ABOUT ROMANIAN ORPHANS
Friday, June 25, 1999
On June 26, Washington, D.C. will play
host to a reunion of the first children rescued from orphanages in Siret,
Romania. The horrific conditions of orphans in Siret and other Romanian
institutions were brought to light by a 1990 ABC Turning Point report,
"The Lost Souls" and a follow-up in 1997 entitled "Romania: What
Happened to the Children." The exposť launched efforts around the United
States to help the neglected and abused children.
The Romanian crisis, which has a long
history related to communism and economic turmoil, continues today. Dr.
Ronald Federici discussed the current state of orphanages in Romania and
other parts of the world, as well as the adoption programs in the United
States. Dr. Ronald Federici is a psychologist and founder of several
American relief efforts for the Romanian orphans.
He first visited Siret's orphanages in
1996 as a consultant for the follow-up report. Federici, who has adopted
two Romanian orphans, is founder of the American chapter of the Romanian
Challenge Appeal. He is also the author of Help for the Hopeless
Child: A Guide for Families.
Read the transcript below.
Washingtonpost.com: Welcome to
our discussion Dr. Federici. To get us started, could you give us some
background about this week's reunion of the Siret adoptees?
Ron Federici: After working in
one of the most dismal institutions in Romania known as Siret, our
humanitarian efforts were able to extract fourteen children from this
place and find families to adopt them here in the States. The event on
Saturday, 26 June, will involve American and Romanian specialists and
dignitaries working collaboratively in discussing even more aggressive
programs for de-institutionalization. This will be the first time the
adopted children from Siret will see each other on American soil, which
really highlights how a project can come together with the help of
concerned people in both countries.
Washington, D.C. : Dr. Federici,
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in Romanian
Ron Federici: I have been
performing neuropsychological evaluations on very damaged children for
20 years and have seen numerous children from international settings. I
was asked to be a medical consultant for ABC News in 1996 in which Tom
Jarril wanted to revisit the tragedy of Romanian institutions. When I
went over to Romania it really made it clear to me as to how the
children I had already been seeing had become damaged. I now continue to
work with an international humanitarian group and experts regularly in
Romanian institutions, performing evaluations and setting up treatment
programs while coordinating activities with the government.
El Paso, TX: Can you comment on
the subject of attachment disorder and the Romanian adoptees? Have any
longitudinal studies been undertaken? Does consistent nurturing seem to
overcome some of the initial problems seen in these cases?
Ron Federici: Specialists in
International Adoption Medicine have been collecting a tremendous amount
of data about the effects of institutionalization. Psychological experts
are now revisiting earlier studies in the 40's and 50's on the effects
of deprivation from Spitz and Bowlby. For all of the older children,
beyond adoption age of 2 and 3, attachment problems are almost
guaranteed as these children never lived with any type of positive
parental figure, nor are they typically afforded proper care. The child
under the age of 2 years old stands the best chance and will benefit the
most by intensive nurturing and attachment whereas the older adopted
child just does not have the ability to benefit from love and nurturing
alone. Actually, those of us working in attachment disorders are finding
that parents who try to provide an abundance of love to the older child
only wind up with more problems as the post-institutionalized child just
does not process or comprehend these emotional concepts. We are now
breaking down attachment disorders into children with cognitive problems
who lack the innate ability to comprehend human emotions and children
who appear to have primarily psychological damage causing attachment
In my book, "Help for the Hopeless Child; A Guide for Families", I
discussed a very radical but successful treatment program for parents
adopting older children in order to rapidly work on the effects of
institutionalization and attachment disorders. Again, providing just
love and affection can often cause more problems as this is more what
parents need to do than what the child can handle. More and more
research studies are being published but the current focus continues to
be more on medical issues. The psychological data will continue to be
available in book form and in subsequent research articles.
Bethesda, Md.: Has democracy in
Romania done anything to improve the condition of the orphanages?
Ron Federici: Romania will take
years to evolve as they are in a terrible economic crisis. Children
continue to enter institutions due to poverty and deprivation with very
few funds being channeled to these institutions. International aid is in
great demand as the conditions continue to be VERY poor for these
children. Democracy has allowed growth, but the country is still in
great despair. It is evolving, however.
Alexandria, VA: Doctor Federici,
we've had cases in the U.S. of parents putting their children up for
adoption and then changing their minds and wanting to regain custody of
their children. Do situations like these ever complicate your efforts in
Ron Federici: It is a tragedy
that children are adopted and then relinquished. This is due directly to
the fact that adoptive parents are typically not well prepared, trained
or informed by their adoption agencies. Families have one opinion that
the child will just fall in place, but when the damage surfaces, many
ill-prepared families are overwhelmed and disappointed to where they
want to give up the child.
The Romanian Department of Child Welfare is very troubled regarding this
situation and feel that there should be a much better family assessment
and binding contract to where families are not able to quickly
relinquish their child. this is the importance of an IMMEDIATE and
thorough assessment of the child's needs by proper specialists and to
provide vast support to the families in order to prevent relinquishment.
If it continues, in these cases, the Romanian Government will most
likely require more stringent contracts between agencies and their
government in order to insure the best interests of the child to remain
in the home.
Washington, DC: Is it true that
the older children get, the worse the conditions are in orphanages? I
have visited orphanages in Russia and this is the case -- abuse gets
much worse as the children get moved from a small kids to an older kids
Ron Federici: As children grow
older, they continue to be channeled in any available institution where
the range can be from 4 years old to 25 years-old. This is a huge
problem as children become more vulnerable and more abused and more
emotionally damaged by being even further lost in a hopeless system.
This is the tragedy of Eastern European institutions which have a long
history through Communist times. This is the importance of trying to
find a way to prevent more children from entering the institutions, as
once they get in, they may never leave
Arlington, VA: Dr. Federici, are
you and your colleagues trying to close down Siret or reform it? What is
the response-reaction of the Romanian government?
Ron Federici: We have had
tremendous support from the Romanian government regarding our
humanitarian efforts in Siret. We now have a full-time group of
volunteers from all disciplines working in Siret and they have allowed
our medical team to set up pediatric, psychiatric, medication, and
educational programs . We have built two group homes and have used Siret
as a model for de-institutionalizing children. Our ultimate goal is to
provide new training and models on ways for institutional children to
leave the place and become productive Romanian citizens but they need a
great deal of guidance from outside experts. We have total support from
the government, and, I believe, Siret will stay open as they are very
proud of our accomplishments, and often reference our work to other
sections of Romania. We travel around Romania evaluating institutions.
There may be some that close, but at the current situation, chidren will
just remain in the institutions as there is no other place for them to
Rosslyn, VA: In the wake of the
Columbine shootings, can the ideas in your book be applied to older
children? Also, how is the traumatization of older children different
than that of younger children?
Ron Federici: Columbine was a
tragedy but reflects how damaged children can become - the epitome of an
unattached child. Families must use principles of aggressive
reattachment and demanding that their child get back in the family,
comply with requirements, but also learn and practice how to relate at a
deeper level. While sections of my book may seem aggressive and
unconventional, what choice do we have when children are slipping away
into deep despondancy and rage?
We must find ways to aggressively to hold them in the family ,train them
and recondition their thinking and behaviors. While there still may be
failures, aggressive attempts on the part of parents of the older child
stands a much better chance of success than allowing the damaged child
to drift away into tragic outcomes.
No. Virginia: What happened to
the Romanian children who came to the U.S. and then started to have
severe psychosocial problems. Were some of them sent back to Romania or
did they go into new foster homes?
Ron Federici: So many of the
children have chronic problems and have overwhelmed the families to
where the families have given up even trying. Some have gone to foster
homes or residential care, which is like another institution for them,
and promotes a deeper attachment disorder. We are trying very hard to
train mental health professionals on more proper and aggressive
treatment models for the post-institutionalized child as opposed to the
"wait-and-see or let them adjust" model. These children have gone
through so many experiences that we cannot comprehend and need experts
who truly understand children and the effects of deprivation. Treatment
has to be unconventional as the child with an attachment disorder can
often be smarter than the therapist or the parent. We are setting up
international adoption clinics across the country with the Parent
Network for the Post-Institutionalized Child (e-mail: email@example.com),
setting up training for families at least three to four times per year
across the country.
Washington, D.C.: Do the orphans
tend to have psychological damage before entering these orphanages or
does it come from living in them? How do you -or other professionals in
this area- address these youngsters psychological problems?
Ron Federici: Many of the
children who enter institutions have been damaged either medically or
psychologically simply by poverty and deprivation. Many of my Russian
and Romanian colleagues tell me that "why do you think we place the
children in the institutions - because they are healthy?" Poverty is
certainly the number 1 reason for children to be placed in institutions,
although given the severe medical, nutritional, environmental, and
economic hazards, the mothers and children are clearly at risk which
results in either cognitive or emotional impairments when the child
enters the institutions and gets worse as the years go by.
Washington, DC: How long does the
adoption of foreign children take today? Because of the Romanian
Challenge Appeal, is adoption of Romanian children quicker than children
from other countries?
Ron Federici: Families wanting to
adopt must go through an international adoption agency which can take
anywhere from 8 months to two years depending on the problem. Most
people want infants, which is smart. Older children are more readily
available with an abundance of handicapped children.
Our Romanian Challenge Appeal focuses only on institutionalized children
who clearly have emotional damage and need a very strong familiy. We
have the strong support of the Romanian government to expedite
handicapped adoptions as this has been the priority of the Secretary of
State, Dr. Tabacaru, who sees the handicapped child as the most
vulnerable and in quickest need of a family who can handle them. We have
had wonderful families taking on our children from Siret, with the
adoptions being done within 4-6 months and at virtually no cost aside
from basic requirements (e.g., translations, INS, court fees, etc.).
Arlington, Virginia: Dr.
Federici, I read the recent Washingtonian article about your work. How
have your boys recovered from their surgery since the article's
publication? I hope they are well.
Ron Federici: Our children were
almost dead when we found them and are now very much alive. They have
defied all odds and are walking and at the top of their classes. They
are an amazing pair and show how a strong brain and a strong soul can
prevail. it too tremendous medical and psychological work to get them to
this point. Tom Jarriel, from "20/20" ,will be seeing them this
Saturday, as he and I saw them at their worst condition years ago. Thank
you for your kind words.
Arlington, VA: In 1990 Romania
was seen at the forefront of the problem orphanage scene. Where are
troublespots around the globe for this problem today?
Ron Federici: International
adoptions are a real risk, as we just do not know genetic backgrounds,
accuracy of records, the amount of care provided or how the older child
really is. People are still adopting in volumes but I think families
really need to be prepared for potential problems and hope that they
will be able to find a healthy child or at least be able to aggressively
deal with problems as they surface. Think of it this way, how would you
function if you lost everything, had poor medical and nutritional care
and had no one to take care of you and you had these experiences for
years? Would you be healthy? And how long would it take for recovery to
occur? Some do much better than others, with the goal being to get out
of the institution as early as possible.
Herndon, VA: Have you heard
evidence of similar problems with children adopted from other places
under similar circumstances?
Ron Federici: Problems are not
only in Romania. In my work in evaluating over 2000 internationally
adopted children, there are problems in any country having institutional
care. There is no such thing as a good institution - only some that do
better than others. Whether it be Russia, Romania, Poland, Central and
south America, the Far East, or even China, there are going to be
problems if children remain in institutions. It is just not the place
where children need to remain. Again, families must become more educated
regarding the effects of abandonment and neglect, and that recovery
takes a long time. it will often need more than love and a good home.
Garland, TX: Earlier, you
mentioned the Parent Network for the Post-Institutionalized Child. What
other types of support are available for adoptive parents once they've
brought these orphans home?
Ron Federici: There are more
support groups forming, such as Friends of Russian and Ukranian
Adoptions (FRUA). The Parent Network does the most trainings and has
satellite branches across the country. There are also international
adoption clinics, and international adoption specialists across the
country providing support and services. The Parent Network is centered
in Dallas, TX, under the direction of Kathieseidel@juno.com, or you can
e-mail PNPIC@aol.com to get the exact location. There are also support
programs in Fort Worth, TX, at the Child Development Program at TCU,
which is now doing a summer camp program for intensive rehabilitation of
the post-institutionalized child. I trained their staff.
Oakland, California: Dr.
Federici: Many people who have escaped from or are familiar with Rumania
believe that orphanages in that country are -or were- a tool of "ethnic
cleansing." Are there any statistics available as to the ethnicity of
the children in orphanages, i.e., Rumanian, German, Hungarian, Sekler,
Gypsy, etc.? Thank you.
Ron Federici: I agree that there
was probably some "ethnic cleansing" during the Communist year. I do not
know if anybody knows the statistics. What we do know is that any child
with ANY type of deformity, medical, intellectual, or even suspected
anomaly, went into the institution. Caucecscu did not like anything but
perfection and mandated that women have many children to increase the
work force. But, when the conditions were bad, sick children were born.
This was how the institutions became so overcrowded. A real human
tragedy which continues. However, this new government, particularly
Secretary of State, Dr. Tabacaru, who is in Washington DC at this moment
having many meetings with governmetn officials, is trying his best to
get as much medical and economic support as possible.
Rosslyn, VA: Do many people still
adopt Romanian orphans? I remember a number of American families adopted
needy babies after political changes in Romania about 10 years ago or
Ron Federici: People are still
adopting Romanian children. But it is slower because it is harder to
find healthy infants. The older children have problems and many people
choose not to adopt them as their problems are quite evident. If
families work with a good agency and a good Romanian foundation, good
adoptions can be done. I know for a fact that the Romanian government
wants to continue working with the United States. The Romanian Secretary
of State is meeting with the head of international adoption agencies in
Washington on Tuesday to discuss these matters.
Chevy Chase, MD: Nearly a decade
has passed since the ABC report. You have been their many times--how has
Siret changed over the years?
Ron Federici: The only reason
Siret has changed is because of the Romanian Challenge Appeal, groups
both here and in Great Britain. This is a terrible institution but we
have been able to maintain the best group of volunteers imaginable to
work with the children. Now that the government and the institution
allows us to intervene we have been making some real improvements but it
is a very difficult task. There are so many children. If we can help ten
or 20 % then we have done well.
Washington, D.C. : Did the
television coverage of the Romanian orphanages in the early 1990s help
to improve conditions there?
Ron Federici: The first TV show
brought awareness but then everybody flocked to adopt these damaged
children only to be ill-prepared for the effects of
institutionalization. Media coverage certainly put pressure on Romania
to allow other concerned parties to help, which is what we are doing.
I can't say enough positive things about this new government. The
Department of Child Welfare is really trying to do good things but they
often struggle with older ideologies. It is an evolution that requires
many outside consultants that can work with the Romanians at their level
Arlington, VA: How would you
address criticism of Americans rushing to adopt Romanian -and other
European- children over the thousands of orphans in their own country?
Ron Federici: Families adopt
internationally because it is quicker, cheaper, and avoids contact with
the biological parents. We have a tremendous amount of children here
from families, that are also abused. But it is interesting that families
here do not want to adopt children from "our system" as they feel the
child is damaged when the same type of damage is possible or probable
for the institutionalized child in Eastern Europe. It gets back into
families being better prepared for a child's problems. Also, many
families go internationally as they view these children as cute and
attractive and not having the problems of our abused children here in
the States. This is so incorrect. Children everywhere need a family.
Garland, TX: Where can I send a
financial contribution to help these kids?
Ron Federici: Thank you very
much. The Romanian Challenge Appeals office is at 400 South Washington
St., Alexandria Va 22314. Phone number - 703 660 6079. Donations should
be clearly marked to the Romanian Challenge Appeal. You can also ask for
our entire programs available.
Washington, D.C.: How would you
characterize the local adoption system?
Ron Federici: The local adoptions
systems in the States tend to be very quick if you adopt from Social
Services. If you use international adoption agencies you must interview
them and make sure they provide you with all the necessary training and
information, which includes potential risks and resources if problems
occur. Don't go with the person who says "love and a good home will make
it better." This is certainly a very important intervention but
commonsense must prevail as these children often need a lot more than
love and a good home. With proper understanding and interventions, the
goal is to bring the child to their optimal potential.
Washingtonpost.com: We're out of
time now, so let's bring this discussion to a close. Thanks to Dr.
Federici and to all who participated today.
© Copyright 1999 The
Washington Post Company