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April 12, 2010

They don't call it a "last resort" because it's the first thing you do

I'm usually really critical about adoption disruptions because I think adults who agree to adopt children need to be emotionally prepared for the very worst attachment process and willing to ride out the hard stuff all the way through to the end.  But we're kidding ourselves if we don't believe there can be times when it's just never going to work.  Bio parents are faced with hard choices like this too so it's not a situation that is unique to adoptive parents - as the media implies.

Everyone has probably heard the news reports of the single mom in Tennessee who adopted a 7 year old Russian boy when he was 6 and many months later, put him on a non-stop, one way flight back to Russia with a note explaining that he was violent and mentally ill and she could no longer parent him.   She made arrangements for someone to meet him at the airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry. I'm not going to link to the story because there are hundreds of reports and they all seem to report the facts a little bit differently.  You can Google "Russian boy returned" and read all you want.

I don't know where to start telling you about how I feel about this so maybe I'll just toss out some bullet points.

  • I'm not excusing the behavior of the adoptive mother and grandmother but I am trying to understand it.  I want to assume that the family thought through their various options before deciding that this one was best.  It certainly wasn't the easiest or cheapest so I find it very hard to believe that it was their first choice.
  • The media has consistently failed to get even the basic details of this story correct.  There are conflicting reports of the boys age and wildly different accounts of when he was adopted and how long he was with the family so I'm hesitant to believe that they're reporting any of the critical details correctly.  Since the adoptive family isn't talking, there's simply no way to confirm reports that the family never sought help. 
  • Given the sensitive nature of mental health services - especially where kids are concerned - I don't believe that any agency that provided assistance would be allowed, legally, to contact the media and share that information with them.
  • About the flight:  Why is the media making a big deal about the fact that he was "alone" on the plane?  Children flying unaccompanied is common.   It was a nonstop flight and he was supervised by flight attendants and a responsible adult met him at the airport in Moscow.   The airlines deal with this all the time.  It's no big deal and it's certainly not a crime. 
  • A boy, age 7, is not a baby.  At age seven, most children understand the difference between right and wrong but still need lots of guidance.  How do you punish a boy who has nothing he cherishes?  If he physically threatens you or your other children, what is your recourse?  How do you keep your family safe today? 
  • I've been a mother of a 7 year old and I know they're still very young and vulnerable at that age but I also know they're strong willed and physically strong too.   If you' can't control your 7 year old, you're in BIG trouble when he's 15.   Maybe this child shouldn't have been adopted to a household without a strong male influence?

This child was with his alcoholic biological mother until he was 6.  I don't know how bad your alcoholic parent has to treat you in Russia before you're removed from her care and sent to a new family on the other side of the Earth.  Or maybe she had him removed from her home because he was violent and was threatening other family members?  I wonder if we'll ever hear from her. 

Was bio mom drinking when she was pregnant?   Are his problems due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?  Drug and alcohol abuse is the primary reason we wouldn't adopt from the USA or Russia.

The average person doesn't know how much adoptive parents go through to qualify to adopt.  The media acts like this Tennessee woman wasn't screened well enough but we know that the paces prospective adoptive parents are put through are intense and would screen out a huge percentage of biological parents if the same standards were applied to everyone. 

The media keeps talking about the horrible instances of abuse by adoptive parents without mentioning that it's extremely rare and even though adoptive parents sometimes hurt their children, it doesn't happen nearly as often as it does with biological parents.  This is especially remarkable considering that most of the children we adopt come from a slice of the population that is exposed to circumstances that would make them somewhat "at risk" and they pass that to their children.   All of our adopted kids suffer (to varying degrees) before we adopt them and they bring all of that baggage into our home yet you don't hear about the 99+% of us deal with it and form healthy loving bonds with our new children.   You just hear about the ones that don't make it.

Assuming the boy really was violent and mentally ill and really might have wanted to burn down his family's home (with them in it), let's consider where the adoptive mom was supposed to take this boy.

  • You can call your agency but they're not going to absolve you of your parental obligation and take the child off of your hands.  They'll give you some advice and encouragement but, in the end, you will be the one living with this 24/7 and only you will know how much of his threats are potentially real. 
  • Some agencies have connections to families who will step in and take a child in the event of a disruption.  But if this child is really violent and dangerous, I can't imagine any family risking their own children (meaning the kids they already have) to take in such a child. 
  • You can't call 911 and simply tell them to come pick up your kid.  I can tell you from experience because I was a deputy sheriff and I got those calls.   When I got there, I never found a criminal.  Instead, I usually found a remorseful kid sitting on the couch crying.
  • If there's obvious evidence that he's committed a violent assault, he can be taken into custody and charged.
  • If he's obviously mentally ill (ie behaving in a way that makes police believe that he is an serious threat to himself or others), he can be transported (by paramedics) to a hospital for observation.  But it has to be OBVIOUS.
  • You can't take him to Social Services and drop him off there.  Again, I have some experience with this because I was a counselor for a large county welfare department and worked with Children's Protective Services for 13 years.   That system is designed to protect children from abusive parents.  Not the other way around.
  • Even if you could manage to get him into the foster care system, there's probably no family that would keep him.   He would be bounced from home to home until he ended up in a state run facility (at a massive cost)
  • Prison would probably be his next home after that.
If Russia lied to the adoptive mother about the severity of his mental health issues, then I can understand why she'd be angry enough just send their problem child back to them.  Yes, I know that sounds harsh but if what she says is true, Russia knew what they were doing when they "tricked" another US family into taking yet another one of their horribly damaged children.   Obviously not all children who are adopted from Russia are forever and irrevocably damaged but many are and Russia has a moral responsibility to not pass these kids to well meaning adoptive parents.  Surely there are other kids suffering in orphanages in Russia who can really benefit from having a loving home?  Since there are more kids than families, can we please have some of those healthier kids instead?

Now Russia is saying that the boy had signs of abuse?  Is this another lie?  What are we supposed to believe from Russia?   The boy claimed that he was beaten with a broom stick at the Russian orphanage and now it's reported that his adoptive mom "was mean to me and pulled my hair".    My kids accuse me of being mean to them all the time!  And I can't count the number of times I've used Gwen's long ponytail as an extra appendage when I've needed to catch her or hold onto her.  Obviously I've not hurt her though and wouldn't you think this boy would have something else to say about his treatment in the USA if there was something really abusive going on?    There better be something more than an old bruise on this kid if Russia is claiming that he was mistreated in the USA.    I can't even tell you how angry this makes me if it's true and I'm even MORE angry if it's not true!  This TN mother's life is ruined.   She has a 10 year old bio son (if you believe half of the media reports) and his life is ruined too because his mom is probably going to jail on whatever charge the lynch mob can make stick.  Can we please have some sympathy for them?  Does anyone really think this is the way they wanted their adoption to turn out?  Unless there is evidence that they planned this from the very start, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt today.  They LIVED this and all I've done is read a bunch of potentially inaccurate reports about it.  I may eat my words later but I'm reserving harsh judgment until more of the facts are in.

I've always had a tug at my heart to adopt an older child.   If there was ever a chance that we'd do it, that chance is totally gone now.  This really makes me worry about who we would trust and who we would turn to for help if things went seriously bad?  The answer to both questions seem to be... nobody.

--------------------------------------

UPDATE:  The lawyer for the adoptive family is supposed to talk on Monday.  I'm very curious to learn how some of the blanks in this story will be filled in.

Thanks, Andrea, for the link to this other great article on this topic:  http://www.slate.com/id/2250590/

Thanks to everyone who has engaged in intelligent, articulate and polite discussion with me about this.  It's a hot topic and I appreciate your thoughts and your civility. 

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