new home and then find out you didn't," he said. "Most kids don't want to be in an orphanage."

Jennifer and Matt Larson said that potential parents already feel attached to the children by the time the adoption is being processed.

"From a parent's point of view, I can tell you that the people who are waiting for children right now feel like they've lost their child," said Matt Larson. "They're grieving."

The Larsons later adopted 10-year-old Julia, now a 20-year-old student of cosmetology. She and Eddie had been friends in the orphanage and she had asked the Larsons to take her as well when they picked up Eddie, but her mother's parental rights had not been terminated at that time.

The adoption ban has angered Americans and Russians who argue it victimizes children to make a political point, cutting off a route out of frequently dismal orphanages for thousands.

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed regret over Putin's signing the law and urged Russia to "allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families."

"It would be like if you cut off the wedding the day before the wedding," said Eddie. "The work is all done, the plans are all made, the hope is there."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Jennifer and Matt Larson, of Snoqualmie, have adopted four children from Russia, including Eddie, far left, 18, and, far right, Julia, 20.




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