The pictures make my stomach hurt. A confused looking little boy in a bright yellow jacket staring with vacant eyes into the camera after flying half way around the world. A photograph of a smiling woman playing with a happy little boy at a table in an orphanage pre-adoption belying the tragedy just a few months away. A front door festively decorated with a Happy Easter sign, when it was anything but a happy Easter for this troubled family.
The facts simply don’t add up. Torry Hansen, a thirty- three year old single woman and registered nurse who lives near her extended family in Shelbyville, Tennessee, adopted Artyom Savelyev from the Far East region of Russia in September 2009. All adoptions from Russia require parents to meet the child on one trip. They are given the medical and social history of this child to take home and consider before deciding to adopt. If they decide to adopt that child they go back to Russia to finalize the adoption. Presumably this process was followed in Artyom’s adoption. Prior to the adoption Artyom had been removed from his alcoholic mother and placed in an orphanage. His age at removal and how long he lived at the orphanage have not been reported.
Hansen used WACAP Adoption Agency to process this adoption. Since WACAP is located in Oregon and Hansen in Tennessee, WACAP partnered with Adoption Assistance, Inc., a local Tennessee adoption agency to prepare the home study. A home study is in part to evaluate the parent’s suitability to adopt and in part to educate and prepare the parent to adopt. At the end of the home study, the social worker prepares a report that is sent to Russia approving the family to adopt.
Russia requires post adoption reports be submitted at 6, 12, 24 and 36 months after placement. In preparation for the submittal of the first post adoption report a social worker from Adoption Assistance visited Hansen and Artyom, whom she had named Justin, in January of this year, four months after he arrived home. The social worker noted no problems and said that Artyom appeared to be adjusting and Hansen was enthusiastic.
Artyom’s American grandmother, Nancy Hansen, told the Associated Press that behavior problems began after January. She said Artyom started hitting, kicking and spitting when he didn’t get his way. He threatened to burn down the house and drew a picture of a burning house with his family inside. Nancy Hansen says her daughter talked with a psychologist, but never had Artyom evaluated and apparently never began family therapy.
In March, Hansen contacted a Russian lawyer to ask about options to “annul” the adoption. Last week, Nancy Hansen flew with Artyom to Washington DC and put him on a United Airlines flight to Moscow–alone. They had hired a “tour guide” found online for $200 to pick up the boy at the airport and drop him off at the Ministry of Education. A note pinned to Artyom’s jacket explained:
“This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues. …I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. …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. …As a Russian national, I am turning him over to your guardianship.”
It seems inadequate to say that this is a tragedy. It will make us all feel better to blame someone—the mother, the agency, the orphanage officials, international adoption in general. We think we can make sense of the unimaginable if we can find the one person or thing to blame. I’m certainly not saying these players are blameless, but pointing the finger at any one of them allows us to avoid the bigger, harder picture.
Fingers most quickly point to Torry Hansen. True enough, her actions are unjustifiable. She may well have reached the end of her rope, but from the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if her rope was mighty short to begin with. She claims she was lied to about Artyom’s mental conditions and behavior by the Russian orphanage officials. In truth, it wouldn’t surprise me if indeed the orphanage workers didn’t report behavioral problems. Some kids don’t act out in an orphanage setting because it’s not safe. Sometimes rapid turn over amongst orphanage workers prevents them from knowing the kids well enough to see problems. Sometimes the officials or workers that talk to the parents never spend any time with the kids and have no idea of their behavior. Sometimes orphanages lie because they don’t think the child will be adopted if they tell the truth.
However, adoptive parents have a responsibility to investigate on their own potential problems. Anyone who adopts a 7 year old child who was removed from an alcoholic mother due to abuse and neglect and raised in an institution shouldn’t need an orphanage official to tell her there may be psychological problems. Most parents adopting from Russia have a US doctor specializing in international adoption review the medical and social records of a child they are considering. I have no doubt that most international adoption doctors would have said this child was at risk for neurological damage and attachment disorders since his mother was an alcoholic, he was abused and neglected prior to being removed from her, and was then raised in an orphanage. Most social workers would also have prepared the parent for this possibility during the home study even without specific evidence from the orphanage of these problems. A quick perusal of any internet Russian adoption forum would also have put Hansen on alert for the possibility of these problems prior to adoption.
Nancy Hansen claims that the problems didn’t begin until after January. She started looking for a way to return Artyom one month later. I suspect problems existed before that, but even if they had lasted six months that is too soon to give up on an adoption. In no way do I minimize the pain, the trauma, the hard unrewarding work of raising a child with either fetal alcohol syndrome or attachment disorders, or heaven forbid both. Children with FAS and attachment disorders can be helped, but it takes time and good therapy. Hansen gave Artyom neither. And when time and therapy don’t work, legal humane ways exist to disrupt the adoption and find a new and safe place for the child.
The fingers of the blame game are also pointing at the adoption agency. I have not spoken with WACAP, but they have the reputation for being a good agency that tries to prepare parents for the reality of adopting an institutionalized older child. They require 10 hours of adoption education pre-adoption, which is more than the industry standard for Russian adoptions. They require parents to research pre-adoption local resources that are available to help a child with attachment or behavioral issues. They ask parents to address how they might handle various “what if” scenarios that might arise with a child that has been abused, neglected, institutionalized, or affected by drugs and alcohol. This is standard for WACAP, and I have no reason to believe this type of education did not take place with Hansen.
A social worker visited 4 months post placement. I think a visit closer to placement is preferable with older child adoption, but since according to the grandmother and to the social worker she didn’t acknowledge problem at 4 months, it’s unlikely that more and sooner visits would have helped. It is possible that she stayed quiet about the problems because she feared being judged. Good Morning America reported that she had applied to adopt another child and perhaps she feared that she would be denied the second adoption if she acknowledged problems with the first. Perhaps she felt that she should be able to handle things on her own. Perhaps she was a hopeless optimist believing that love or her faith would conquer all. Perhaps her tolerance for acting out really was so low that she would “return” a child after one month of misbehavior. Perhaps she was clueless.
It is true that the agency actually doing the training was not WACAP. Usually, for legal and ethical reasons the placing adoption agency keeps a tight rein on the home study agency, but maybe that failed in this case. There is a fine line between preparing adequately and terrifying needlessly. Maybe the social worker erred when searching for that balance.
Russian officials are quick to blame the institution of international adoption and the American system. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said, “We should understand what is going on with our children, or we will totally refrain from the practice” of allowing Americans to adopt. While I agree that the American system of international adoption should be reexamined in light of this case, I also think that the Russians have room for self evaluation as well. Being put on a plane for Russia was the last in a series of tragedies in this small child’s life. We don’t know the specifics of this case, but we do know that far too many children in Russia are suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome from a prevalence of drinking during pregnancy and attachment disorders from dismal institutionalized care. The damage caused by these practices is often irreparable regardless whether the child is adopted into a loving American home or Russian home.
I agree completely that Russia has the right to establish adoption standards and to question our compliance, but in addition, if they want to really help their children they should improve the care of their children pre-adoption to increase the odds of a successful placement in any family—Russian or American or any place in between.
The uncomfortable truth is that there is no way to prevent this from happening again, just as there is no way to prevent all forms of child abuse. We can set standards for adoption education, we can make prospective parents listen and read and talk, but you can’t make all of them understand. Closing down international adoption isn’t the solution. The reality is that children are being abused daily in orphanages throughout the world in far greater numbers than they are in their adoptive homes. Even the best of institutions pale by comparison to even the most average adoptive home. Hansen’s home was not the norm.
Kids aren’t objects that can be returned once a defect is found. We aren’t given any warranties when our kids arrive, regardless whether they come to us through birth or adoption. One screwed up woman who failed to grasp this fact shouldn’t be able to eradicate the day-in, day-out 24/7 work being done by thousands of adoptive families that are helping to heal badly damaged children and who sometimes wish they could return them, but do not and would not even if given the opportunity.
P.S. The Creating a Family radio show this week will be on Adopting a Child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Drug Exposure.
P.P.S. Please check out the We Are The Truth: A Campaign and Call to Action by the Joint Council of Children’s Services “You, the community of adoptees, adoptive parents, adoptive grandparents, child welfare professionals and child advocates know that the outrageous and indefensible actions of one parent are not indicative of how children are treated by adoptive families. You know that families who encounter difficulties do not simply abandon their child. You know that help is available, that solutions are found and that families can thrive. And you know that suspending adoption does not protect children but only subjects them to the depravity of an institution…and an entire life without a family.”
Image credit: La Shola y El Gringo
Add Your Comment
This is such a sad story from all angles. Sad, too, that the stories of adoption that are so highly publicized are the ones that are tragic and have some sort of negativity. Not to say that it isn’t newsworthy, but it’s just sad that there are so many successful adoptions taking place that don’t seem to raise any media attention.
This reminds me of a lady in our town – a friend of mine was new to the neighborhood and was out with her daughter walking & hoping to meet some new friends.
The lady in question was out on the font porch with two boys around the same age as my friends daughter. So they went up, said hello and my friend asked if the boys were twins.
“No – I adopted this one and got pregnant with this one soon after. The adopted one is a dud though, something must be wrong with him. He’s slow, stupid & dumb. I was lied to by the agency, they said he was healthy, he’s not.”
She then went on to tell my friend, a STRANGER, how she was at the end of her rope and how if things didn’t turn around she was going to take him to a “camp” where other people go with Russian adoptees and hopefully leave him there because she couldn’t deal with him anymore.
OMG doesn’t even cover it…who are these people and where do they get off?
Fingers: That story is beyond sad! There are so many families who would love and appreciate that poor child. She gives parenting a bad name.
I cited this article in my post on MileHighMamas.com
Thank you, Dawn, for this excellent overview of the situation.
Thanks Lori for the cite. I recommend your blog on this situation at . You are right that there should be nothing like parenting to knock the hubris right out of you!
I just want to echo and add to your points:
Those of us here who are members of the Yahoo groups Spirited Child,
Daily Parenting Reflections (the Beyond Consequences Group),
Post-Adoption Labyrinth, and others dealing with parenting children with trauma, attachment disorders, personality and mood disorders and other emotional and behavioral handicaps, may see this situation differently than those who vilify the Hansens.
I know that there are many of us who, while we don’t agree with the family (mom and grandma) shipping the boy back to Russia, can understand how and why that option was considered and chosen. Children who fit the above categories, can be very charming, engaging and well-behaved in a new situation. They are in a fear-based survival mode due to past trauma and will act as they think they should in order to be kept safe. Once they feel safe and comfortable, then they will act out and the aberrant behaviors will emerge. We know little of what this boy’s life in the orphanage was like or what it was prior to being placed there, other than it was traumatic. Just losing a first family is traumatic. Add to that any trauma or abuse suffered either in his home of origin or in the orphanage and you have a time bomb in the making.
Living with a child like this, especially one who originally came across as angelic and engaging and then turns as if possessed, is like living in a war zone. The parents become traumatized and suffer their own PTSD. Are there resources to help? Yes there are, but they can
be few and far between. Access can depend on geography, parental job security, available funds and insurance coverage. Finding the right fit of help, medications, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapies, diagnoses
that can fit into one’s budget, schedule and insurance can be an unsolvable maze that tests ones own sanity. Would continuing to try to parent this child have led up to yet another adoptee dead at the hands of his adoptive parents?
The agency, WACAP, while enjoying an excellent reputation for both pre-adoptive preparation and post adoption support, including re-homing children when necessary, is on the other side of the country from where this child and family were. Perhaps the mom and grandma felt their help was too far away. What is astounding and seems quite damning is something I read last night that Dawn mentions. Apparently, the mother inquired a few months
back about adopting a second child. This may have played into her motivation not to talk about problems with the boy with the agency. According to the story, the agency told her not to adopt another yet, but to focus on the child she just adopted first. So what did she do?
She found another agency and began the process for an adoption from Georgia. The current status of that adoption and the second agency have not been revealed yet.
Lastly, the Russians and their orphanage system cannot be held blameless. Too often, children who are seriously ill with either physical or mental illnesses or a combination of both, are passed off as healthy. This is not unique to Russian adoptions, but all too common in international adoption from many countries. The high incidence of FAS and FAE are glossed over, not only in Russia, but elsewhere. I’ve read and heard more and more stories that as the number of domestic Russian domestic adoptions have increased, the problems have hit home and the
number of domestic dissolutions/disruptions is going up there, as Russian domestic APs who feel misled into adopting damaged and broken children are returning them to orphanage care.
I’m sure there’s more to this story still, but we have little that’s black and white and a lot of gray here.
This is why it is so important for adoptive parents to do the research before they accept a referral internationally or domestically. They have to do the research… I would highly recommend they attain an international adoption pediatrician (we used Dr. Jane Aronson NYC). Although we didn't always agree with what she suggested it did make me research every possibility imaginable. It forces you to do a lot of soul searching. What are you "really" willing to deal with as a parent. It's best to decide before accepting a child into your home. International adoption .. actually any adoption .. actually any child is a huge leap of faith. It is not for the faint of heart. Children will test every nerve, every ounce of patience and physically test every cell you possess. But when you find your child you will smile at the end of the day knowing they are safe, loved and receiving the best possible care. In your heart you will know it's right and so worth it.If I had to guess as to why this 7 year old was returned I would guess he has FAS. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome isn't always easy to spot. Is too common in Russia and many of the former soviet countries. Many agencies have been known to avoid such topics with their clients but FAS is a real incurable condition. That is NOT to be taken lightly. No amount of love and affection will "fix" it. We American like to fix things. I personally know of a about a dozen families who have either taken resp-ids or had interrupted their adoptions because of FAS. Yes.. these children can be violent and yes many have been known to start fires. So what the grandmother said about the boy saying he's going to burn the house down is no joke. It's been done before. I was annoyed today when it was suggested that the parents may have abused the boy and wanted to get rid of him out of country before he talks? This "Expert" suggested that the parents could have taken him to any ER for psychiatric treatment? Perhaps if you're at poverty level that might work.. but I know of two families that are in the 6 figure income bracket that pay upwards of $40,000 a year to institutionalize their violent FAS Russian adopted children. There was no government intervention for these families. The adoptions are permanent and they are responsible for their care. This can be a huge financial and emotional burden for someone who may never have been able to bond with their adopted child. I would also question whether the child said this to authorities in Russia. Think about it.. Isn't it more likely that they claim foul play rather then admit to a possible mental disability or FAS. There's international politics at play here also. And Russian National pride. Bottom line is we may never really know the truth. We would have to examine the child for both abuse and a mental/emotional disorder. And do a serious interview of all parties involved on this end. There will be many laws that will have to be considered to determine if it is " by law" abuse. If there is a loop hole? I'm sure it will be closed after this case so it will be closely watched both here in the USA and internationally.I don't want to pass judgement here. I'm sure this family went through many of the same emotions initially that we all do when adopting. We all have the same hopes and fears. We all pray that we can fall in love with our child. 99% of us do. About 1% for whatever reason can't. I feel for them. We adore our daughter.. she is everything we hoped for and prayed for and more. But what if she came home resentful instead of grateful? Destructive instead of creative? Hateful instead of loving? Would I still love her unconditionally if she tried to hurt us and burned the house down? For those who are in process.. stand strong. Your children are out there so don't give up!!! We researched on and off for almost ten years. Then once we decided to go forward seriously it took 3-1/2 years. We adopted with our 7th agency from the 7th country. Now I understand why. Our daughter wasn't ready for us yet. When the time is right you will find your child. Just keep your eyes, ears and heart open.To the Russian government I would say don't take this out on the thousands of children who are waiting for their forever American families. This 7 year olds case is unique.. you know this is not the norm here. Americans .. especially adoptive parents love their children. Let the rest of them prove their love. ;o)
Kristina, I wish you and your husband the best of luck as well. It is a tough and emotional road to go down, and unless a person has gone through it, no one can imagine the hurt that goes along with it. Just know that you guys will be in my thoughts and prayers!And Christy, I know exactly what you are talking about. I have a 9 year old brother that is adopted from the Uraine and he has issues, but his are mostly speach related. But I remember when he first came, he freaked out over every little thing. He was 2 years old when my parents adopted him and one night, he spilled his drink. He went into a screaming fit. We tried telling him it was ok and we went to get a towel to clean it up. He took the towel away from us and started cleaning it up himself. He removed everything off the table and cleaned it up like an adult and he was only 2. He put everything back exactly like it was and then looked at us as if we were going to hit him or something. At that moment, my heart just broke and I started to imagine all the horrible things he must have went through while in the orphanage over there, It must have been horrible for him!But that woman should have understood the risk she was taking when she accepted the responsibility for this child, just as all adoptive parents do!
Erica, I agree that what this woman and her mother did was inexcusible. I actua;;y think they should be prosecuted for child abandonment and I certainly hope she is never homestudy approved again.That being said, there is culpability on the sides of agencies sometimes too. (not sure about this particular case). Older child adoption is very different from newborn (I have domested domestically – newborns – twice). I would imagine (or hope) that most people would realize that an older child available for adoption is likely going to have emotional problems, very serious in many cases, just by the virtue of the situation. I know for a fa that sometimes the agencies are not forthcoming about known disabilities, be it emotional or physical. For example, an aquaintance who had adopted an older child & a baby from Colombia later adopted a 5 & 7 y/o from Russia. Both had moderate to severate CP, something that absolutely should have been disclosed, especially since her husband was in his 60's and they wouldn't have felt capable of dealing with those problems had they known ahead of time. THAT DOESN"T MEAN they wouldn't have dealt with any illness that could occur with anoone at any time, but it IS different when you know what you can deal with up front and you are lied to. She disrupted the adoption after her husband died suddenly of stroke a few months later. Of course she didn't put them on a plane back to Russia.While I myself had very mixed emotions at the time (I hadn't had my children yet), it's not necessarily fair to say "what if she had given birth" to them. It is very different to face anything that comes up with your child than to have it thrust upon you. I would move heaven and earth to care for my children in the event of any illness or accident, but presented ahead of time with a "high health risk" situation I may have refused a match, kwim? Now remember, I think lady is HORRENDOUS, so please don't think I'm in any way shape or form condoning her behavior. I do not even nkow the specifics of this case. I hope your wait is not as long as they are telling you. Good luck.
We have three children by birth and five children adopted as older kids internationally (not Russia). Kids all have issues. All kids do. And those that come to us with life history, have history!!! They have experiences we wish they had never had – a child doesn't deserve what many of them have seen and experienced. There is a reason they are available for adoption – something bad happened to them!!! One of my sons, home at 13, was doing very well, but then when my husband needed knee surgery and was injured, vomited for days! Why? Because he still remembers his birth dad's death and obviously is affected by the loss and all!!! Duh! Once we realized what was happening, we knew he wasn't sick, just needed support to know Dad was going to be okay and then to see that really happen!!!! Again, bad things have happened to our kids – that is why they aren't with their family of origin! But they are the most precious gift of all. They are yours. I remember the judge at our re-adoption hearing very clearly reminding us that these children were now our children, same as if as from birth, same rights and responsibilities! At the time it seemed a "duh" moment, but I do see his need to remind folks of this – especially after this!!!!What if you get your kid home and find problems? Well, let me tell you, one of our birth kiddos developed a severe chronic medical condition at age six! Through no fault of anyone! What were we going to do – give her away because it was hard (and still is!)??? It is the exact same thing – you take what you get if you choose this! Just want to smack adults!
Erica, I agree completely! My husband and I have been trying for nearly 6 years. We cant afford IVF, and we are not sure we can even do IUI. Adoption is only an option if we go through our Child Welfare system, and going into something like that you have to expect the child is going to have some kind of issues.I am disgusted by her and I feel horrible for that little boy. Can you imagine how confused he is right now? Mental issues aside he is a child! All he wants is to be loved. I wish you and your husband the best of luck in your adoption journey!!
This story just sickens me! My husband and I have tried to have a baby for 8 years. We have tried every fertility treatment there is, from IUI's to IVF. We even tried IVF with an egg donor. We are now on a waiting list with an adoption agency and we have no idea how long our wait is going to be before we are able to bring our baby home. We live in Alabama and are adopting from here in Alabama. All of our paperwork is complete, so we just have to wait for a birthmother to have a baby and our name to come up on the waiting list. We are looking at another year to year and a half. I am saying all of this to say that this woman had a precious child in her home, who may have had issues, and just gave up on him. There are so many families out there that would give anything to have the opportunity to have a child and she just puts hers on a plane and just sends him packing! What would she have done if she would have actually given birth to this child???
Thank you for continuing to follow this story and post to us on the Creating a Family Facebook group what’s happening. I want to know what happens to this woman and that child. Also to adoptions from Russia.
Thanks for your insight and BALANCED approach! I think it is so easy to point a finger, but where we point may miss the bigger picture. I feel for everyone involved. And I second what an earlier poster said about the radio show you did on this case and on its impact on Russian adoptions. I’m glad to know that everything we are hearing from the media isn’t true.
Great blog. Thanks for the show you did on the impact of this sad case on adoptioins from Russia. As a mom of a child with attachment issues who is doing well now, I was so glad that your guests pointed out all the things that can be done to help families.
Thank you for this. I loved the show last week on what’s happening in Russian adoptions right now as a result of this. Your psychologist guest did a good job of helping us understand what attachment disorders really are. Torry Hansen had other options.
Apparently my comment just got eaten 🙁
I just wanted to say I’m glad I’ve found your blog and resources online- we’ve just decided to adopt, so I’ll definitely be checking this site further for more info.
~Miriam (ICLW #30)
Twitter: MiriamsHope (I think I follow you) 🙂
This woman has hurt so many that I don’t know how you can’t blame her. She is evil.
Keep up the good work. This is a great summary and indepth review of this awful situation. From my experience I automatically blamed the agency. I now realize that I didn’t have enough information. I guess we will have to wait to find out exactly what they did. If they followed the policy you outlined, then I wonder what else could have been done.
Such a horrible situation….my goodness
Well said Dawn. The media should be presenting this situation in just such terms. To vilify the mother, the adoption agency, the social worker or anyone else is to not address the real issues that are underlying this terrible situation. Thanks for a thorough presentation of all the possible contributing factors. I just learned of your website and plan to visit it again. I’m the mother of 2 biologic children (one via in vitro) and an adopted child from Korea, as well as a pediatrician. I wish your website would have been around when I faced infertility 10 years ago (or maybe it was?).
still haunting this story man oh man. iclw
Oh heavens… what a hearbreaking story. I hope that this situation will lead to a reexamination of the international adoption process, and support systems.
I’m here from ICLW, and I’m really glad I’ve found your blog. My husband and I just made the decision to adopt within the last couple of weeks, right before this story broke. It’s cast an interesting light on our discussions about domestic vs. international, that’s for sure. But ultimately, I’ve walked away from this story just so angry and saddened by the damage this woman has caused to the international adoption community, particularly Russia/US adoptions. I’ll definitely be following this blog along and catching up on back entries as we delve deeper into our own adoption journey.
~Miriam (ICLW #30)
I’m guessing that Tennessee will be working to change that law NOW. Dawn, as always, you gave a very concise overview of what happened as we know it. Thank you.
While I agree with many of you, I find that most of us are missing the main issue here. What can be done to further educate us all on the parenting of a child with what is most probably FAS? With adoptions of children from other countries, it seems we would need to be even more educated. This woman and this poor child bring a really important subject to light. Even with adoption there are things that will come up that could not have been forseen. How would you deal with that? Many diseases can show up after early childhood. Do we get to send our kids back if they are chronic bedwetters? I mean every persons ideas of intolerable situations are different aren’t they? So we educate. And we must certainly find out how this woman could have passed the rigorous evaluations that are supposed to be part of the adoption process. I am sure that there are circumstances that would allow a parent to “place” and pay for treatment if that was what was needed. Like “achildoflite”. YOu don’t abandon, you simply take care of your child, with all of his/her problems and blessings.
Patty, I agree. Creating a Family is doing its best to continue that education. Listen to the April 14 show on FAS with Dr. Julian Davies. The only addition I’d make to your comment is that alcohol and drug exposure is a problem with all types of adoption: international, domestic private, and foster care adoption.
Thank you, Dawn, for your thoughtful analysis. I am a consultant to social service organizations, with a background in regulatory oversight. I have reviewed hundreds of adoption records and consult to many adoption agencies working to improve quality and comply with regulations and standards of practice.
On April 10, I posted “A Call for Critical Review of Artyom Savelyev & Torry Hansen’s Case” to my blog:
In the two days since his adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, sent Artyom Savelyev back to his native Russia, the story has been featured in every major news outlet in the US and the subject of great attention in Russia and throughout the world. Commentators and bloggers have vilified Ms. Hansen, Russia has suspended the license of WACAP, the placing agency, a spokesperson says the State Department is “obviously very troubled” by the case, and Lisa Belkin of the NY Times Motherlode Blog predicted that her readers would want to tar and feather Ms. Hansen with even greater passion than was demonstrated in the recent dissolution of a US adoption. While strong opinions abound, the facts to support them are still largely unknown. Nowhere have I seen or heard a call for a careful, critical review of this incredibly sad case.
Nothing can justify sending an adopted child back to Russia alone; however, I believe that before anyone can point fingers and lay blame exclusively with Ms. Hansen, we need a thorough review of the case to determine what went so terribly wrong and how to prevent such problems in the future. The case record documents should be reviewed in detail, and everyone who provided services in the case should be interviewed. WACAP and the home study provider in Tennessee that approved Ms. Hansen as an adoptive parent (and presumably was providing the required post-adoption visits and reports) should assemble their collective information and together review everything they know about Artyom Savelyev, and Torry Hansen. If necessary, they should bring in an objective third party to help them complete a Critical Case Review.
At minimum, this review should explore Ms Hansen’s process from her consideration of adoption and decision to pursue adoption from Russia, to her home study process and her pre-adoption preparation, as well as everything known about Artyom himself – from his birth until his one-way trip back to Russia.
Here are some questions whose answers would help to identify how this tragic outcome might have been averted:
• What was Ms. Hansen’s motivation to adopt?
• What education and training did she receive?
• What were the qualifications of the home study worker? How many home study visits and meetings occurred? What questions were asked and issues explored? Were any difficulties identified?
• What did Ms. Hansen understand about the inherent risks of adopting an older child? Did she understand the challenges of being a single adoptive mother?
• What was her understanding of the losses that a child of Artyom’s age experiences when leaving his country of birth and everything familiar to him? What did her placement agency and home study provider teach her about the expected adjustment difficulties a child would experience and what she could do to mitigate them?
• What information did Ms. Hansen receive about Artyom? Was the information honest and complete? Was there a history of abuse? Did she have ample time to consider the referral? Did she have the opportunity to seek consultation with medical and mental health professionals about the referral?
• Did Ms. Hansen have plans for support and for seeking assistance, if needed, after placement?
• Did she understand cultural identity? Did she understand the ramifications of changing Artyom’s name? Were translators available during Artyom’s first months in the US? What opportunities did he have to be with Russian speakers and role models?
• What was the nature of the post-adoption visit in January? What questions were asked? What supports were offered? Did Ms. Hansen have an opportunity to discuss concerns and ask questions? Did the worker meet with Artyom alone? Was there any indication during that visit that things were not going well?
• What were the first signs of difficulties? When did they occur? To whom, if anyone, did Ms. Hansen reach out for assistance? What did she do to try to avoid dissolution of the adoption?
These are just a few of the questions that must be answered.
Only when everyone involved in the case has taken a long, hard look at what happened, can anyone know what might have been done differently. The sad truth is that some of life’s greatest lessons are learned from mistakes. The best outcome of this tragic case would be that adoption professionals and prospective adopters learn from it, so that other children and families can be spared similar dismal outcomes.
Laura Jean said: “I can’t believe they haven’t figured out if they can change this mother for abandonment. As my husband said if you put your birth child on a plane and sent them back to the state or country where they were born would we question whether a law had been broken, no we wouldn’t.”
Actually, under the laws of Tennessee, this situation wouldn’t easily lead to criminal charges for a bio parent or an adoptive parent. I wish it would, since I’m as angry about this woman’s actions as the next person. I explain the legal problems in complete lawyer geek detail here: http://tinyurl.com/y5srx2g
Bottom line — Tennessee doesn’t have a separate crime of abandonment, so this would have to be charged under the basic child abuse/neglect/endangerment crimes, all of which focus on causing physical harm. That will be hard to prove.
Oh Malinda, I am so glad to know that there is another lawyer geek out there. Your explanation is wonderful!
lol I bet all you bleeding heart goofs will be the first ones supporting abortion ‘rights’. Hypocritical and sad.
Well said, in the end my aches for the child and the orphans left anguishing in orphanages, I really hope that this will be awareness and hopefully some change in the international adoption community.
We adopted 5 children from two different family. We put them all in to counseling the first week. It is so hard on children to trust their new parents, because their real family gave them away. One of my adopted daughters thats 7 years old told me today while at a center, that she has always been hurt by her family and thats all she knows, her father & sister used to sexual abuse her and she sexual abused her brother. I’m not sure if 3 of are adopted children will come home after treatment, because of every thing that has happen, The oldest girl 10 years old put soap and glue in are drinks, and if my other girl 7 years old would of drink it she would of died, she allergy to dyes. Than she got in to bed with another girl 8 years old in the home and put a blanket over her face and climb on top of her and was pinching her chest while she was sleeping. Than her sister didn’t want to stop touching her brother, and the brother who is only 6 years old wants to kill the other two girls in the home. My girls lock them selfs in there bedrooms and we have alam on his door. We are on a waiting list for a treatment facility for him. We adopted 2 girls in 2008 and than we adopted the other 3 in 2009, The children had no counseling before the adoption. The oldest is (RAD) with sexual behavior her sister is (PTSD)with sexual behavior their brother is (PTSD) Mood disorder. We feel counseling is a must for any child you adopt or foster.
Great great post that shows an understanding of just how complex this situation really is. You are right, I do want to blame someone. After this blog, I’m not so sure who other than the mother to blame. As you say, i guess there is enough blame to go around.
Great post, as usual, Dawn.
However I am concerned over the many adoptive parents who are jumping on board to sign the letter to Obama and Medvedev. I would suggest you read carefully anything you sign – don’t just sign because you are upset about what happened with this poor child and/or worried about your own pending adoption in Russia, etc. Don’t sign off your freedoms. There are a lot of undefined terms and assumptions made in the petition and I for one want to give the president of Russia NO more jurisdiction over deciding whether I am abusing my children or not….I already signed a bunch of papers saying they could check on me a lot – need I give them MORE? Also my own government….more? Come on. Dawn, you said it yourself that these isolated things will, regretfully, happen no matter how many checks we have in place. And prosecute your child abusers. Okay, that’s law anyways – so we’re signing a petition to ask them to follow their/our laws?
If Russia decides to shut down international adoptions it would be tragic, but it would be their choice. If we beg them not to by giving them a “treaty,” as they have suggested in the past or signing a petition like this that basically says they or our government or both can check up on us more that they already do over and over again, what comes next, we are simply foster parents for the kids and they can be taken from us whenever child abuse (and what’s the definition of that?) is suspected?
I won’t sign it.
I can’t believe they haven’t figured out if they can change this mother for abandonment. As my husband said if you put your birth child on a plane and sent them back to the state or country where they were born would we question whether a law had been broken, no we wouldn’t. This is the same thing. Maybe the mother failed to understand the law regarding the termination of parental right and obligations but as a competent adult it was her job to figure out the proper way to do this and her failure to understand the law does not leave her blameless. She is culpable and should be held accountable.
Great post. I do find myself fairly angry that this mother didn’t research options in her own state. Obviously someone in that family had some working knowledge of how to get help – I mean they got an escort for the boy and airline arrangements, right?!
I agree that the failures occurred on multiple levels. It has been mentioned that not every state has a “wealth of resources” which is true, but every state has a network of social services in place specifically to kids. And every state has at least one regional hospital that can help if you don’t know where else to turn. I’m still stewing about it. . .
Thanks for the link to the Joint Council. Mommy bloggers – get the word out. Blog the adoption stories that changed your life. It’s hard, it’s unpredictable, it takes a different tweak on parenting than I expected, but it’s so worth it. SO worth it. And too important to let one negative story color the perceptions and the ideas about International Adoption.
What I find most shocking about the entire story is the series of failures along the way that could have prevented this from the family to the airlines to customs. Honestly if they do not charge this woman with child endangerment and abandonment I will not blame Russia for halting adoptions. Yes it’s an isolated incident but it highlights catastrophic failures.
Even if they keep things open I suspect things will slow down as they figure out what if any changes they want to make to the process.
The story of Artyom Savelyev is at once unbeleivable and too believable. In the international news reports, Ms Hansen is the convenient villain; America is the superficial culture that allows people like her to commit this despised and tragic act against an innocent child.
However, your blog brings us the information we need to understand how and why a woman from the US comes to be an adoptive parent to a Russian child, who is placed to ensure that it is the right match, how the child’s health and safety is safeguarded, how the newly created family is supported and what could have been done to prevent the child being returned in worse condition, and to potentially worse conditions, than when he left Russia.
There are legal safeguards and charity policy in the UK that dissuade people from adopting dogs as cute puppies and abandoning or returning them when they grow larger, more expensive to feed and care for and less adorable. People who display overly idealistic view of adoption are put through a series of visits and conversations to ensure they are the right family for the specific dog they have chosen. How, when this is in place to protect dogs, can Torry Hansen and Artyom Savelyev have slipped through the net?
Your comprehensive and balanced explanation make it clear that while everyone involved in Artyom’s care and protection seemed to have the right intentions in the beginning, they all failed to pick up on Artyom’s behavioural problems, Torry Hansen’s lack of commitment and the relevant agencies’ lack of adequate supervision. I don’t doubt that he was hard to handle after the life he led previous to his adoption, or that Torry Hansen was perhaps too quick to give up. It’s just such a shame that the repercussions of the incident will likely hurt not just them, but also others who need to be adopted and those people wanting to adopt.
As always, thank you Dawn,
Regardless of who was to blame for the situation occurring in the first place (the child being placed with a family that was not appropriate for him), dumping a kid on a transcontinental flight, unsupervised, with no one guaranteed to care for him at the other end, is only SHADES of gray better than taking him to the mall and leaving him there. It is child abandonment, clearly, and I hope that, regardless of her circumstances, she is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just like child abusers are prosecuted regardless of how aggravating their kids are.
Wow, what a sad and tragic story all around. I’m both angry and compassionate towards the adoptive mother… how could she?? I don’t agree with her decision, but I won’t pretend to understand how challenging her situation must have been.
Thank you for posting this, hopefully it will provide information and food for thought to others considering their options.