Dear Chairman Smith and distinguished members of the Commission,
My name is Elliot Forsyth and I first want to express my sincere gratitude to you and the Commission on behalf of my wife, Whitney, our daughter Simona, and on behalf of over 200 American families and thousands of families around the world that currently await Romania’s decision on processing their pending inter-country adoption cases. We are thankful for the Helsinki Commission and its leaders who, despite your overwhelming responsibilities to domestic and international issues, show concern for the rights and welfare of abandoned children in Romania. Thank you for hosting this hearing.
I was requested by the Commission to provide testimony today in this hearing to bring you a perspective from my personal experiences on the ground in Romania, as an adoptive parent of a Romanian child, and as one of over 200 American families with current pending adoption cases from Romania whose final approval has been delayed for years due to Romania’s moratorium and subsequent legislation essentially banning inter-country adoption. Though I am greatly honored to testify today, I fear it is not without risk; a risk that exposing my name and speaking out publicly for the children of Romania could somehow jeopardize our own pending adoption case, as has happened to some families we know. However, we are committed to being a voice for abandoned children in Romania, and pray their rights to a permanent loving family will be honored as a result of this hearing.
For two weeks each summer for the past eleven years, Whitney and I have taken time away from our jobs as a university professor and an engineer to serve as volunteers for a private Romanian non-profit organization. Our first trip in June of 1994 was only four years after the revolution in Romania, and the experience deeply impacted our lives. We fell in love with Romania’s beautiful landscape and its warm and loving people. But we also saw the brutal effects of the former communist government: people stripped of all they had and tens of thousands of children left abandoned. We worked in one State-run institution housing over 300 children in cramped, deplorable conditions, and where the environment had developed into a survival of the fittest. We saw a disproportionate number of abandoned children from Roma decent and witnessed unfair discrimination of these children. In sharp contrast, we also worked with a private children’s home, whose ministry focused on rehabilitating abandoned children and placing them in permanent families, both domestically and internationally. We saw the life and hope of abandoned children, including the Roma, restored through meeting basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Since that first trip, our work in Romania has focused on ministering to a variety of needs, but especially the needs of abandoned children, both in State-run institutions as well as private orphanages and foster homes. Over the years we’ve seen some improvements, but in our experience, the needs of abandoned children are as great now as they were when we first went in 1994. I have compiled a slide show of recent images from Romania that I showed before the hearing and will show again afterwards, documenting the reality that some abandoned children in Romania still face. Note too that many photos show American volunteers working alongside Romanians to help these children. The slide show also includes just a small sample of the thousands of miraculous stories of inter-country adoption from Romania, sent to me by families across the United States, where children are united with loving families. The contrasts speak for themselves.
Whitney and I again returned to Romania last month and worked with 20 children under the age of four in the previously-mentioned private children’s home. The same children are still there that were there during our last visit, only now a year older. Some children have been fortunate enough to be placed in foster care, but most face a difficult future without a family. Unless the pending cases are processed, and the current law changed, the non-profit organization anticipates raising these children until they are out of high school as very few, if any, Romanian nationals are inquiring to adopt these children. If the pending inter-country adoption cases were processed today, seven children from this organization would have permanent loving homes. While in Romania last month, I also accompanied a social worker for a day and learned that the new law has created a paperwork nightmare. Since it requires new signatures from parents who had already terminated their rights, social workers now spend most of their time locating parents or relatives for signatures instead of working on finding children permanent families. My understanding is that social workers are also obligated to explain to the parents or extended family that the government will pay them to care for the child if they take them back, even if the conditions are unfit to raise a child. On that particular day we searched for the parents of two girls from the children’s home and finally found them living in the city garbage dump. Another child’s grandmother who lived in similar conditions wanted to reclaim the child so she could receive money from the government; despite the fact that she has never seen the child, and the child has been living with a wonderful foster care family for over 3 years who want to adopt him. Though I was not granted access to a State hospital, I was told that because the new law prohibits adoption of children under two years of age, there are once again entire floors filled with abandoned babies, reminiscent of the Ceaucescu era. I also understand that in an effort to meet EU admittance criteria requiring closure of large government institutions, many foster parents are required to accept more children than they can support. According to the social worker I was with, some foster parents have up to 16 children. These are some of the experiences I had just one month ago, but the organization said that these are common experiences that social workers in Romania currently face. Clearly, these are not in the best interests of the children.
Whitney and I first considered adopting a Romanian child after our summer trip to Romania in 2000. Our motives for wanting to adopt a child were very simple: to provide a home to a child who needs a loving family. Our experiences had confirmed to us that, though Romania has made some progress over the years in providing for abandoned children, the need is too great for Romania to meet by itself. Statistics tell us there are still over 80,000 children in State care and another 9,000 babies abandoned annually. However, less than 1,500 of these children are domestically adoption each year. Further, there are a disproportionate number of Roma children, older children, and children with medical problems that statistics show will never be adopted domestically. In fact, according to the UNICEF report of 2005
, approximately 66% of abandoned children are Roma.
Our daughter, Simona, is of Roma decent and her story is a testimony to the miracle that inter-country adoption can bring to a child who needs a loving family. She was abandoned at 3 months of age at a State hospital in Romania. She spent the next 2 years of her life in State institutions where she was largely neglected. Fortunately, she was then placed with a loving foster care family for 9 months, which in many ways saved her life. But had inter-country adoption not been an option for Simona, she likely would never have been adopted domestically due to her age and Roma heritage. We celebrate the day we brought her home, June 20, 2001, which was less than a week before the moratorium on inter-country was first imposed by the Romanian government. At that time, Simona was about 3 years old. She had just learned to walk and was speaking less than ten words in her native language. Four years later, Simona is now a beautiful, healthy, and thriving 7 year old who loves to run, jump, play, and laugh. Simona has added immeasurable joy to our family and we thank God for her life. We celebrate her Romanian heritage though there are days when we look at her and wonder what would have become of this beautiful child had inter-country adoption not been an option for her.
Our story is not unique. There are literally thousands of miraculous inter-country adoption stories of Romanian children from all over the world. We have even documented many of these stories in a book that will serve as an appendix to this hearing. From our perspective, it is outrageous and offensive to hear that certain influential members of the European Parliament have repeatedly threatened Romania with denial into the EU if they allow international adoption, calling it nothing more than the “selling of babies.”
After returning again from volunteer work in Romania during the summer of 2003, we filed papers to adopt another abandoned child we had spent considerable time with at the private children’s home. Despite the moratorium, we received confirmation of a case number and assignment of our child from the Romanian government in September of 2003, hoping to get approval under the Emergency Ordinance. In February of 2004, we joined efforts with hundreds of families with pending cases and Romanian-adopted children to form an organization called For The Children – SOS to actively seek resolution for these pipeline cases and promote fair and transparent legislation for abandoned children in Romania. The extensive efforts of FTC-SOS are detailed in an appendix to this hearing. Collectively our organization has spent thousands of hours not only working with our local, state, and federal governments, and with the past and current Romanian leaders, but also working on the ground in Romania helping abandoned children. On July 17, 2004 we met with then Prime Minister Nastase to discuss the moratorium and proposed new law. In that meeting he promised to process select cases with serious medical issues. To my knowledge, this was never done. In October of 2004, then French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was to lead an international committee under the direction of the Romanian government to review and process the pending cases. This also was never done. In March of 2005, we met with President Basescu. He expressed sympathy for the abandoned children and for those of us with pending cases, but we’ve still seen no action. In June of 2005, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute sponsored a letter to President Basescu urging him to process pending case and consider revising the adoption law. Over 40 US congressmen signed the letter. Still, to this day, no response has been received. We understand that there are political ramifications involved with these pending adoption cases, but truly it is unthinkable that abandoned children would have to wait to join loving families already assigned to them, while their government plots and ploys a strategy for accession into the EU.
We consider ourselves fortunate compared to some American families with pending cases. We have traveled to Romania to see our assigned child on two occasions and receive periodic updates and photos. However, many have waited much longer than we have – some up to six years. Some continue to pay monthly for private care in children’s homes or foster care to ensure proper care for their child. Still others have lost all contact with their assigned children or learned that they were singled-out for domestic adoption. Time is passing. These children are growing up without families, families that have already been assigned to them by the Romanian government. We urge the Romanian government to approve all pending cases immediately. In the words of one pending family, “These children do not have shelf-lives, and if they did, they would have expired long ago.”
Our daughter Simona has been praying daily for our assigned child for two years. She often asks us when the government of Romania will say yes and let her little sister come home. Simona somehow knows the urgency of this adoption and what it is like to be without a mom and a dad. She also knows the joy of belonging to a family. She is a small voice for many children from her own country that need permanent loving families. And right now a voice is what the abandoned children of Romania desperately need.
 The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania
, UNICEF report, January, 2005.