I’m sure you all remember Torry Hansen, the American adoptive mother who sent her 7 year old son back to Russia alone on a plane with a note pinned to his shirt that he had problems and she no longer wanted to parent him. Her US adoption agency, WACAP, and the National Council for Adoption have both filed suit to require her to pay for child support. The trial has finally been set for March 27, although as an attorney I can tell you that it wouldn’t surprise me if it will be postponed. The child, Artem Saveliev (named Justin by his adoptive mother) was sent back to Russia in April 2010 and is now living at a SOS village outside of Moscow. Torry Hansen has moved to another town and is unemployed.
A couple of points worth noting: New reports in the spring of 2010 reported that Artem had been adopted by a Russian family and everything was going well. Apparently, all did not continue to go well since he is now living in an orphanage again. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know the degree of Artem’s problems, but I do know that many children who have been badly damaged by any number of life events, including orphanage care, abuse, neglect, prenatal alcohol exposure, can sometimes be extremely hard to parent—regardless whether the parents are American or Russian. I also know that these problems are often not apparent at the beginning. The director of the SOS village is now saying that Arten “has no real issues to speak of” and that his minor problems are “not something that cannot be dealt with.” I hope he is right, but I doubt it.
Does the fact that Artem may well have had very serious problems justify Hansen’s actions? NO! As far as we know, she never reached out for help for her son or herself. At post adoption meetings, she denied there were problems. It does, however, help paint a picture of a disturbed child and a mother ill equipped and ill prepared to parent him. It also paints a picture of officials that want to overlook some very real problems.
It seems inadequate to say that what happened to this child is a tragedy. It makes us all feel better to blame someone—the mother, the agency, the orphanage officials, his alcoholic birth mother, 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 question–how to best help children who have been so badly damaged by life.
One other part of this news story that drove me slightly crazy was a comment by Torry Hansen’s mother, Nancy. Nancy was the one who drove Justin/Artem to the airport and put him on the plane. She says that being removed from his home and sent on an airplane by himself back to a place he didn’t remember was not traumatizing for him. “All I can say he was very happy when he was on the plane,” she said. “Witnesses have said that he was running all around and he was happy.” I just want to reach out and smack that woman!
Image credit: Adnan Yahya