New welfare rules hamper foreign adoptions of Polish children

June 02, 1991|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland is introducing regulations to hamper foreign adoptions of Polish children and to force foreigners who do adopt to maintain the children's links with Poland.

The new rules, pushed by the nation's child welfare agency, would ban private adoptions and individual approaches except through the agency.

The measures, expected to become law by autumn, would keep Polish children from going to foreign adoptive parents unless an exhaustive nationwide search had failed to find willing Polish families.

Potential parents abroad would have to apply through their own country's agencies, which must meet Poland's demand for regular post-adoption checks on the child's development and "friendly attitude toward Poland."

As of now, the proposed rules are only in the form of guidelines, which are being bent, at a price. Those adoptions mostly involve the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Polish child welfare authority's go-between with the United States.

Poles have complained that they wait years while foreigners adopt in months. "There was concern that too many children were being sent overseas when they could have been adopted in Poland," said Grazyna Niedzielska, who runs a new data bank designed to facilitate Polish placements.

A spate of news articles over the last year have cited a "baby exports" racket in which foreigners pay to lawyers, intermediaries, institutions and even birth mothers sums that are out of reach for even a moderately well-off Polish family.

A U.S. Embassy official acknowledged that many American adoptive parents make "voluntary contributions" to church-run orphanages, although she said she had no evidence of bribes as such.

Last June, Poland's child welfare agency, the Association of Children's Friends (TPD), set up a central data bank to which all 42 outlying adoption centers must send the details of children whom they have been unable to place with Polish families.

The center disseminates information throughout the country, and only after searching for a month in Poland do the authorities consider foreign applications.

The children who end up being listed by TPD are those who are harder to place. They may be older, with numerous siblings whom Polish families cannot afford to support. Abuse by birth parents or protracted periods in orphanages may have left them with behavioral problems.

"Every year in the orphanage works against us," Ms. Niedzielska said.

If the children are very young, they can have physical or mental defects or a family history of severe psychiatric illness.

"Polish families are super-cautious," Ms. Niedzielska said. "They don't like even slightly retarded children. There are no suitable schools, so there are no willing parents."

Adoption, moreover, is still hushed up, and Poles generally try to pass off adopted children as biological offspring.

Last year, from August to December, the data bank listed 135 children. Only 11 found Polish families, Ms. Niedzielska said. Thirty-five were cleared for adoption abroad, mostly in Western Europe. But 89 stayed on the books, homeless.

In view of such need, it is surprising that Poland lays down conditions in addition to those adoptive parents must meet anywhere. But rumors of Latin American children being adopted to provide transplant organs, along with a defensive, defiant spirit of nationalism, have prompted Warsaw to demand post-adoption checks that almost no other country requires.

Selected agencies will become mandatory intermediaries and make first annual, then triennial, reports on a child's progress.

"The children must know that they are Poles," said Dr. Barbara Passini, who handles foreign adoptions for the TPD. "They were born Poles, and nothing can change that.

"We want our children brought up with friendly feelings toward their country of origin. We don't want them told that Poland is a place where bears roam the streets," she added.

Some potential parents balk at the idea of an annual report. An American woman, who asked not to be identified by name for fear of prejudicing her chances of adopting here, called the report "an invasion of privacy and a disruption of the child's relations with its new parents."

"If the child can be adopted in Poland, then that's wonderful, that's ideal," she said. "But if it's going somewhere else, it will be an American or a Briton or an Australian, whatever. It must develop a sense of national identity and patriotism toward its adopted country. If an American child were adopted by a Polish family, I think the Poles would have something to say about Americans running checks and reminding the family that the child is American."

The U.S. Embassy has processed 65 immigrant visas for Polish children adopted since October, while the data bank placed only 35 children with foreigners overall. "Private adoptions are still taking place," the embassy official said.

Most, apparently, are done through the Roman Catholic Church.

Richard M. Stephenson, a chemical engineer from Connecticut, is Poland's liaison with the New England agency, Wide Horizons for Children Inc., the only U.S. agency the Polish authorities use.

Mr. Stephenson has advised would-be parents that their chances of adopting healthy babies in Poland are zero unless they go privately through an organization such as the church. The church, he explained, runs homes for unwed mothers and can supply babies. But he warned that the cost of such an adoption is "very high" and that would-be parents "have to have the proper connections."

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