What Problems Do Parents of Russian Adoptees Face?

Most of the world is justly horrified by the fact that Torry Hansen sent her adopted Russian son back to Russia. I admit I don’t know how I would respond if my child threatened to kill me. But as I said in my blog on Wrongful Adoption lawsuits, once an adoption is final, the parent-child relationship is final. If my biological child suffers brain trauma and becomes a danger to others, he may have to live in a residential treatment center, but I would still visit him, try to assist in his healing process, contribute financially to him as much as I could, and consider him my son for as long as we both live.

Torrey Hansen should have known that extreme behaviors are expected in a child adopted at an older age (her son was seven) and that it is normal for children to have a “honeymoon” period of being very compliant, then “testing” the new parents to see if their love is unconditional.

Children in institutions are at risk for Reactive Attachment Disorder, growth deficiencies, learning disabilities, and emotional and physical problems which may not be detectable upon arrival.

“It’s the prospective adoptive parents who are not worried that worry me,” says Carrie Craft, who writes on adoption issues for About.com.

Certainly there needs to be honest information from the orphanages and adoption agencies. But parents also need to be realistic. The Parent Network for the Post-Institutionalized Child (PNPIC) has this information on their website:

“Dr. Victor Groza, who conducted a study of over 400 Romanian adopted children, concluded that 20% of the children overcame their pasts and are thriving; 60% have made vast strides, but continue to lag behind their peers; and 20% have shown little improvement and are almost unmanageable. These statistics have subsequently been validated by a study done by Dr. Dana Johnson and Dr. Laurie Miller and by a Canadian study done by Dr. Elinor Ames. Be aware, too, that a child’s behavior in an orphange setting is not necessarily the behavior you will see in a home setting.”

Of course, Romanian orphanages in the early 1990s may not (hopefully not) have much in common with other countries’ orphanages today. Yet, these are sobering statistics.

Dr. Dana Johnson has reviewed over 1000 medical and developmental records of institutionalized children being considered for adoption, yet he considers predicting their future needs the most difficult part of adoption medicine. His words are so important that I have included a lengthy quote from an article which is published by the Association for Research on International Adoption.

“It is impossible to predict the exact needs of most children, which is why you should have your child evaluated by knowledgeable professionals after arrival. Most institutionalized children, especially those older than two years of age, need rehabilitation services to correct deficits imposed by orphanage life.

“Even if a child initially appears normal, remember that many problems are not apparent at the time of arrival in your home. For example, children with significant attachment issues often do not exhibit these behaviors until they feel secure in their new environment. The challenges of school, particularly the transition between kindergarten and first grade, may unmask subtle intellectual impairments and learning disabilities.

“The likelihood that you will adopt an institutionalized child with problems so severe that they disrupt the fabric of your family is small. Educate yourself with information available through organizations such as PNPIC, then honestly evaluate your own capabilities as a parent. You may decide that the risk, though low, is too great for your situation.

“If you decide to proceed, you can lower your chances of adopting such a child by obtaining appropriate information from your agency and having it reviewed by a knowledgeable physician prior to accepting a referral. An important part of this process is being prepared to say no if you recognize that the needs of a certain child exceed your capabilities.

“Be aware, though, that you will never have all the information you need to eliminate this risk. Don’t drive yourself wild in an endless search for that one final piece of information that will guarantee a correct decision. The best decision you can hope to make is one that is well-reasoned, based on the information that is available, accompanied by the “leap of faith” that is a mandatory part of all conscious decisions to parent. If you cannot knowledgeably assume this risk, international adoption–particularly of an institutionalized child–may not be for you.”

Dr. Johnson sees reason for hope, however. He goes on to say:

“…A study involving a questionnaire returned by a large number of families who adopted from Romania revealed that 90% had a positive view of their adoption. However, being satisfied with their decision to adopt did not mean that their children were problem free (whose children are?). Less than 10% of families were ambivalent about their decision, and only a small percentage were considering disruption of the adoption.”

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is completing a study called “Helping Parents Adopting the Most Challenging Children”, and is also conducting a research review on families’ post-adoption needs and the services used to meet them.

The parent network Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption issued a statement about the boy returned to Russia (the family was not a member of FRUA, and to the organization’s knowledge had never reached out to FRUA for help.

Current adoptive parents should also know that FRUA’s website now has talking points for parents to use when discussing the recent abandonment of an adopted Russian child with their own adopted children. In addition, the site offers an information sheet asking teachers to be aware of signs of anxiety in adopted children at this time, and an excellent article by attachment therapist Deborah Gray (an excellent speaker and therapist on adoption issues and the author of Attaching in Adoption and Nurturing Adoptions).

One thing the FRUA website pointed out was that, in Russian courts, there is a 10-day period after the adoption hearing when a parent has the right to reconsider their decision. Many parents, however, ask for this right to be waived so that they can get back to the United States. Not surprisingly, fewer local courts are now willing to grant this exception.

To see a past blog about a ranch which accepts troubled teens, primarily from Eastern European adoptions, click here.

Please also see these related blogs:

Does Research Validate our Fears?

When Adopted Kids Grow Up: Worst Case Scenarios

This entry was posted in International Adoption and tagged , , , by Pam Connell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Pam Connell

Pam Connell is a mother of three by both birth and adoption. She has worked in education, child care, social services, ministry and journalism. She resides near Seattle with her husband Charles and their three children. Pam is currently primarily a Stay-at-Home-Mom to Patrick, age 8, who was born to her; Meg, age 6, and Regina, age 3, who are biological half-sisters adopted from Korea. She also teaches preschoolers twice a week and does some writing. Her activities include volunteer work at school, church, Cub Scouts and a local Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travel, camping, walking in the woods, swimming and scrapbooking. Pam is a graduate of Seattle University and Gonzaga University. Her fields of study included journalism, religious education/pastoral ministry, political science and management. She served as a writer and editor of the college weekly newspaper and has been Program Coordinator of a Family Resource Center and Family Literacy Program, Volunteer Coordinator at a church, Religion Teacher, Preschool Teacher, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Camp Counselor and Nanny. Pam is an avid reader and continuing student in the areas of education, child development, adoption and public policy. She is eager to share her experiences as a mother by birth and by international adoption, as a mother of three kids of different learning styles and personalities, as a mother of kids of different races, and most of all as a mom of three wonderful kids!

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