The Controversy Over U.S.-Russia Adoptions

Anger and sympathy follow the case of an adopted son sent back to Moscow

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Russia has halted American adoptions of Russian children. This decision follows an incident in which a mother in Tennessee sent her 7-year-old adoptive son back to Moscow alone on a plane. The mother claimed that Russian orphanage officials misled her about the boy, who she said was "violent and [had] severe psychopathic issues." The incident has sparked fierce anger in Russia, and intense debate in the United States.

  • 'Greater Oversight ... Needed in Both Countries,' concludes Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating.
  • And More Mental Health Support, argues child psychiatrist Suzan Song at The Huffington Post.
  • International Adoption Can Be Hellish, Takes Time  Esther Manewith Chicago Tribune tells the story of her daughter's adoption of a Russian two-year-old boy with tremendous behavioral problems. "Today, almost nine months later ... he is in nursery school two mornings a week and plays well with others. He loves the park and playground. He no longer throws food on the floor or items into the toilet. He speaks English and can say 'I'm mad!' instead of biting or hitting." This only happened, though, "through months and months of patience and endless loving care from our daughter." She describes the effort it took, which included work with therapists and social workers.
  • Ditto That  "If you feel the need to be in control of a situation most of the time, international adoption is not for you," agrees adoptive parent Patricia Cogen at CNN.

Imagine how you would feel if suddenly you were dropped in the middle of Russia, given a new set of clothes, a new name, some unfamiliar food, and told--in Russian, which you don't understand--"Adjust! You're the luckiest person in the world!" ... With this in mind, Hansen's son's behavior--even after a few months--seems neither extreme nor surprising. It can in fact take years for children like him to adjust to being part of a family and to express affection for parents. 

  • But That's Why Some of Us Shouldn't Judge, argues Laurie Williams in a letter to The New York Times. "People willing to open their homes and lives to an older child from an orphanage are rare and courageous. People who have not done so should not judge the mother," she argues, who "has suffered greatly in finding this life-altering challenge unmanageable." She, like Joshua Keating, thinks both countries need to step in to educate parents.
  • Returning a Child Just Not Okay ... Or Is It?  "Adopting a child is not like shopping for merchandise that one gets to return if not fully satisfied with its quality," says another Times letter-writer, Margarit Ordukhanyan. Nontheless, points out Sarah Gerstenzang, even in New York state, "the dirty little secret ... is that the placement of a child in foster care or an expensive residential treatment center after adoption (either domestic or international) is a fairly common occurrence." Lisa Belkin writes on the New York Times Motherlode blog that when this issue was raised earlier, a number of commenters--"though hardly the majority"--actually saw return as "the lesser of two rough roads for the child, the alternative being life with parents who do not want him, and the above incidents being cautionary tales of the potential consequences."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.