US faith, government leaders work to unlock international adoptions

(Photo: Reuters / Mikhail Voskresensky)Jeana Bonner (R) plays with 5-year-old Jaymi Viktoria and 4-year-old Gabriel Artur (L) in a hotel room in Moscow Feb. 11, 2013. After a nerve-wracking month in Moscow, fearing their adoption bids might be foiled by a diplomatic spat, two U.S. families are now able to take their adopted Russian children home. Bonner and Rebecca Preece spent around a year trying to adopt two Russian orphans, both with special needs, only for their applications to be stalled at the final stages when Russia banned Americans adopting in December. The ban was part of Russia's retaliation for U.S. sanctions on suspected human rights abusers and marked a low point for President Barack Obama's bid to improve relations with the former Cold War foe.

A coalition of U.S. religious and government leaders and international agencies are supporting a new effort to promote international adoptions.

Spearheaded by the Both Ends Burning foundation, these leaders are seeking a turnaround in the serious decline in international adoptions which has occurred in the last decade.

The broad support will bring about needed changes says Frank Garrott, a board member of the organization and also the president of a Texas-based adoption center.

"This is not a dream. It's going to happen", Garrott said on his agency's website. "Against all odds, Both Ends Burning has pulled the adoption community together."

He pointed to the important support of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who is pushing policy changes in the United States.

Garrott also said that the president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, leaders of the Jewish community in several U.S. cities, and many large international adoption agencies are behind the thrust.

International adoptions in the United States have dropped by more than half since 2004 according to U.S. State Department statistics. The reasons for the decline are varied.

The causes include stricter requirements for adoption drawn up by the Hague Adoption Convention which came into force in the U.S. in 2008.

The rules coming from this convention were aimed at introducing safeguards and protecting children.

Another reason cited is the intervention by UNESCO, the United Nations governing body that does not believe children should leave their countries and cultures through adoption.

International politics have also fueled the lower adoption levels.

Russia, one of the primary sources of adopted children in the U.S., banned Americans from adopting children from there in Dec. 2012.

The high price of adopting a child has also diminished adoption efforts. Both Ends Burning founder Craig Juntenen says it costs $28,000 and takes three years for prospective American parents to adopt a child from abroad.

Juntenen told the Christian website, "What is preventing these unions from happening is a broken system."

He has created a documentary called "Stuck" to promote participation in changing current adoption practices.

The film premiered at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Award at the Heartland Film Festival Institute.

It details conditions of  children stranded in orphanages and highlights the plight  of several families as they wade through the adoption process, and also shows kids who have thrived in their adoptive families.

The film is narrated by Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: SVU. It was shot in Ethiopia, Vietnam and Haiti, as well in Washington, DC.

"What we want people to do is to see the film and come to terms with how they want to get involved," said Juntenen.

He said there are a number of ways for people to do this.

These methods include signing a petition on their website and hosting regional screenings of the film. The award-winning movie is currently being shown around the United States in churches and other venues.

Juntenen said that he believes that creating a discourse about the current condition of international adoptions will energize his campaign to encourage change.

"Movements aren't created out of thin air," he said. "It takes people like you and me, and people in your church and our church to come together."

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