After an American mother sent her seven-year-old adopted son back to Russia, Moscow said it was suspending adoptions to US families. A high level delegation from the U.S. State Department is scheduled to meet with Russian officials in Moscow on April 29 and 30. The officials will talk about how to better protect children and all parties involved in international adoptions.
For the moment though, many American families who have applied to adopt a Russian child worry about whether their adoption process will continue.
Anna Warnke is officially 17. But beyond these birthday presents, there's another reason why this day is so special. Anna's birthday is also the day she became Christine Warnke's daughter.
"I just remembered her coming out with her blue shoes and her red and black checkered dress and she just reached out her arms and just jumped into my arms and embraced my brother and we were a family at that moment," said her adoptive mother.
Warnke adopted Anna from Russia and brought her home to Washington on her third birthday. Warnke then returned to Russia and adopted John. He was two years old.
Anna and John both say they are fortunate to be part of the Warnke family. "You're very loved actually," said Anna. "I love and trust most of my family."
Recently an American mother sent her adopted child back to Russia, claiming the orphanage failed to disclose that the boy had serious psychological problems.
The Warnkes were shocked that she sent the boy back. "I mean sending him back made me grind my teeth. It really made me angry," said John Warnkes.
The scandal also angered Russian officials and prompted the Kremlin to freeze further U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
But the State Department says it has received no official notice that adoptions have been suspended.
The confusion worries Americans in the process of adopting a Russian child. Betsy Lowry is one of them. She frequently calls her adoption agency for updates. So far, her application is still on track. "You heart is just kind of stuck in your throat all the time. You feel like you have absolutely no control," said Lowry.
While she waits for a match with a child, Lowry has been online with local families who have adopted or are in the process of adopting children from Russia.
She says with a support group nearby, she's prepared to handle anything unexpected. "I think a lot of us recognize that there will be trauma and there will be a lot of challenges many we can't predict," she said.
Experts say children adopted from Eastern Europe are more prone to physical, behavioral and cognitive problems. The reasons could include living in an orphanage more than six months and having a birth mother who heavily consumed alcohol during pregnancy.
Lowry, like many Americans, chose Russia because single parent adoptions are allowed and the process only takes about a year. Mark Eckman of the Datz Foundation Adoption Agency says Russian adoptions are changing. "We're mainly now on a downward trend so that each year the number of children adopted from Russia decreases," he said.
Eckman says in recent years, Russia has encouraged domestic adoptions, leaving fewer children for foreigners.
Prospective parents outside Russia generally spend up to a week - in Russia - getting to know the child before making a decision.
The director of Moscow City Orphanage #11, Lidia Sliusareva, says officials release medical information about the child to prospective parents.
"We try to share as much information as possible so they understand what the child is like, how does he behave, how does he communicate, what are his emotions, what does he like, what does he not like," she said.
But once a child leaves Russia, there is no way to know how that child is doing.
Pavel Astakhov is Russia's Investigator of Children's Rights. "We cannot check the future situation of our children who are now in the American families, even if children are in dangerous situation," he said.
Russian and U.S. officials plan to meet on how to better protect children once they leave the orphanage.
Like Christine Warnke, those who have successfully adopted children from Russia say the key is a network of experts, friends and family to help overcome any unexpected challenges.