07/23/2014 05:57 EDT | Updated 09/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Why We Need Mandatory Psychological Tests For Foreign Adoptive Parents

When two-year-old Maxim Kichigin was adopted out of an orphanage in Russia's far east in 2012, it should have marked the beginning of a new life for him. Instead, the boy, whose name had been changed to Maxim Maravalle, was strangled to death on July 17 of this year at his new home in Pescara, Italy. His adoptive father, 47-year-old Massimo Maravalle has been charged with aggravated homicide and police are still investigating the circumstances of the young boy's death.

While Maxim's adoptive parents submitted reports attesting that he was adapting well to his new life in Italy, Russian authorities had no idea that Massimo Maravalle had a history of psychiatric problems or that he was under a psychiatrist's care. Police have interviewed psychiatrist, Alessandro Rossi, and determined that Maravalle had chosen to discontinue his medication several days before Maxim's death as he insisted that he was feeling better. Rossi also stated that he had no role in the adoption process despite being Maravalle's psychiatrist since 2006.

Previous reports stated that Maxim had a positive relationship with Massimo Maravalle and his wife Patrizia but questions are now being raised about what signs may have been missed. Other witnesses have reported that the suspect had been seen shaking Maxim a few days before his death although it is still unknown whether psychiatric problems contributed to his actions.

Maxim's death has generated widespread outrage in Russia and authorities have called for an investigation into why Massimo Maravalle's psychiatric history had not been included in the adoption application. Children's Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov is also calling for mandatory psychological screening of all prospective parents from foreign countries. Commenting on Maxim Maravalle's death, Astakhov stated that, "I believe that it is necessary to spend an hour here and go through testing that will show that the person is healthy." Previous attempts at mandatory testing for foreign adoptive parents had been overruled despite concerns about potential problems being overlooked.

Astakhov is calling on Italian President Matteo Renzi to supervise the investigation personally, The Russian Embassy in Rome and Investigative Committee are also looking into key failures on the part of Russian government officials. Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin is accusing these officials of the Amur Regional Court of criminal negligence in failing to properly screen for potential psychological problems. The Committee is investigating allegations that Russian relatives of the boy and local parents seeking adoption had been denied custody in favour of the overseas adoption. A conviction for criminal negligence carries a five-year sentence in Russia.

Yelena Mizulina, a State Duma deputy and conservative moral crusader who was a driving force behind Russia's "gay propaganda" law, has meanwhile called for a probe into Italy's procedures for selecting adoptive parents. "It is completely obvious that we need a thorough analysis of the entire procedure which exists in Italy for selecting candidates for adoption," she told local media.

Of the more than 1000 orphans adopted in 2013, half have gone to Italian families. While the families in the United States once accounted for the majority of Russian adoptions, Americans are now barred from adopting Russian children since last year under the Dimi Yakovlev law. The law is informally named for a Russian orphan adopted by a Virginia family who died after being left in a parked car for nine hours. Mainly passed as a response to the Magnitsky bill in the United States, the Dimi Yakovlev law has been opposed by international rights organizations. Russian conservatives have since advocated Italy as a favoured destination for Russian children since it does not allow gay marriage.

Since the Dimi Yakovlev law's passage, foreign adoptions of Russian orphans has fallen by 48 percent compared to previous years. Whether the death of Maxim Maravalle will lead to more stringent laws banning foreign adoptions entirely remains to be seen. The timing of the case may also be affected by the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 last week as Italy currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and is expected to vote on tougher sanctions against Russia.


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