Availability and Reliability of Records in Russian Orphanages

Author: Dr. Alla Gordina

Date: 7.9.2008


Adoption from the Former Soviet Union had its unique benefits, one of which is the direct contact with caregivers and the possibility to obtain the variety of documents. You just have to ask.

Unfortunately families do arrive with newly adopted children but with minimal (if any) information about them. Even more, families, adopting through the visiting programs and those adopting through one trip system are in the biggest disadvantage - everything is so hectic, nothing is usually prepared and the result - minimum information about the child(ren)...

Did I see cases when families were given the complete medical and educational chart? Yes, I did. But that is usually more the exception, then a rule.
Did I see the cases when families were openly lied to and crucial information was illegally withheld from the adoptive parents? Oh, yes... Unfortunately - more often then I would want to.

Even most of records below can be found in your child's file, it is another question, if (a) you will be allowed to copy or even see them, (b) they are accurate and (c) they will be complete.

So, here are Do's and Don’ts of collecting information about your children


You can and you should:

  • educate yourself on what documents are available
  • be assertive
  • make sure that your agency is backing you up and that neither orphanage nor your coordinator will prevent you from getting the ORIGINALS (or at least the photocopies) of medical, educational and developmental documents.
  • explain to the orphanage/school/coordinator that those records are crucial in providing proper continuity of care in medical and educational services for the newly adopted child,
  • cite American doctors, teachers and developmental professionals, that it is them, not you, as a family, demand presence of those documents for proper treatment, placement and services (which is actually a true statement).
  • request as many sources of the same information as possible (i.e. vaccination records from the medical chart, form 63 and adoption medical)
  • ask questions and question the answer
  • trust your 'gut feelings" If something looks strange to you, most probably you are right.
  • write everything down in great detail. "Everything" meaning including rumors, your questions and comments. You would not be able to remember what you were told, your concerns and questions; or decipher your shorthand late

You cannot and should not

  • settle for those 1-2-3-4 pages of nothing, called "medicals". Request every document by name.
  • expect that the orphanage (school, hospital) will willingly provide you with the information you need and that the information provided will be accurate, up to date and reliable.
  • miss any inconsistencies and alterations.
  • trust such statements as "this child is only here for 3-6-12 months, so we don't have any reviews, progress reports and so on". Children are being evaluated at the time of placement, through the process of "adaptation" and at least bi-annually if not quarterly thereafter.
  • trust such statements as "that's all what we have" or "you don't need anything else" or "we will give you more information later today, tomorrow, after the court"
  • accept "take it or leave it" attitude


A. Degrees of reliability (from most to least reliable)

  • Original (still can be forged)
  • Photocopy
  • Transcription (re-written "copy" - the most common way of providing copies in the Former Soviet Union and the known cause for serious mistakes for thousands of years...)
  • Translation (local language to English) / Conversion (from Metric system to Standard)
  • Transliteration (writing the words in one language using another alphabet)
  • Interpretation (providing the diagnosis, rather then description of the problems - i.e. developmental delays vs. what exactly child was able to do and at what age)
  • Rumor (still a very important source of information)
  • Omission/addition
  • Deception

B. Factors affecting reliability

  • Sources of the similar information
  • Presence of conflicting data
  • Correlation with local routines and not with the American schedules and rules
  • Aging of the records
  • Surprises
  • Attitude


A. Medical records

  • Orphanage medical chart (admission notes, progress notes, annual reports, etc, growth statistics monthly for the 1st year, quarterly for 2nd and 3rd, bi-annually thereafter)
  • Outpatient pediatric chart (for those who was placed in the orphanage later on in life). This chart belongs to the child, not to the orphanage and by Russian law should accompany this particular child until he/she will turn 14 and will be transferred to the adult clinic. If available, this chart will contain birth records (so called exchange card, filled if not in the pre-natal clinic, then at least in the maternity hospital), information
  • about family, reports from the house calls by nurse and pediatrician, social report and other important data.
  • School medical chart. Belongs to the child, should accompany him/her till his/her high school graduation
  • Vaccination record. Form 63 belongs to the child as a part of his/her permanent medical record. Can be accepted as re-written or photo - copy (the later is definitely preferred)
  • Vaccination deferral record
  • Laboratory reports
  • Consultation/evaluation reports
  • Transfer/discharge summary from the maternity hospital (for those abandoned at birth). Not always present in the orphanage chart, but it does not hurt to ask. I did see even actual maternity hospital records in the baby home chart.
  • Transfer/discharge summary from the children's hospital at the time of admission to the orphanage. Child cannot be admitted to the orphanage without such summary.
  • Discharge summaries after admissions to the hospital and sanatoriums

B. Educational and developmental records

At ANY age, even in the baby house

  • Orphanage educational and developmental summaries (quarterly and annual)
  • Speech pathologist (LOGOPED) evaluations and treatment reports (quarterly and annual)
  • School/orphanage educational and behavioral reports (quarterly and annual)
  • "Life book"
  • Artwork

School-age children

  • - School communication/assignment book (DNEVNIK) - belongs to the child. Contains information about the school load, schedule, daily grades and weekly comments from the teacher
  • - School transcripts - belong to the child
  • - School workbooks and notebooks - at least notebooks do belong to the child.
  • - Awards, honors and artwork

C. Administrative and social reports

  • Police reports - extremely important in determining what exactly had happened when parental rights were terminated.
  • Court records - extremely important in determining what exactly had happened when parental rights were terminated. Just saw a child, whose parents lost parental rights "because they were poor and did not have money to buy food and clothing" (according to the verbal report). In the reality this child was (at least) physically abused by his persistently drunk parents to such extend that parental rights were terminated as the result of the criminal (not civil, as usual) investigation.
  • Social worker's report
  • Abandonment documents - It can give some idea about mother's educational and cultural level and will have something written by biological mother.
  • Shelter report/transfer note
  • Birth certificate
  • Parent’s death certificate(s) - note that the cause of death is not listed on death certificates anymore. You can find that information in the police/social worker reports or the court documents.
  • Baptismal certificate


The information appearing here is intended for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice tailored to your child's individual needs. If you have questions or concerns regarding your child's physical or mental health, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.