Sophia’s long road home

MARSHALL – Adoption is a difficult and time-consuming process under the best of circumstances, but when it’s an international adoption, the difficulties can multiply in ways that cause anxiety and heartbreak for prospective parents.

Richard and Kristi England met the little girl who won their hearts in May 2012, in Bryansk, Russian Republic. After four trips and much paperwork, they had a court hearing that allowed them to adopt her on Dec. 14, 2012.

Last Saturday, they brought Sophia Nadezhda England, now 3-1/2-years-old, home.

They almost didn’t make it.

“We found out about her shortly after her second birthday,” Richard England said. “Our coordinator at the adoption agency saw her picture and said, ‘She looks like she’d fit with the Englands’ and sent us an e-mail.”

The Englands have a biological child, Arabella, 2, and a child, Max, 6, who was also adopted from Russia in 2009.

“Even before our marriage, we talked about adopting,” Kristi England said. “This time around, since Max is from Russia, we wanted to stay with the same country.”

According to Kristi England, they chose Russia after reading in a book about international adoption that there are about 700,000 orphans in Russia. Of those who age out of the system, only 10 percent become functioning adults.

The long road to bringing their daughter home began with a five-day visit to the orphanage.

“They do their best,” Kristi England said, “They try to paint things and make them bright.”

The orphanage was home to between 68 and 75 children between infancy and four years of age, some of them “social orphans,” children left by parents who weren’t able to take care of them.

“The facilities are OK,” Richard England said. “It’s lack of staff that’s the problem.”

Preparations involved an Adam Walsh Background Check through the state of Minnesota, another before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would issue a visa for the child, and an FBI background check mandated by the Russian government.

“There was a lot of paperwork and fingerprinting,” Kristi England said. “We had to do psych evaluations, medical evaluations, classes and home studies.”

Then when all seemed clear, a week after their court date, a bill was introduced in the Russian parliament to ban foreign adoptions and was passed a week later. The bill was passed as a wave of resentment swept across the country following the well-publicized death of an adopted Russian child in Texas.

“We heard the news in Russia,” Richard England said. “The media said the mother was drunk and taking psychotropic drugs, that the child was beaten. Then we found out the child was playing outside, the mother went inside briefly and came out to find the child unresponsive.”

An autopsy is still pending in the case.

“They are saying that Americans adopt Russian children to harvest their organs, or they want to depopulate Siberia so they can take it over,” Richard England said.

After some tense moments, the Englands got their daughter home just under the wire. But they said they know many other couples, who had met the children they longed to bring home, who had not had their court date and may never see them again.

“The embassy told us we were either the last or the next-to-last,” Richard England said.

The future of adoptions from Russia is uncertain. Many Russians feel a burning sense of resentment that Americans can give Russian children the homes they cannot find in their own country.

But as for now, Richard England said, “We’re looking forward to getting used to her, having her in the house and being a family.”