If I knew then what I know now...

 October 4, 2011

When we were first researching where to adopt we focused on things like age and health of the children available, ability to select gender and time frame.  I don't think we were so terribly different than a lot of prospective adoptive families. We wanted a healthy baby girl, as young as possible and as fast as possible.  We worried about things like orphanage delays and attachment disorders and (as gross as it feels to me now) we didn't want anything less than “perfect”...

When Kazakhstan hit our radar we thought we had found the ideal path to our daughter.  We were told (by agencies and adoptive parents) that the children in Kazakhstan were healthy and young and that the orphanages were clean, well run and staffed by loving workers. I recall very specifically being told that Kaz orphanages were NOT like the eastern European orphanages, Kazakhstan was in Asian and (it was not so subtly inferred) the care of the children was much better than in eastern Europe and Russia.

I believed it. All of it. I guzzled the Kool-aid. Looking back I’m stunned by my own naiveté. 

Because the truth is the orphanages in Kazakhstan are awful places where sensory deprivation, malnutrition and abuse are just as likely as the stories of good care sold to me back in 2007. Because it all just depends which orphanage your child is in.

I’ve suspected this  for some time. As I’ve talked with other Kaz families and compared adoption stories over the years I knew this had to be the case .  After listening to families go on and on about the loving nannies and the therapy rooms and swimming pools at their child's orphanage,  I was often left confused by the stark differences with my own experience and others who shared more negative accounts.  This trip to Kazakhstan helped to clarify many of those inconsistencies.

We visited five orphanages in Kazakhstan last week; a privately run children's orphanage called Ark Village located outside of Almaty, a special needs baby house in Chilik, the Ulan Orphanage and Umit baby house in Taraz and the baby house in Karakastek.

Prior to that I had spent many weeks in the baby house in Ust Kamenogorsk and visited the children's orphanage also in Ust.  That’s seven different orphanages in three different regions of Kazakhstan (not to mention four orphanages in China) I’ve “experienced”,  not enough to call me an expert but certainly more than the vast majority Kaz adoptive families. I’ve earned my right to have an opinion about Kaz orphanages... and it's not a flattering one.

With each new place I encountered on this trip I began to piece together a more accurate picture of Kazakhstan orphanages. The bottom-line is each one of the seven orphanages I toured was nothing like the other.  The level of care, living conditions, quality of food was vastly different and it’s a total crap shoot which one a child is sent to...in some cases,  “sentenced to”.

(Just a a quick and concrete example of the differences...  In Chilik we were allowed to visit with the babies only after putting on sterile masks, shoe covers and “srubs”.  Contrast that with Karakastek where we spent all day scraping plaster walls and painting; by the time we were permitted to visit the babies we were covered in grime and yet they’re only request was to take off our shoes. It was tell tale and you shouldn’t be surprised that the overall level of care in Chilik was far superior to what the kids in Karakastek received and yet very few children in Chilik are adopted because they are "special needs" kids and agencies and most AP's simply didn't go to Kaz for SN kids.

I will do a separate post on Karakastek...an abomination of a place I pray will be shut down completely.)

If I knew then what I know now...

I would not have chosen Kazakhstan...because (for one thing) back then I wanted the fiction sold to me (all of us), a healthy well cared for infant.

After this week my conclusion is Kazakhstan is NOT a place to adopt well cared for healthy infants.  It’s just not.  Did some get just that, sure. And those parents should get on their knees and thank God everyday for that because they (and their kids) got lucky. I know that will anger some Kaz AP's because we (myself included) want to believe it is a good place...doing the best they can with what they have. Sadly though that is not true everywhere.

Now don’t get me wrong these beautiful kids need families and foreign adoption is required if all are to have a chance at that but they need families who are prepared for reality-their reality.  They need parents willing and able to deal with RAD and SPD and developmental delay, the effects of poor nutrition and FAS.

(And frankly they need foreign families who want to adopt older kids and kids with special needs NOT healthy infants...but I will get in to that later.)

If Kazakhstan foreign adoptions resume as expected next year I hope agencies will provide a more honest description of the care children receive in Kaz.  I hope they will prepare parents for the reality rather than try to sell them the fantasy.

I hope they will stress the need for older and special needs adoption in Kazakhstan and stop suggesting there are rooms full of available healthy infants and,

I hope they will warn parents of the possibility that their child was subjected to harsh and traumatic deprivation, hunger and neglect.

Because like it or not, that is the truth about Kaz orphanages.

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