Saturday, April 10, 2010

Russian Adoptions Need to Stop!

by Pa Rock
Social Worker

Americans and Russians were rightfully shocked this week when an American adoptive mother sent her 7-year-old adoptive Russian son back to Russia - alone on an airplane for a ten-hour flight - with a note returning him to the care of the Russian government. The woman's mother (the child's adoptive grandmother) flew with the boy from their home in Shelbyville, Tennessee, to Washington, DC, where she placed him on a plane bound for Moscow. The grandmother had paid a man in Russia two hundred dollars to meet the plane and turn the boy over to authorities.

The legal term for what the two women did is "child abandonment," and it is a serious violation of law, even in Tennessee. This boy, Artyom Savelyev (a.k.a. Justin Hansen), is a child, not some defective merchandise that can be returned to Wal-Mart with a scowl and a sales receipt.

The adoptive mother, Torry Hansen (a registered nurse), and her mother, Nancy Hansen, felt that they had received defective merchandise. They went to Russia last September to pick up young Artyom and things apparently went fairly smoothly for several months - although neighbors reported never seeing the child, and he was apparently not enrolled in school. A social worker visited the home this past January and reported things were fine.

But that quickly started to change. Nancy Hansen said that the boy began to exhibit problems like hitting, spitting, and kicking. Then, the grandmother added, he started drawing pictures of the house they lived in - and in those pictures the house was burning. Granny told the Associated Press, "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."

Mom and Grandmother had a problem. They could have invested some time and effort in serious family counseling, but like a couple of angry Wal-Mart shoppers, they took a more direct approach to solving their problem by returning the seven-year-old child to Russia.

That solution worked for them, at least until the state of Tennessee makes a decision whether to file charges or not. Mom obviously did not have the smarts or stamina to parent - but what a tragic message to give a child. He was abandoned in Russia, perhaps by necessity, and then he was abandoned in the United States, by an apparent emotional cripple who should never have been allowed to adopt in the first place.

The Russian government immediately suspended the license of the World Association for Children and Parents of Renton, Washington, the agency that facilitated the adoption of Artyom. The Russians are also threatening to suspend the practice of letting Americans adopt children.

That needs to happen, and it needs to occur now.

I have worked in adoptions and have some knowledge of adopters, adoptees, and the problems that are likely to result as the process occurs. I have helped arrange adoptions with parents who presented as perfect. They passed home studies, lengthy interviews, and completed state sponsored training. Many times these adoptions worked, but all had their trials-by-fire.

A parent who didn't have the resolve and personal inner-strength to persevere would often fold like a cheap lawn chair - and another plan would have to be established for the child that they once thought would complete them as a person. Taking a child out of an adoptive home at the request of the parents is one of the saddest things that a social worker will ever endure, and it leaves a scar on the child that may never heal.

Why do people go abroad to adopt when there are currently well over one hundred thousand kids in foster care in the United States waiting for adoptive homes?

American children in foster care are some of the most wonderful kids on the planet! They have been through situations that most of us could not imagine, and all they want is a family of their own, a safe group of people who will love them on good days and bad, for better or worse, forever. Unfortunately, many potential adoptive parents aren't in it to help kids, although many believe they are. They are adopting to fill some void or correct some defect in their own lives. They are looking for the perfect child, some kid who will be relatively trouble-free and will look good in a family Christmas photo.

Foster children are often bright, funny, and loving, but they come with emotional baggage that will manifest itself at some point in their lives. Many are older children who have vivid memories of abuse and dysfunctional families, and some still have contact with their birth families. Others are handicapped or have disabilities. These kids aren't really what the discerning kid-shopper is looking for.

To avoid the "problems" associated with adopting children from foster care, many people have engaged in the expensive process of adopting children from the international community. Adoptions from places like China and Korea have become fairly commonplace. The children coming from these countries are young, healthy, and don't have annoying family ties that could prove to be disruptive to the adoption.

For people obsessed with finding a young, white child, Russia presents as a viable option. Not only would there be no bothersome family ties to break, the child might fit seamlessly into that Christmas photograph. Unfortunately, it has been known for well over a decade that these children often come with emotional problems that can manifest themselves in serious ways.

I seldom read Redbook, but in the winter of 1997 while working a particularly slow evening at the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, a co-worker handed me a copy of the September 1, 1997, issue of that publication. She wanted me to read an article about a young boy who had been adopted out of Russia and then murdered by his adoptive mother. The article was entitled "An Adoption Tragedy: Did This Baby Ever Have a Chance?" It is still available over the Internet.

The Redbook article detailed the short life and brutal death of a toddler named David Polreis, Jr, who had been adopted from Russia six months before his death.

(Six months - roughly the same amount of time that Artyom was in the United States before his mother sent him back to Russia.)

Young David was adopted by David Polreis, Sr, a vice-president at a ConAgra meat-packing plant, and his wife, Renee, of Greeley, Colorado. By the time that the couple adopted David in late 1995, approximately 11,000 children had been adopted out of orphanages in Russia and the eastern block countries following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

Young David was an ordinary child for the first few months, then he began to experience fits of rage, particularly toward his 42-year-old adoptive mother.

Emergency responders were called to the Polreis home before daylight on the morning of February 10, 1996. They rushed upstairs and found the 24-pound little boy lying unresponsive on the floor in his pajamas. He had brown vomit leaking from his nose, and his eyes were half-open staring into space, with one pupil larger than the other. When they unzipped his pajamas, they discovered that the little boy was covered from head to toe with bruising.

As the emergency crew removed the critically injured child from the house, Renee stood downstairs not speaking to anyone. David's father was out of town on business, and his older brother was away visiting his grandmother.

David was airlifted to Denver where doctors immediately determined that he was the victim of a severe beating. His mother did not go to the hospital, instead she holed-up in her minivan calling attorneys on her cell phone. David died shortly after arriving at the hospital. That afternoon police inspectors found two broken, bloody wooden spoons wrapped in a bloodstained diaper and hidden in the Polreis' garage.

Renee Polreis was in jail by the following evening, charged with child abuse resulting in death. Her husband posted $80,000 bond soon after that and the mother was reunited with the remainder of her family.

At the pretrial hearing, the defense attorney suggested that the child had killed himself in a fit of rage, but nobody bought that fiction. Attention then began to focus on a psychological condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), an argument that if children don't bond with an adult very early in life (i.e. during the first days and weeks), they will be unattached and that will express itself as they get older, often violently.

Other parents who had adopted from the eastern block countries spoke up to say that they had had similar experiences with children that they adopted - although they had not chosen to resolve the problem by beating the children to death.

Renee Polreis was eventually convicted of child abuse resulting in death and sentenced to 22 years in prison, a sentence that was reduced to 18 years on appeal. She was paroled in 2005 after serving less than ten years behind bars. She is out now, supposedly under strict supervision, and young David is still dead.

Although the Reactive Attachment Disorder, (RAD), did not work for Renee Polreis, it still has some merit. (It does not, however, justify murdering a child.)

Less than two years after reading the article in Redbook, I went on a tour of Russia with a group of social workers from across the United States. One of the stops while we were in Moscow was at an orphanage and school that cared for a large group of children from infancy through the teen years. As we walked down one of the dark hallways, the headmistress pointed out the nursery where ten or twelve tightly swaddled infants were lying unattended in bassinets. The babies, we learned, only got staff attention when they needed fed or changed. There were no adults in the room interacting with the infants most of the time. If the babies woke up, they continued to lie in their bassinets, tightly wrapped, and stared at the ceiling without any human interaction.

Later as we observed the older children in their classroom and working in the kitchen, the headmistress remarked that all of their children turned out to be mentally retarded. As she said that, I thought of the sad babies in the nursery and of little David Polreis.

There is a site on the Internet called The Daily Bastardette that has a lead article entitled: "Forever Family -- Forever Dead: A Memoriam for Russian Adoptees." It gives details of fifteen children adopted in Russia by American families, children who were later killed by members of their new "forever" families. It is well worth a read, and a comment.

So, yes, Russia needs to follow through on its threat to stop allowing children to be adopted by American families. Russia, like the United States, has spent decades focusing on war at the expense of children and families. Instead of sending children out, the Russian government needs to be bringing child development specialists in. They need to be investing in their child resources, not letting them go to wealthy child consumers in other countries.

And the United States also needs to be spending more on children and families. It is unconscionable that over a hundred thousand children in this country are even in foster care, let alone waiting to be adopted. It is also a national embarrassment that nearly half of the children in this country live in poverty. When did we allow ourselves to become a third world country?

And as for those two cretins in Shelbyville, Tennessee, who shipped their child back to Russia - thank you. At least you had the presence of mind to realize your shortcomings and chose an option other than homicide. You may or may not go to jail for the crime of child abandonment, but at least your child is still alive and has the possibility of happiness at some point in the future. Now do the world a favor and don't adopt again!


Mike Box said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Box said...

In Tennessee a Registered Nurse is, by state law, a mandated reporter of child abuse.

Although this woman was not acting in the capacity of a health care provider it cannot be argued that she didn't know the law. That information is passed on at time of licensure.

Abandonment is neglect, this woman had the smarts to know that much.

While it may be better to ship the kid back to Russia than to kill him, neither result is reasonable or in the best interests to the child.

After giving the woman all the process to which she is due I expect her to face consequences for her really stupid actions. She should lose her license as a nurse, pay whatever fines the Court imposes and serve out her time.

The guardian ad litem, an attorney appointed by the Court to represent the kid, should be filing civil suit against her, her mom, and the adoption agency for money damages.

Gee, its my favorite game, name that tort. I'll open with the intentional infliction of emotional distress. That's an intentional tort and carries punitive damages.

Maybe the kid will have enough dough to hire a good Austrian trained psychotherapist. He deserves the best.

(oops I deleted this the first time because of a massive typo)

Phillipia said...

I am not sure why they chose to adopt two Russian children, but I do know a couple who have done that and it seems to be working out well for all of them. I enjoy hearing Dad's stories of life with his adoptive children.

Just wanted to share an adoption with a good ending:)