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Gladney Center for Adoption says state investigation is appropriate

02/27/2013 11:34 PM

03/14/2013 3:11 PM

FORT WORTH -- A local adoption agency remains embroiled in an international uproar and under investigation by the state in wake of the death of a 3-year-old Russian boy.

As officials investigate how Max Alan Shatto, a Russian child adopted by a West Texas couple, died last month, state officials say they are reviewing the case to make sure the agency that facilitated the adoption -- the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth -- followed proper procedures.

"With an international lens on Max Shatto's death, it is absolutely appropriate for the state of Texas to review our policies and procedures," Gladney officials said in a statement. "All of us at Gladney are deeply saddened about this child's death, and we are hopeful the authorities will complete their investigation soon."

Officials with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services say a separate investigation is underway to determine whether neglect or abuse were factors in the boy's death.

But as investigations into the boy's death continue, tensions between the United States and Russia remain high.

Russian media reports dubbed Shatto's death the "Texas tragedy" and have been so inflammatory -- accusing the United States of covering up the death and blaming "inhumane treatment" for the boy's death -- that the U.S. ambassador to Moscow had to call on Russia to stop exploiting the tragedy.

"From the earliest stage, local Texas authorities have been in touch with Russian diplomats in the U.S.," Ambassador Michael McFaul recently wrote in a blog. "It is time for sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others."

Max and his 2-year-old brother Kristopher were adopted from a Russian orphanage last year by Laura and Alan Shatto, who live in Gardendale about 325 miles west of Fort Worth.

News reports from Russia show an investigative committee is looking into Max Shatto's death and that Russian officials have called for the return of Kristopher, who still lives in the Shatto home and is being monitored by state child protective service workers.

Although about 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by U.S. couples during the past two decades, critics in Russia point to 20 cases dating to the 1990s of children who died after being adopted by Americans. Shatto's death was the 20th.

Reports show the boy died Jan. 21 in Gardendale after playing outside in the yard with his brother. His adoptive mother went outside to check on the boys, found him on the ground and called 911. He was pronounced dead at an Odessa hospital, officials have said.

Autopsy reports showing the cause of death have not been made public.

The state Family and Protective Services department, to which Texas Child Protective Services reports, is investigating to determine whether neglect or abuse were factors in Shatto's death.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov has said in a statement that Shatto's death was "yet another case of inhuman treatment of a Russian child adopted by American parents."

A separate investigation into Gladney is ongoing because of a Feb. 19 call made to the state agency's hotline suggesting that the parents may not have been properly screened for adoption.

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the agency, declined to say how long the Gladney investigation could take, but he noted that the review would likely take less time than the investigation into whether there was any abuse or neglect.

Crimmins declined to discuss the Gladney investigation, but he said the agency is "in good standing with us."

In Gladney's statement to the media, officials said that once they learned about Shatto's death, "we immediately offered assistance to the Ector County Sheriff's Department, the Ector County medical examiner's office, the appropriate state and national contacts, and we reached out to the family.

National adoption officials recently spoke on behalf of Gladney, which has been overseeing adoptions for 125 years.

"We work very closely with Gladney. They are international leaders in adoption, certainly in the top five most influential agencies in the country," said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council For Adoption. "I'm assuming Gladney is looking at this to see if there's anything else they could have done. I have confidence in Gladney's review process."

The adoption paperwork and studies conducted by Gladney would have been reviewed by both U.S. and Russian governments before the adoption moved forward and the prospective parents would have visited the child in Russia a handful of times before the final court hearings where the paperwork would have been reviewed again.

"Many people in a lot of different offices looked at that information," Johnson said.

The Houston Chronicle reported two problems discovered in the past two years with Gladney -- one, that four adoptive parents didn't have current background checks submitted before their adoptions were finalized and two, that two staff members and two "transitional" parents were overdue for their two-year background checks.

U.S.-Russia relations

More than two decades after the Cold War between Russia and the U.S. ended, relations between the two countries have again become chilly.

Last year, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which calls for sanctions against Russian officials deemed to be human-rights violators. In retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

"Right now we are in a cooling cycle," said Stephen Wegren, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "This is the culmination of many years of festering.

"Hopefully this stabilizes and doesn't go from 'cooling' to 'cold,'" he said. "But neither government seems to be very interested in taking steps to reverse the cooling."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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