Adoption tale of Russian boy strikes nerve

Bashed Tennessee mom has sympathizers

CHICAGO – To many, the act seemed inhumane and indefensible. A Tennessee woman having trouble with her adopted son placed the 7-year-old on an airplane for an 11-hour flight alone back to Russia, his native country.

The incident was quickly condemned by scores on the Web, and authorities in Russia suspended adoptions to U.S. parents.

But parents of adopted children who exhibit severely challenging behavior are also using the sad tale to speak out, opening a window into their chaotic lives. Rather than condemn the Tennessee woman, they are blasting adoption agencies that are not always reliable reporters about a child’s troubled past, leaving families adrift to manage extreme problems without training or options.

“There are days when we’ve all felt like that Tennessee mom,” sighed Linda McBride, of Chicago, who adopted three boys – now 19, 14 and 13 – from Russia in 2002.

While there are thousands of children adopted from overseas who flourish in the U.S., others face numerous health risks, such as fetal alcohol spectrum, attachment disorders, mental health issues and other disabilities that will last a lifetime.

No one condones the action, but many can sympathize with the plight of Torry Hansen of Tennessee, who brought her son home eight months ago from an orphanage near Vladivostok. Hansen returned him earlier this month, claiming that the boy, whose birth mother was an alcoholic, was violent and threatened to burn down her home.

“It’s been a living hell for the last eight years,” said Linda Baker, of suburban St. Louis, who adopted two kids from Bulgaria. “I want to ask these people passing judgment: What would you do if your child threatened to kill you every day?”

Baker, like many other parents, has tales that are way beyond normal child-rearing: lying, stealing, fire-setting, and violent and self-harming behavior that puts younger siblings and family pets in harm’s way.

Support groups are filled with parents who are living in lockdown conditions to keep everyone safe.

“I have heard stories of … explosive anger or long, out-of-control rages precipitated by a minor change in routine … or simply being told ‘no,’ ” said Nancy Petersen, of Roselle, Ill., who adopted two Russian children in 1997 and is a member of the Illinois chapter of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption.

Since 1991, more than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by U.S. citizens, according to the State Department. Add the former Soviet bloc countries, and the region is second only to China as a source of international adoptions for Americans, who are often drawn overseas by the difficulty of adopting domestically.

But prospective parents can be unprepared for the behavioral and emotional challenges that await them, explained Judy Stigger, an adoption therapist at The Cradle in Evanston, Ill.

“Parents – especially of older children – need to presume there will be ongoing difficulties … but preparing for that is often complicated because there are just so many unknowns,” Stigger said.

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