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Published: Monday, 4/19/2010

From Russia, with love

RUSSIAN officials are rightly incensed that an American woman returned the 7-year-old boy she adopted last year, claiming the Russian orphanage lied to her about the child's "mental stability and other issues." But some of that righteous anger should be directed inward at an adoption system that does too little to safeguard either prospective parents or the children they adopt.

Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tenn., about 60 miles south of Nashville, adopted Artyom Savelyev in September from Partizansk, a city about 100 miles east of Vladivostok in Russia's Far East. A few months later, she says the boy began to display behavioral problems: hitting, yelling, spitting, and even threatening his mother and other relatives.

According to reports, Ms. Hansen, a nurse, sought the advice of psychologists but did not have Artyom, whom they had renamed Justin Hansen, evaluated. Instead, when the problem became unbearable, Ms. Hansen had her mother take Justin to Washington and put him on a flight to Moscow, where a man paid by the family picked up the boy and transported him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.

No matter what Justin did, shipping him back to Russia like a defective household appliance was the wrong solution.

It is painfully clear that Ms. Hansen was unprepared for the demands of adopting an older child who may have pre-existing health problems or psychological scars. Neither does she appear to have been sufficiently aware of how difficult it is for a child to join not only a new family, but to enter a foreign culture with a different language, food, rules, and expectations.

There also are support services Ms. Hansen does not appear to have taken advantage of to help Justin cope with his problems. Obviously, the desire to have a child to love is not, by itself, sufficient.

But Russian indignation over this incident glosses over that fact that adoption officials there share responsibility for not adequately preparing Ms. Hansen and Justin for the challenges that lay ahead. Connie Reguli, a family law attorney with an expertise in international adoptions, told the Nashville Tennessean that Russia provides less information about the health and history of its adoptable children than many countries.

The U.S. State Department plans to send a delegation to Russia to discuss the adoption process. Michael Kirby, a State Department official, told to CNN that more needs to be done by both sides to ensure that adoptive parents are properly screened and adopted children are prepared to become part of a culture that is foreign to them.

With Americans adopting tens of thousands of children each year from around the world, including nearly 1,600 last year from Russia, many of whom are older, we would have expected that already was the case.



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