Adoptions to Italy raise questions

Alleged Misconduct Prompts Slovakia To Change Its Intercountry Adoptions Policy

29 Jul 2013Michaela Terenzani – Stanková Politics & Society

DOZENS of children born in Slovakia each year, unwanted by their own families and unable to find an adoptive family in their home country, have been fortunate enough to find new parents through intercountry adoptions. While there are not enough intercountry adoptions to generate much public interest, such adoptions recently became a hot-button issue, with some media outlets pointing out that the practice may have been conducted as a sort of business by some state officers in the past.
The Centre for International Legal Protection of Children and Youth (CIPC), the office under the Labour Ministry responsible for facilitating intercountry adoptions in Slovakia, has recently undergone a series of changes, starting with the replacement of the centre’s director. Labour Minister Ján Richter appointed new director Andrea Císarová in July 2012, after signs of misconduct emerged within the CIPC, previously led by Alena Mátejová.

A 2012 opposition audit of the CIPC revealed that the centre possessed practically no archival documents from before 2003, and that even after that date the archives were incomplete, with some key documents missing, such as post-adoption reports provided by families from abroad who adopted Slovak children. That, in addition to the fact that the vast majority of children adopted abroad were placed in Italy, attracted the attention of the media and the opposition to Slovakia’s cooperation with Italy on intercountry adoptions.

Many Slovak children adopted in Italy

The CIPC statistics show that between 2003 and 2012 Slovakia sent 433 children for adoptions in foreign countries, with more than half of the outgoing children adopted by families in Italy. Italian families have adopted 234 children from Slovakia, while the Netherlands – with the second highest number of adopted Slovak children – adopted 58. Sweden followed closely with 56 children adopted from Slovakia. Other countries where parentless children from Slovakia have found new families include Canada (34 children), France (27), Austria (12), Germany (6), Monaco (5) and one child was adopted to the Czech Republic.
In 2012 the CIPC cooperated with central

bodies of the states of the Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. These were Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malta, Morocco and Andorra. Only 12 children were adopted abroad in 2012, according to the CIPC 2012 annual report, all of whom went to Italy, Sweden or the Netherlands.
Italian projects in Slovakia

Two Italian agencies were active in intercountry adoptions in Slovakia until 2010: the private Famiglia e Minori, which lost accreditation in 2010, and the regional agency of the Piedmont region, ARAI.
The latter has invested almost €190,000 in Slovakia within five projects since 2004, the Sme daily reported in early June. The projects included seminars, round tables, as well as trips to Turin for the staff of orphanages, social workers, and even judges: simply anyone who was involved in the decision-making on intercountry adoptions, according to Sme.
ARAI’s partners for the projects, financed mainly from EU funds and Italian regional funds, were the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia (ZMOS), the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights and the St Elisabeth University of Public Health and Social Work.

Most of the reported costs went towards rewards for people involved in the projects, according to Sme. Employees of the human rights centre, the centre of labour, as well as the Labour Ministry, received compensation amounting to €333 – €1,000, with the highest sums being paid to the projects’ coordinator, Peter Gurán, who received at least €8,100 for the projects.

Gurán, previously employed at the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights (SNSLP), currently serves as a member of the UN Committee for Children’s Rights as a reporter for Italy.  Gurán’s wife worked in the past as an interpreter for Italian adoption agencies, according to Sme.

Between 2004 and 2011 ARAI financed five projects in Slovakia, according to Sme’s report, with overall costs between €15,000 and almost €60,000. Among them, the 2006-2007 project for the employees of orphanages, which included a training seminar for the social workers from orphanages, cost approximately €16,500, of which €6,600 was paid for the preparation and compensation of the lecturers. The lecturers in this case were the officers who signed a contract with the project partner, the SNSLP, usually at a rate of €33 per hour. Lecturing itself cost about €50 per hour, according to Sme.

Two of the projects on which ARAI cooperated with the SNSLP involved a stay in Italy. In 2007 a group of 14 employees of orphanages visited Turin. In 2009 some participants in the project for social workers and judges went to Piedmont again: four employees of labour offices and four judges, the latter selected “on the basis of the highest number of intercountry adoption cases they handled for the region of Piedmont”, the then-director of the CIPC, Alena Mátejová, wrote, as quoted by Sme, from the project documentation. Mátejová travelled along with the project participants.

The judges in question were Klaudia Talašová from Bratislava, Sylvia Szabadosová from Prešov, Júlia Weiszerová from Spišská Nová Ves and Frederika Zozu?áková from Košice. The judges claim they did not know who financed the project, and that they did not consider it a conflict of interest, Sme reported.

Italian families willing to take Roma kids

Gurán  admitted that cooperation between Slovakia and Italy was positive because of the ARAI-financed projects.
“No [other] country did so many educational projects and trainings here,” Gurán told Sme. “That, too, contributed to better cooperation.”

The region of Piedmont was the first in Italy to have promoted foster parenting and closing the orphanages, and the ARAI agency is experienced in the field of adoptions, having set up a team for adoptions in 1986, with specialist operators including social workers and psychologists who evaluate the couples applying for adoption, ARAI’s director Anna Maria Colello told The Slovak Spectator.

“This is why we have organised training and exchange projects with various countries to share good practice in safeguarding the rights of minors,” Colello explained.
The reason for the high number of Slovak children adopted to Italy is the fact that Italian families interested in adopting a Slovak child are prepared to adopt a child of Roma ethnicity, as well as siblings, older children and children with health problems, according to Colello.

Over the past nine years 94 children of Slovak origin have found a home with adoptive families through ARAI.
“Italy has the highest number of adoptions with respect to other European countries, because Italian couples are prepared to welcome children with ‘special needs’ declared adoptable by the Slovak courts – that is, children aged seven or more, siblings and children with serious health problems,” Colello reiterated.
New agreements under way

Due to questionable practices of the CIPC in the past, the new leadership under Andrea Císarová initiated changes to the process of intercountry adoptions within the centre at the end of 2012.
The new leadership of the CIPC has changed the structure and functioning of its commission of expert’s advisory teams, which evaluate the documentation of children who are to be subject to intercountry adoptions.
All advisors were joined into one team. As a result, each child has to be evaluated by a team that is comprised of a social worker from the respective Labour, Social Affairs and Family Office; a psychologist from the orphanage which the child in question is coming from; and employees of the CIPC who deal with intercountry adoptions. Another change that the CIPC noted as being very important is that the centre will no longer evaluate and treat children as having specific needs. Also, the director of the CIPC is no longer allowed to decide on the adoption of any child independently, the CIPC said in its annual report. Instead, all children should be evaluated and paired with appropriate families by the commission of experts, the 2012 CIPC annual report states.

Changes also affect the bilateral agreements on intercountry adoptions that Slovakia has and will sign. The ministry announced that it is currently negotiating with Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Norway, Belgium, Spain, San Marino and France, to be added among the countries with whom Slovakia has already signed a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoptions (Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Andorra and Monaco). The Slovak government is currently waiting for the memoranda on cooperation to be approved in those countries, and when that happens, the documents will be signed, the Labour Ministry’s spokesperson Michal Jur?i said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. The already existing agreements, including the one with Italy, are currently being renewed with new conditions, Jur?i said.

Meanwhile, the moratorium on adoptions to Italy, which Labour Minister Ján Richter introduced in February 2012 after the CIPC audit results revealed that the centre was missing 117 post-adoption reports for children adopted to Italy, was lifted in May, when the CIPC received all the missing post-adoption reports from Italy. But the future of adoptions from Slovakia to Italy remains unclear.
Císarová claims Italy is an important partner, but she is waiting for the Italian Commission for Intercountry Adoptions, CIPC’s counterpart in Italy, to select trustworthy agencies that would facilitate the adoptions. She did not comment when asked whether the CIPC would cooperate with ARAI in the future.