The recent international adoption scandal regarding a Russian boy, Artem Saveliev, and his American adoptive mother, Torry Hansen has understandably received much press coverage. What Torry Hansen did – sending the child back to Russia as means to annul her adoption - wins her no sympathies. However, she is not solely responsible for Artem's misfortune. Adoptive parents are often blissfully unprepared for the difficulties of raising a child with a history of neglect and abuse.
However, the reaction of the Russian authorities to the situation has been blown out of proportion. Most likely, Ms. Hansen is but one unbalanced woman who should not have been approved to adopt a school-aged boy in the first place. Ms. Hansen, as a single mother and a believer in home schooling system, in my opinion, was not a candidate for adopting a Russian child with undiagnosed physical, emotional, mental and/or developmental problems.
The questions remain: whether Torry Hansen have access to appropriate parenting and therapeutic resources to help the child and whether she received proper support from the agency that placed Artem with her. Why did she choose to send Artem to Russia rather than seek respite care and, if that was not successful, an appropriate foster home for Artem in the United States? Stories of other disrupted Russian adoptions have been public for over a decade.
Notably, before sending the child to Russia, Torry Hansen consulted a Russian attorney, Karina Krasnova, who had advised her about the legal procedures in place to annul the adoption. But ignoring the advice, Torry Hansen chose her own way. Torry Hansen selected what she believed was the cheapest and quickest way to get rid of the child. She sent him back to Russia alone with a note to the Russian authorities, as if the note could justify her actions.
To adopt a child is a leap of faith. Legal adoption of abandoned Russian children is a relatively recent phenomena. In Russia, adoptions used to be secretive, with parents abandoning children to avoid a social stigma. Now, with Angeline Jolie, Madonna and other celebrities flaunting their adoptions, it has become a humanitarian act. Torry Hansen was no celebrity.
This latest disrupted adoption has called into question the practices of Americans adopting Russian children, as well as the need to improve oversight of the agencies that facilitate overseas adoptions. The problem is that once such adoptions are finalized, there are often limited resources to enable adoptive parents and children to adjust to new homes and lives. Russian journalists are reporting with blame that the Americans stand to lose their children because there have been too many unfortunate outcomes involving adoptions of the Russian children in the United States. They forget, however, that over 60,000 Russian adoptions by American parents have been successful. Those children were saved. Numerous Russian children who were institutionalized in orphanages could likely become drug addicts, criminals or commit suicide. If there is a moratorium against adoptions out of Russia, those institutionalized children will otherwise likely lose every chance to have a normal childhood.
I have since interviewed a number of parents who have adopted children from Russia, China, and even domestically. Those parents recognized the need for and sought support from adoption professionals and community which made their adoptions successful. Such guidance, however, is limited. Thus, most families have to identify their own post adoption resources, including therapeutic parenting help. Through programs, such as the Spence Chapin Post Adoption Center, the JCCA and the Adoptive Parents Committee, adoptive families can obtain the tools for success in raising these vulnerable children. Attorneys who specialize in adoption and family matters must familiarize themselves with such resources and be prepared to advise their clients to seek guidance when an adoption challenge is presented.
If Artem's family had availed themselves of even some of the above resources, perhaps, the boy would have managed to overcome his past. The adoption process is far more complicated then the detailed pre-adoptive paperwork and clearance. More emphasis needs to be placed on the post adoption transition of children, on establishing attachment, and for adoptive parents to learn how to parent children for whom trust is not automatically provided once custody is finalized.