The 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Moscow alone by his adoptive mother in Tennessee.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans after an adoptive mother in Tennessee sent her 7-year-old son back to Moscow alone last week.
The mother, Torry Ann Hansen, said the boy’s emotional problems had overwhelmed her. “After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child,” she wrote in a note placed in his knapsack.
Her actions caused a global uproar. How could such a case have been prevented? What standards of conduct should apply when parents feel they can’t provide for a child adopted from abroad?
Fix the System
David Smolin is a professor at the Cumberland Law School at the Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He has written extensively about adoption.
Intercountry adoption, particularly of older children, and most especially of children from abusive families or neglectful institutions, is inherently a high risk process. Children coming from traumatic backgrounds commonly suffer from serious psychological, behavioral, cognitive and educational issues. The language and cultural transitions of intercountry adoption compound and complicate both the child’s trauma and therapeutic interventions.
The child welfare and adoption systems that have created countless cases far more tragic than this latest one, are the real criminals.
Unfortunately, the adoption myth in the United States sends the message that the love and care found in any normal American home is enough to heal any child. This myth leads to numerous inadequacies: inadequate evaluation of children prior to adoption; inadequate preparation, training and selection of prospective adoptive families; and inadequate post-placement services.
Thus, too many prospective adoptive parents, even when warned about hypothetical possible problems, are asked to make a purportedly permanent adoption decision based on inadequate or misleading information about the particular child with whom they are matched. Too many prospective adoptive parents are matched with children whose behaviors, issues and needs are far beyond the capacity of a normal family to manage. Too often, the only expert services offered to such families are too far away or too expensive to be practical, if they exist at all.
Peter C. Winkler, an adoption social worker, was the director of New York State Adoption Services from 1985 to 1995.
More than 20 years ago, in New York, Joel Steinberg, a lawyer, took into his home a little girl he was supposed to be placing into an adoptive home. He subsequently beat her to death. As a result of this horrific event, New York adoption laws and regulations were revised and improved.
Legislators in every state should review their laws and regulations on adoptive placements.
I hope that after this recent case, legislators in every state will sit down and review their laws and regulations on adoptive placements, both domestic and international. And here, based on my experience, are a few places to start.
State regulations should require any agency that places adopted children to visit the child regularly over a period of at least one year. In cases involving non-agency or independent adoption, those visits should be made by a representative of the court.
Transparency and Support
Diane B. Kunz, a lawyer, is the executive director of the Center for Adoption Policy, a nonprofit group that provides research and advice on domestic and international adoption.
The first responsibility of anyone involved in the adoption process is to prevent it from failing. And with transparency and support, disastrous adoptions can be greatly reduced.
There is a complete lack of resources for parents who cannot keep or deal with their adopted children.
Every part of the international adoption program must be transparent. Any child adopted internationally should be automatically considered a special-needs child who will bear the scars of both a lack of prenatal care and post-birth institutionalization. Love is necessary but not sufficient for a successful international adoption.
Parents must be thoroughly screened and vetted. Too often home studies conducted by the adoption agency before placement of a child are rubber stamps not investigative procedures. Parents should be required to submit a post-adoption plan that details how they intend to address their new child’s needs and the needs of the adoptive family.
Suspending Adoption Is Not the Answer
Elizabeth Bartholet is a professor and the faculty director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School. She is the author of “Family Bonds” and “Nobody’s Children.”
The recent story of the adopted child sent alone on an airplane to Russia should obviously set off efforts to prevent such incidents in the future: prospective parents need accurate information about the institutional and other maltreatment children have suffered prior to adoption and access after adoption to professional advice for children damaged by such maltreatment. They need to know help is available if they feel incapable of parenting their child.
Policymakers should focus on freeing up children at earlier ages for adoption — age at placement is the best predictor for normal development.
But the risk is that in focusing on the specific wrongs involved in sending this child back, policymakers will ignore the larger story about child tragedy and related policy lessons. That story has to do with the systemic abuse that victimizes the millions of children in institutions worldwide. Many decades of social science demonstrate the destructive impact of such institutions on children’s mental, emotional and physical capacities.
Maltreatment rates are extraordinarily low among internationally adopted children as a group — lower even than in normal biological families. International adoption serves generally to help children, who have suffered horrific maltreatment prior to adoption, overcome the damage done so that they can lead essentially normal lives.