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Adoptive Mom Ships Kid Back to Russia

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After a mother returned her child due to his alleged behavioral issues, Russia is considering eliminating U.S. adoptions until they can set some new rules.

russian boy

Kate Tuttle: There are all kinds of reasons to adopt a child: to expand one's family; to share your love and good fortune; to secure a companion in your old age; to nurture a young soul; to live out fantasies that were denied in your own childhood; to stave off loneliness; to gain a larger purpose in life; to have an ally; to control someone smaller than yourself. Some are noble, some are selfish, all are pretty human.

And all are exactly the same if you have a child biologically.

There's really only one difference between becoming a parent by adoption and birthing a child: You can't adopt accidentally. Some intention is required, along with months of research and planning, and often a very serious financial commitment. Which is why it's so shocking when adoptive parents do what Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee did: return a child.

Seven-year-old Artyom Savelyev, renamed Justin, was sent back to Russia by Torry-Ann Hansen, who had adopted him just a year ago. According to published reports, he flew alone from Washington to Moscow on a one-way ticket. When he landed, Russian officials took custody of him at Immigration. Questioned at the Ministry of Education, the boy said that his adoptive mother pulled his hair and didn't love him. The case has attracted wide attention in his homeland, which has become the third most popular source of adopted children for American parents, after China and Ethiopia. But fallout from this ugly episode may cause Russian officials to suspend adoptions to the United States.

For her part, Hansen and her family claim that Artyom was emotionally disturbed and exhibited violent behavior. They claim they were misled by the Russian orphanage from which they'd adopted him. The World Association of Children and Parents, the U.S. agency that handled the adoption, has had its licenseto work in Russiasuspended. But this isn't the first Russia-to-U.S. adoption journey that's gone terribly wrong. According to Russian authorities, 14 Russian children have died after adoption by American families since 1996. Whether this is a large number, given the number of total adoptions, isn't clear, but what is obvious is how upsetting the story is to the Russian public. It's not surprising that the official response has been a proposal by the foreign minister to suspend all U.S. adoptions of Russian children until new rules can be put into place governing them.

I think this makes sense. Parenting is hard work, period. Adopting can be even harder, and adopting an older child is always going to require parents who are prepared for the additional work that may be required in caring for a son or daughter who has faced significant early losses and may bear deep emotional wounds. It's hard to imagine a tougher task, or a more sacred one. But right from the start, it sounds as if Torry-Ann Hansen wasn't ready to treat her son with the care and respect every child deserves. Changing his name -- at age 6! -- seems a particularly glaring red flag. And although I'm sure she'll deny any physical abuse, Artyom's own testimony that she pulled his hair is another.

At the very least, some kind of extra screening for parents adopting older children internationally would seem to be a good idea, if only to weed out those who would return a child the way they'd return a pair of shoes. This is not to make light of the real emotional and behavioral difficulties Artyom may have -- but that's part of being a parent (and while it's well known that some children in the Russian orphanage system suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, adoptive parents have the opportunity to meet the child before they finalize the adoption, so the time to regretfully change your mind is before you bring him or her home).

International adoption has become increasingly popular in the U.S. as more prospective parents have been frustrated by the domestic adoption process. You hear about the long waits and uncertainty, and people worry openly about the complexities of transracial adoption, or fear what they see as the great unknown that is open adoption. These are real concerns, and it takes more than just love to make these adoptions work out -- it takes learning and listening and education (and lots of love). But the best parents have always known this, and thousands of domestically adopted children and their families live happily ever after.

The people this will hurt, of course, are parents who are waiting for children with whom they've already been matched. Because of the thoughtless actions of one wannabe mother, they may not get the chance to parent kids they are well prepared to love. And that's a tragedy for all involved.

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