June 4, 2012 @ 3:33 PM

By the research staff at Adoption101.com

It was in early 2010 when a Tennessee adoptive mother put her adopted seven year old son, Artyom, on a plane with a one way ticket back to Russia and a note saying: “I am sorry that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.” She went on to write, “He is a Russian national, I am returning him to your guardianship.” As reported by CBS News, she said, “He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,” and she alleged the Russian orphanage lied about the child because they “wanted to get rid of the boy.” Needless to say, her action set off a storm of anger and shock not just in the adoption community, but among the general public worldwide.


Now more than two years later, Artyom is reported to be living in a village made up of foster families outside of Moscow. The Associated Press reports he refuses to speak in English and has had to go through extensive counseling and speech therapy to start communicating again. In May of 2012, the adoptive mother was ordered to pay $150,000 and an additional $1,000 a month in child support until Artyom reaches the age of 18. The end of the story is not so much what happened to this adoptive mother and the child she adopted, but how has the American adoption community reacted to this tragic incidence, and how can it keep such actions from occurring again.


It is easy - and justified - to criticize the adoptive mother in this situation, as sending a seven year old back to his birth country, alone on an airplane, particularly after reportedly never even seeking psychiatric counseling for him, was a horrific and cruel act. The real issue, however, and the issue to be examined to assist others, is why such an even occurred, and how can we avoid its reoccurrence.


In the world of independent adoptions, and a large percentage of private agency adoptions - both involving almost exclusively newborn adoptions - the primary concern of adoptive parents about the child is the genetic health history and the birth mother’s prenatal care. The child is raised from birth with the adoptive family, making post-birth issues somewhat moot. This is not the case, however, in virtually all international and public/county adoptions, where the children are usually older, and have had many life experiences before they enter their adoptive families. Questions of attachment disorder (in simple terms, the failure to bond with a loving caretaker due to the absence of such a person, perhaps occurring in a less than desirable orphanage setting or foster home), undiagnosed or undisclosed psychiatric issues, the child’s likely negative life experiences (abuse, neglect) are critical issues with which adoptive parents must be familiar.


Although it is the job of the adoptive parents to educate themselves, most adopting parents look exclusively to their adoption agency (or in rare cases their adoption attorney) as their educating entity. Most agencies, both private and public, do an excellent job of educating and preparing adoptive parents, including debunking myths and giving a dose of reality.


For example, many adoptive parents adopt for the wrong reasons, and need to be dissuaded from adopting, or reeducated. These potential adopting parents want to “save” a child, or they assume the child will be grateful for their new and loving home and be the perfect and obedient child. The reality is many children are in a state of shock themselves over their move, particularly if it involved being moved to a new country, an new country, a new language. Imagine that for a young child. Even domestically, a child can resent being moved to a new environment, even if the new home is loving and sincere. They often feel the only reason they can’t be with their biological parents (no matter how unworthy those parents are as caretakers) is because their present adoptive family is giving them a home instead. This may be nonsensical, but it is a reality in the minds of many children. Other children may be simply too scarred by their early life experiences to ever fully trust another parent figure again.


This is not to say that in the world of older adopted children most of these adoptions are unsuccessful. To the contrary, the overwhelming majority of adoptive families who have built their family through adoption, including older children via international or agency adoption, report they are very happy with their adopted family. But due to the higher risks inherent with adopting an older child, it is critical the adoptive parents be fully educated by their adoption agency. This means not just education and counseling prior to the adoption, but careful monitoring after the adoptive placement, for the benefit of both child and adoptive parent. In the case of Artyom, it is unknown whether the adoptive mother did not fully report her ongoing problems to her agency to seek their assistance, or not, to benefit from the knowledge of adoption childcare professionals.


The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a 116 page report on recommendations entitled: “Keeping the Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed.” The Adoption Institute’s Executive Director, Adam Pertman, commented: “What it means is that these children live with the emotional, psychological and developmental consequences of having been abused, neglected or institutionalized before they were adopted. The good news is that most of them, and their families, are doing just fine; the bad news is that the ones who need help too often aren't getting it."


To read more on this report, and helpful commentary from the renowned Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, visit:  http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2010_10_promises.php


This article was written by the staff of Adoption101.com, the internet adoption school. Additional entities offering information on this topic include the North American Council of Adoptable Children (nacac.org), AdoptUSKids (adoptuskids.org), and the Child Welfare Information Gateway (childwelfare.gov).


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