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Adoption Center Bridges International Waters

Zhenya was born Jan. 4, 2001, in a hospital in Russia. Shortly after taking her son home, Zhenya's mother abandoned him, and by his first birthday he had lived in five different places.

On Feb. 12 of this year, Zhenya, 15 months, moved into a more permanent home in Arlington with his new family, parents Taryn and Ian Parry and big sis Shannon, 3. The family renamed the boy Alexander but for now continue to call him Zhenya, pronounced "Jane-ya," the name given to him in a Russian orphanage.

"We were worried he'd have a hard time attaching to us," said Taryn Parry. "After the attachment, our next concern was language. At the orphanage, they don't interact with them [the children], so he doesn't verbalize much."

THE PARRYS, after deciding they wanted to adopt a child from Russia — in part because the adoption process is quicker than in other countries — hired an agency that specialized in Russian adoptions and also contacted the Inova International Adoption Center in Fairfax.

The Center provides pre- and post-adoption counseling and comprehensive assessments for the families and their primary-care physicians. Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, is the only other facility in the area providing services focusing on international adoptions, said Courtney Prebich, public relations specialist.

Christine Narad, the center's assitant clinical director said, the Inova Center can review the child's medical records and video with the prospective parents and provide a basic assessment of the child's health and development. The Center can also help the parents with follow-up questions or things to look for when they visit the child.

After the adoption, the Center provides evaluations of the child, ranging from the development of motor skills and speech to properly gaining weight and general well-being. In addition, the Center works with the family's primary health-care provider to address concerns that may be specific to the country the child comes from.

"International adoption is a subspecialty," said Dr. Patrick Mason, the Center's director. "We help with the international part. We know what types of things a child from China is at risk of being exposed to, or a child from Russia or a child from Guatemala. The child can be exposed to different diseases than they would be here."

WITHOUT THE CENTER, the Parrys almost passed on Zhenya. When the family received his videotape and medical information, the tape showed Zhenya has a small head, which could be a sign of mental retardation. After consulting with the staff at the adoption center and further investigation by the Parrys, it was discovered they were provided incorrect information about him.

"We almost said no because his information was not correct," Taryn Parry said. "We were cajoled into getting more information, and we asked more questions about him."

So far, besides not being very talkative, Zhenya is adjusting to his new life. Recently he started day care, which the Parrys hope will help with developing Zhenya's vocabulary. It's his sister, Shannon, who is having a bit harder time.

"She doesn't like me giving him affection," said Taryn Parry. "But at day care, she looks out for him and is proud of her little brother."

MASON SAID THE TREND of adopting internationally has exploded since the early 1990s, in part because international adoption can be quicker, depending on the country, and thanks to the images of Romanian orphanages in 1992. Before 1992, 60 percent of international adoptions were of Korean children. He said 20,000 children were brought into the United States last year.

In recent years, adoptions of children from Russia and China account for a majority of the adoptions. In fact, Mason said adoptions of children from Eastern Europe and China make up 65 percent of all adoptions in the United States and that figure jumps to 85 percent when adoptions from Guatemala are factored in.

Even though the adoption wait-time may be shorter in some countries, it can still cost around $20,000 to $30,000 per child, he said.

"We like to follow along with the pediatrician to make sure the development of the child is looked at," Mason said. "We can take time with the child."

An initial consultation at the Center can take up to two hours, and follow-up exams after the adoption are typically an hour long. He also said he would hope the families stay in touch with the Center throughout their child's lifetime especially since international adoptions have only really taken off within the last 10 years. He said as a result no one really knows what the long-term affects on the child may be.

"What all families are told is the child just needs love. We know that's not true. Some child will need therapy," Mason said. "The children may be fine physically, but we don't know what is going on on the inside. An orphanage is not a good place to live."