What Happened to the Boy Sent Back to Russia by His Adoptive Mom

Dawn Davenport

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Adoptive Mom Sends Her Son Back to Russia

Justin was sent back to Russia by himself because his adoptive mother no longer wanted to parent him

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

25/01/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 37 Comments



37 Responses to What Happened to the Boy Sent Back to Russia by His Adoptive Mom

  1. Pete Powell says:

    Why do people say women who can’t give children a good life should have them adopted, and then the poor innocent children get called not real children. Look at celebs where their children are called adopted, but not their real children. It seems as if the ones against abortion care more about fertilised eggs than living people. They don’t do anything to help all the abused children in care.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Pete, you won’t hear me calling adopted kids “not real”. In fact, unless it is relevant to the story, I don’t think the adoption status of a child should even be included.

  2. mandy simms says:

    Although this story is old news, I just happened apon this by accident. At the time I wS appalled at the mother sending that boy back to Russia. What perplexed me was why she sent the child back to Russia in the first place. He was adoptef and had tasted life in the West sering what prosperity looks like and the opportunities that come with it. Sending him alone on a plane was cruel to start with, but back to a third wirkd existence in a institution was appalling. Why was there the insistance on getting the kid out of America. She didnt want to be any possibly the boy may turn up back on her doorstep one day. She didnt want the CPS on all the bother with all that goes with that. She didnt want to go through the long drawn out process and pressure that would come with relinguishing him to care. She knew she had to pay for his living exspences re the adoption papers and that included all medical exspences. Due to him needing a lot of councelling due to the trauma he had experienced up until age 7 she didnt want yo pay out for those treatments and the strong possibility he would need aggressive ongoing treatments. She didnt want that financial burden. She thought that aspect woukd be null and void if she got him put of the country. When you give birth to a child you expect a healthy child but if that child ends having a disability you get on with it and do what is possible to help you child. If you adopta child that same example should be followed. Why would anyone adopt a child if they didnt have these values and it shoudnt be allowed. My grandchild has autism . We dont intend sticking her on a plane so we dont have to deal with it.

    • Pete Powell says:

      I think you haven’t stepped out your country, as the USA is about encouraging people to live on credit where their credit rating is the most important thing in their life so they can buy the rubbish from the constant adverts from tax dodging corporations, until it all crashes when nobody can pay back the debts they’re encouraged to live on.

    • Pete Powell says:

      That wooden shack with shared garden she had didn’t look luxurious.

  3. Danell Smith-Wright says:

    Dawn, How correct you are to acknowledge our need to point the finger in hopes of understanding a very emotional situation. As a mother who traveled to Russia to adopt a 2 year old and then a 3 year old, I speak from experience and take the ‘bigger picture’ view. Like my daughter, Pavel’s behavior is reminiscent of RAD. Our daughter has RAD (reactive attachment disorder). In no way does Russia test for this, and there are limited therapists that treat this specific disorder in the U.S. Yes they exist, but you must work hard to find them. For those people ready to jump on the bandwagon to judge Torry Hansen — which is ludicrous because you don’t understand the terror of living with RAD until you have experienced it — what is the American Adoption Agency’s liability and responsibility in this situation? What is the responsibility of the Russian Adoption Agency? Do you honestly believe they did not know Pavel had issues? Of course they did. His birth mother was alcoholic. Did the American agency fully prep Torry for this? Where was the social worker who was responsible for periodic check-ups? It sickens me
    Torry was vilified because with RAD kids it takes more than a village. Where was her village? She/her mother had the good sense to send him back to Russia ..alive. For those ready to judge American mothers of adopted Eastern European children, research how many kids are killed in the U.S. Why? By who? Desperate American mothers who have no idea of the depths of poverty and abuse the children live with in RUSSIA. We are unprepared. Who is responsible for that? The American Adoption Agencies. Remember folks, this is an unregulated industry. When the average price of an adoption is $25,000 do the finger pointers really believe money is not a factor?

    I have been to Russia three times for adoption purposes. I have seen the middle class and extreme poverty. I have seen children who were in the orphanage because their alcoholic birth mother put her cigarette butts out on the child’s body. RUSSIA damages their children. And then they sell them to us for a minimum of $25,000 a head. By the way, our Russian adopted son bonded very well with us and is an average 16 year old as you could hope for. Our RAD Russian daughter no longer lives with us.

  4. Von says:

    No he didn’t but in not considering the other possibilities for the adoptee point of view you have wiped out one whole side of how he might possibly feel.Adoption can be a huge pressure on an institutionalised child, adopters expect much and ask a great deal, often uninformed, untrained and unskilled.

    • Dawn says:

      Von, I think I understand your point now. Sorry I jumped to a conclusion that wasn’t what you were trying to say. Yes, I agree that sometimes the adjustment to and expectations of adoption are too much for children raised in an institution. And I agree that in those cases adoption is not in the best interest of the child. Or the adoptive family for that matter. I know that there is some effort in some countries to try to educate children on what it really means to be adopted and then to assess whether it is something the child wants and would be able to adjust to. I wish this type of education and preparation were available in all countries–including the US, although some social workers make a strong effort to educate older kids. We have no way of knowing the “truth” in the case of Artem.

  5. Von says:

    Why would you want to smack the adopter’s mother?? Did it occur to you that the adoptee may well be happy to be returning to his home country, language,and might be responding to being free from the pressures of adoption?

    • Dawn says:

      No Von, I can honestly say that it did not occur to me. We’re talking about a real 7 year old child who was born to an alcoholic mother and eventually ended up at a large Russian orphanage. We don’t know what his life was like prior to either being removed from or abandoned by his birth family, but we know it couldn’t have been good. We don’t know for how long he lived at the orphange, but in the previous year of his life, he was removed from all he knew and placed in a different country, with a different language, and different people. Then after less than a year was placed on an airplane, likely for only the second time in his life, by himself, and flown back to a place he doesn’t know (he was deposited at the Moscow Ministry of Education). According to news reports he was adopted by or placed with a Russian family, for a period of time. He may have been placed with a number of families, we have no way of knowing. Eventually he ends up at another orphanage. No Von, of all the emotions I can imagine this kid feeling, “happy” is not one of them.

      This child has a lot of “pressures” on him–totally unfair and undeserved. He didn’t deserve to be born to an alcoholic mother. He didn’t deserve to be abused and neglect in his birth family. He didn’t deserve to have no one to take care of him. He didn’t deserve to be placed in an orphanage. He didn’t deserve to have his adoption dissolved. He didn’t deserve to be put on an airplane as if he was a package to be returned. He didn’t deserve to have another adoption fall through. And he doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his life living in an institution–no matter how good. No Von, “happy” doesn’t even come close to the emotion that I imagine this kid feels.

  6. Lara says:

    Krystal, it may be that you have never seen “anti-abortion people bothering to help children born into bad situations” but that is clearly because you haven’t been looking. Anyone who bothers to actually think about your statement will realize that there are vast numbers of pro-life people involved in all kinds of charities that help abused or orphaned children. It seems that you must be a closed-minded person who does not have a wide circle of friends who are different from you. I personally have LOTS of friends who are pro-choice and LOTS of friends who are pro-life, and there are people on both sides of the argument who work hard to help just as there are people on both sides of the argument who are apathetic and mainly look out for themselves.

  7. Shayne says:

    Just to let you know the child is not back at an orphanage. He lives in the SOS Children’s Village in a suburb of Russia. SOS Children’s Villages is not an orphanage. It is an organization that does many wonderful things for displaced or orphaned children to help them live a full and happy life, receive an education, receive medical attention they may need and most of all love and a family environment. I could continue but I believe you understand my point about SOS. He lives in a beautiful home with a SOS Mother (foster mother) and 5 other brothers and sisters. He lives his daily life as most family’s do and is doing wonderful 🙂 Just returned form a special trip to Russia
    http://www.sos-usa.org/newsroom/press-releases/Pages/Texan-Dad-and-his-Young-Son-Reach-Out-to-a-Russian-Orphan.aspx

    • Thank you Shayne for the update. One of the points that I was trying to make was that the “adoption” by a Russian family disrupted/dissolved, and he was back in group care. SOS does great work.

  8. Melanie says:

    I read that while the child had been adopted by a Russian family, he has since returned to the orphanage. If this is the case, it is telling. I’m sure he did have a lot of psychological problems that this single mom didn’t know how to handle and fear took over. I’m not condoning her actions; they were very tragic for the child. However, I do think potential adoptive parents need to be well informed of any problems the child has before it becomes permanent and making what should be a life long commitment.

    • Dawn says:

      Melanie, yes, last I heard the child is back at the orphanage. I have heard that adoption disruption is fairly common in Russian domestic adoptions. Not sure if there is data to support this though.

  9. Jo says:

    I understand that Torry Hansen had another child and that Artem was exhibiting violent behavior toward this child as well as the mother. As a mother, if I felt that an adoptive child would potentially cause the death of another child in my home, I would swiftly make an attempt to remove the violent child from my home. Perhaps in her area she had no recourse to place Artem in a psychiatric facility to be properly evaluated. Or perhaps she simply did not have the money for proper treatment. I wouldn’t be so quick to judge Ms. Hansen until you are faced with the fear of knowing that someone you live with might some day take your life. I believe she did the right thing to send him back but not alone.

  10. Krystal says:

    You never see any of those anti-abortion people bothering to help children born into bad situations, or taking the time to help them when they’re damaged from what happens because nobody cared after they were born.

    • Louissa says:

      I am an anti-abortion woman and have always wanted to adopt a child from an orphanage. Unfortunately, my husband is not willing. I understand that as I was a young widow with three children when we married. Do not paint anti-abortion advocates with such a broad brush. I do support an orphanage and school in Kenya and my heart goes out to all unwanted children and adults.

  11. Cathy says:

    I would also like to point out that the fact that the child is reportedly doing well in the orphanage does not mean anything one way or the other with regard to RAD. Sometimes children who have serious attachment disorders can still function quite well in structured group home situations where there is no expectation of developing close trusting relationships with a permanent parent figure. They can cope well in these kinds of regimented environments but decompensate emotionally and behaviorally when placed in a family with parents who try to form emotional bonds to the child. Thus, it’s possible that the orphanage director might be correct in reporting how the child is functioning within the orphanage setting, while it is also almost certainly true that he is severely emotionally disturbed in terms of attachment. Remember, this child is probably equipped to be a survivor at a primal level, and he has found a way to survive within the orphanage environment, as he likely did before his adoption….

  12. Julie says:

    Dawn- thanks for the update on this story. You’re right that there’s so much blame to go around. It was not surprising to learn (although your report was news to me) that Artem didn’t work out in his latest adoptive home. When are we going to get a handle on how many of our adoptive/foster children need intensive help? An Adoption Institute policy report puts this crisis into perspective with figures as high as 45% of adoptive children needing some type of therapeutic interventions to overcome their early childhood “issues”. As far as we know, Ms. Hanson never reached out, but we also don’t know what resources were made available to her, what training she received pre-adoption or what information someone had that they did or did not give to her. I do know that at ATN there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear from at least one family who did not get support, resources or training from their agency when they reached out. The truth is many of our children bring home significant trauma scars, and parenting these children alone is nearly impossible. There are way too many families without a “safety net” — and if we don’t learn this big lesson from the Hanson case — and DO something to help all families — this won’t be the last time this happens. Do I think Torry Hanson should be held accountable? yes. Do I think holding her accountable makes things better for families parenting traumatized kids (or the kids)? Not at all.

  13. Geri says:

    I remember reading when the story first came out, that Ms. Hansen felt no one had prepared her for any sort of disabled child (horribly paraphrasing here). She expected a “healthy” child. And I remember getting INCREDIBLY angry with that statement. First of all, when you are adopting internationally, that is a risk you always take, no matter what your paperwork says. Secondly, no matter what agency you use, everyone I’ve ever spoken with has signed paperwork stating something to the effect of “there may be unknown health, medical, or emotional issues”. And at each post-placement visit (I think she had 2?), she said everything was fine! Who was the emotionally unstable one in this house? As the parent of two internationally adopted children, one with emotional issues, ugh, I’m with you Dawn. Someone needs slapped here.

    • Dawn says:

      Shortly after this story first broke, I went to her agency’s website and read their standard adoption preparation. It was quiet good and included requiring the family to find available local resources for support in advance of the placement. (Now, it could have been better if they had incorporated listening to specific Creating a Family shows, like some agencies do–but I digress with this self-serving statement.) We have no reason to believe that Ms. Hansen did not have this standard preparation, although a local home study agency would have been the one to prepare her. The truth is that some people are so stuck in the “love will heal all” mode that they are hard to educate. I obviously don’t really know what Ms. Hansen was told or what she heard, but it is really hard for me to believe that anyone adopting from Russia in the last several years who did even a rudimentary Google search of “Adopting from Russia”, would have not been aware of some of the potential issues. And yes, she denied there were any problems at her post placement visits.

  14. MamaBev says:

    When this all happened, I had had my 3 home for a year or two and was still in shock at what I had gotten into. One overly dependent, one RAD-non-violent, and a little guy who turned out to have FASD with ADHD! So….I can understand why as a single parent she was so stressed that her mother saw the only way out was to return the child. At six months, with probably the violence that had erupted in her house, Torry was probably at the end of her rope and that was the only way out for her.
    Now, the “fact” that Artum has been readopted in Russia, should invalidate any claims the world may want to bring against his adoptive American mother. And, judging from the way I was informed about the possibility of my son having future problems, I would guess she was given no more than a whispered comment as she headed to court of “oh, by the way, they think he may have ADHD”! That was how and when I learned we might have problems-my comment was “now is a fine time to tell me that”. So, I have worked with all 3 of those kids and 1 of their friends adopted 18 months later and we are still all alive. A bit bruised and bumped around, but a family and still loving. It has been hard work on all of us and we sometimes continue to struggle with the inherent problems that come with the territory. But, I cannot imagine my life without my “miracle family”!

    • Dawn says:

      MamaBev, yes, news reports from Russia initially said that Artem was readopted by a Russian family and all was going hunky-dory, thank you very much. I think many of us were suspicious of this claim, although hopeful. Traumatized and hurt kids seldom miraculously heal. Families need education and support in order to help heal these kids, regardless whether they are Russian or American. It’s hard, and sometimes unrewarding, work. It turns out that all was not well, apparently, since this child has been relinquished yet again and is now living in an SOS village. Little seems to have been learned about the nature of psychological damage caused by abuse and neglect since we are now hearing yet again, that basically everything is hunky-dory and Artem has just a few little problems that will be easy to overcome with the right placement and enough love. Sigh.

      By the way, I loved the feeling of your post. You are both blessed and a blessing.

  15. Geri says:

    Yes, I’d like to smack her too.

    Here’s my “opinion”. And this may be more of a vent/rant/whatever. I brought a beautiful baby boy home from Vietnam in 2000. His medical records marked him as “healthy”. Not even five years later, he began exhibiting symptoms beyond AD/HD, that were later diagnosed as RAD. He threw a knife at my quadriplegic husband. My husband and I were thoroughly in love with this beautiful boy. There was no way we were going to disrupt this adoption – it wasn’t an option. I realize that Ms. Hansen hadn’t had her son as long as we had, but I become angry at parents that go through the long process of adoption and then seem to give up when the going gets tough. (I should have taken pictures of what was destroyed in our house while we went through therapy with our son!) Today, he is a “normal”, “healthy”, 12-year old boy. And what we would be missing if we would have given up so quickly!

    I realize that there are some children that are suffering from mental disorders that require much, much more than we went through with our son. (FAS, etc.) But I wonder how many disruptions could have been prevented if parents had sought out help (beyond their family), rather than just giving up. And is that society’s fault because we’re supposed to have the easy life?

  16. Julie says:

    Thanks for the update Dawn. I really hope they throw the book at her. Hell, the whole library.

  17. I wonder if we’ll see that Ms Hansen countersues WACAP and NCFA for misrepresenting the situation in some way. I’m kind of surprised these organizations are taking that route.

    No one involved is blameless in this situation, and at the same time the blame is difficult to allocate.

    I wrote about the issue when it first came out, saying “Even if we can pinpoint the problems, solutions don’t automatically follow.”

    http://www.milehighmamas.com/2010/04/17/the-returned-russian-boy-and-casting-stones/

    • Dawn says:

      Lori, that is so true. There likely isn’t just one person or entity to blame and even if there was, blaming doesn’t necessarily lead to solutions. I loved your blog on this. Obviously, since I run an education based nonprofit, I believe parental education and preparation is key, but the reality is you can’t prepare for all eventualities.

  18. Dio says:

    As a mental health professional, I can not stop thinking about the traumatic experience this was for both of them… And the potential emotional scaring (among other side effects).. However, I a bias towards the child, and my heart goes out to him.. love your writing… specially the last sentence.. “I just want to reach out and smack that woman”.. could not agree more..

    • Dawn says:

      Dio, thank you for pointing out that it was a traumatic experience for both the family and the child. In no way am I “taking up for” or excusing her behavior. It was inexcusable. But I can only imagine how scared and now scarred she was by the experience and the aftermath. Like you, however, I ultimately have to focus more on that poor scared little boy.

  19. Laura Upton says:

    My heart aches for this young boy. What the adoptive mother did was heartless and cruel. No child, whatever his or her behavior, deserves this. I pray Artem will heal from this and enjoy his life, hopefully with a new family – one who loves him unconditionally, as a family should.

  20. Laura Jean says:

    It is appalling that she was never charged with child abandonment.

    We must do a better job screening and preparing adoptive parents and when that fails we must hold them accountable under the law for their actions.

    • Dawn says:

      I’m guessing that if there was a way to make a child neglect/abandonment charge stick, she would have been charged. I don’t know, but I suspect the suit for child support are a way to try to “hold her accountable” at least on some level.

  21. Geri says:

    Even when we adopted for the first time in 2000 (began in 1999), using an agency that we no longer like, and was denied their Hague approval, we were given papers to sign that stated that any child referred from a foreign country, and a foreign orphanage could have any number of unforseen “disabilities” not disclosed in the paperwork, that we may not be aware of until we traveled and saw said child. That was over 10 years ago. I just found it very hard to believe with how far the internet has come, how far adoption has come, that she was totally unaware of what foreign adoption cases could look like. My sympathy was totally with the child, and wished there was some way to prosecute her.

    • Dawn says:

      Geri, it’s funny, but even though I agree with everything you said, I still feel some sympathy for her. Yes, she should have had a clue what she was getting into. Yes, she should have reached out for help. Yes, my heart absolutely breaks for this child, who has gotten the short end of the stick throughout his short life. But, I can only imagine the terror and desperation this woman must have been going through. Who in their right mind would think that putting a kid on a plane with a note attached is a “solution” to a badly damaged child struggling with attachment issues?!? I think Ms. Hansen was at the end of her rope, unfortunately, it seems her rope was pretty darn short to begin with. There was also a step ladder within reach (in the form of post adoption support and attachment counseling), but she opted to let go of the rope.

      It seems her mother was her main source of “support” and she was more a problem than a support. I still want to smack that woman.

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