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Russia looks at adoption in abuse case

The story of a 4-year-old adopted Russian boy allegedly brutalized by his Allegany County mother because he did not read his prayers correctly is getting attention from around the world.

Prosecutors from the boy's native region of Rostov will check the legality of the adoption and might open a criminal case, Interfax quoted Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinsky as saying.

"We've had precedents when an investigation into activities of mediators and civil servants in various regions of Russia resulted in criminal cases being opened," Fridinsky told Interfax.

Jane Cochran, 43, of Alfred, was charged with second-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Cochran's husband, Timothy, an associate professor of electrical engineering technology at Alfred State College, also was charged with endangering the boy because he allegedly witnessed the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Police said Jane Cochran cut the boy's ear and threatened to cut out his tongue for not reading his prayers correctly.

The boy, who was born with one arm, was placed in protective custody Thursday after his mother's court appearance. The couple's three other children also were taken from them after an emergency Family Court hearing on Tuesday. The mother was released on $10,000 bail and the father on $5,000 bail.

In recent years, Russian officials have reacted increasingly negatively to foreigners adopting Russian children, with some nationalist lawmakers asserting children are being "bought" by foreigners. Cases of abuse by foreign adoptive parents are widely reported in the Russian media.

Advocates for children, however, have disputed the assertions and say restricting foreign adoptions would harm thousands of Russian children waiting to be adopted.

Accounts of the case hit Judy O'Mara like a punch.

O'Mara, the adoption program director at Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna, which handles most of the international adoptions in Erie County, knows what a family has to go through to adopt a child.

"The number [of abuse cases] is small compared to the number who are placed here, but even one is too many," O'Mara said.

"We do a lot to try to prevent anything like that from happening. The many professionals dealing with placing children are horrified by this kind of situation."

The case is being handled according to Child Protective Services protocol, according to Vicki Fegley of the Allegany County Department of Social Services.

Fegley said her agency has no control over private agencies' placements -- which applies to most foreign adoptions. Her agency isn't even aware of most private adoptions.

"I wouldn't say it's real common, but [cases like the Cochrans'] do happen," Fegley said. She said problems in domestic and foreign adoptions are frequently similar in that they're often related to how long the child has been institutionalized.

O'Mara said adoption agencies do everything possible to prevent such situations from occurring.

They check applicants' police records. They look at whether they're listed in the state child abuse registries. They guarantee confidentiality to the people writing reference letters, in case there's anything the writers think they should know. They check the applicants' homes, and require them to take classes.

The Associated Press also contributed to this article.


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