Russian Adoptee’s Parents Sent Him Back To Russia With One-Way Ticket and Note

I usually don’t blog on weekends, however, this story has been popping up everywhere this past day and caught my attention.  No, I’m not trying to be inflammatory with the title of my post, THIS ACTUALLY HAS HAPPENED.

Last year, Russia was the third largest adoption sending country in the world lagging behind Ethiopia (2,277) and China (3,001).  In 2009 Russia sent approximately 1,586 children to the U.S. for adoption.  Since 1991, around 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans.

Here’s what we know about this story…

*A Tennessee family claims that their adopted child was suffering from severe trauma – “Take him back, the note said.” They purchased a one-way ticket for him, and paid $200 for a guide to help bring him back to Russia.

*“After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child,” – [Adoptive Mother]

*The boy was interviewed by the federal children’s ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov about whether or not he was abused.  The boy said that his mother had pulled his hair and that she was a “bad” mother, however, no other signs of physical abuse could be substantiated.

*The Result – All adoptions from Russia to the U.S. have been shut down until new safeguards can be put in place to ensure that this kind of situation does not happen again.

This is incredibly disturbing on so many levels.  However, this isn’t anything new.  We’ve seen this happen before not just in Russia but in other places as well.  Some of you may recall the Dutch diplomat’s family that made international headines when they “returned” their adopted Korean daughter to Hong Kong since Korea does not allow for adoptees to be “returned,” and Hong Kong does.  And the latest New York Times article on this story says that 14 Russian adoptees have been killed due to abuse by their adoptive families in the U.S. since 1996.

Some of you may also recall the ranch for troubled adoptees in Montana where adoptive parents temporarily or permanently sent their adopted children.

Moving back to the story at hand, the heart of this story is the child.  I understand that this family may have felt scared for their safety, but they had a responsibility to make sure their child got the care he needed.  I have been called out on this before by families who tell me “you don’t know what it’s like to be held hostage by your child…”  And they’re right, I don’t know what it’s like as I am not a parent.  However, I do know, that as a parent adoptive or non-adoptive you have responsibility to take care of your child.  Many biological families deal with these same chalenges and yet they don’t send their child back to the hospital.

I also find it a bit strange that the article ends with a prospective adoptive couple complaining about how sad they are that they can no longer adopt from Russia.  I am completely empathetic to the fact that they have already completed all their paperwork and have been waiting.  But, they don’t seem to acknowledge that they understand or seem at all outraged at the turn of events that has led up to Russia’s decision to shut down adoption.  Perhaps they did acknowledge and say all of this but the NY Times writer felt that their opinion should represent those who are “opposed” or “disheartened” by Russia’s decision.

After reading this article all I could feel was anger.  I’m angry with the adoptive parents, angry with the American and Russian adoption agencies and angry that another adopted child has suffered.  I’m not sure how this will pan out in the end, but I’ll be sure to follow it.  And if any of you have any updates feel free to leave a comment.  Here’s the NY Times Article.


Russia Calls for Halt on U.S. Adoptions


MOSCOW — The boy was only 7, but he walked off the plane that arrived in Moscow from Washington all alone, carrying a knapsack with magic markers and candy, along with a single typewritten note. It was from a woman in Tennessee who had adopted him in Russia last year, became overwhelmed by what she described as his emotional problems and now wanted nothing more to do with him. Take him back, the note said.

“After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child,” she wrote.

The boy’s plight prompted the Russian government to say on Friday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans until safeguards could be put in place. Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, following China, with 3,001, and Ethiopia, with 2,277, according to State Department figures.

The boy, Artyom, who was named Justin by his adoptive American mother, landed in Moscow on Thursday, and Russian officials gained custody over him after he presented them with the note. His mother, Torry Ann Hansen, a registered nurse from Shelbyville, Tenn., wrote in the note that the boy “is violent and has severe psychopathic issues.” She added that she “was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers” about his troubles.

Local officials in Tennessee said they did not believe that Ms. Hansen or his adoptive grandmother, Nancy Hansen, had records of child abuse or neglect, but would now examine their conduct in Artyom’s case.

As the boy’s return to Russia grew into an international incident, the Hansen family went into seclusion, leaving its house in Shelbyville and refusing to answer phone calls. Before that, Nancy Hansen told The Associated Press that the boy had been violent and abusive toward his mother in the United States.

“He drew a picture of our house burning down, and he’ll tell anybody that he’s going to burn our house down with us in it,” she said. “It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible.”

Nancy Hansen said she accompanied the boy on a flight to Washington, where she then put him on a direct flight to Moscow on Wednesday, according to Russian and American officials here. She had found a guide over the Internet who for $200 agreed to pick up the child at the airport in Moscow and to drop him off at the Education Ministry.

She said they had not abandoned the child, having arranged for the airline to supervise him on the flight and for him to be picked up at the airport.

Foreign adoptions have long touched a sensitive nerve here. Russians often find it hard to accept that their country, which they consider a resurgent world power, cannot take care of its own children and has to give them up to outsiders.

On Friday, Russian state television broadcast a video in which the federal children’s ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, talked to Artyom, whose face was at times blurred to conceal his identity. A traditional Russian nesting doll had been placed squarely in the middle of the table where they were sitting.

Mr. Astakhov has a reputation for outspokenness, and he once led a group, “For Putin,” that fervently supported Vladimir V. Putin, the current prime minister and former president.

Speaking to Artyom in both Russian and English, Mr. Astakhov asked him about his adoptive mother. Artyom said she was “bad.”

“Did she hit you?” Mr. Astakhov asked.

Artyom said no, but he then motioned to show that she had pulled his hair.

“Did you cry?” Mr. Astakhov asked.

“Yes,” Artyom said.

“You are a man, you shouldn’t cry,” Mr. Astakhov said.

Government doctors said that Artyom had not been physically abused. But Mr. Astakhov later told reporters that Artyom “needs to be rehabilitated. He needs good care now.”

Artyom was adopted from an orphanage in Russia’s Far East, near Vladivostok, where he lived after his mother, an alcoholic, lost her parental rights, officials said. Mr. Astakhov said Artyom would now be sent to an orphanage or a similar institution in Russia.

More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by United States citizens since 1991, according to statistics from the United States Embassy. The adoption rate peaked at 6,000 in 2003, and it then declined as screening procedures and other legal hurdles mounted.

Fourteen Russian children adopted by Americans have died of abuse since 1996, Russian officials said last year, and the cases have set off strong reactions here.

Russian officials criticized the American government last year after a Virginia man was acquitted of manslaughter in the death of his toddler son, who had been adopted in Russia. The boy died of heatstroke after his father left him in a parked vehicle for nine hours. On Friday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said he would propose that adoptions of Russian children by Americans be suspended until the Russian and American governments worked out a new agreement.

“We have for a long time proposed to the Americans that this be done, but they have constantly sidestepped it,” he said. “The latest case was the final straw.”

President Dmitri A. Medvedev, in an interview with “Good Morning America,” said, “We should understand what is going on with our children, or we will totally refrain from the practice” of allowing Americans to adopt.

The United State Embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to Mr. Lavrov’s announcement. Earlier, the ambassador, John Beyrle, said he was “deeply shocked and outraged,” over what happened to Artyom.

Russian officials said they had suspended the license of the agency that coordinated Artyom’s adoption, the World Association for Children and Parents, which is based in Renton, Wash. Lillian Thogersen, the group’s president, said it was investigating, but said she could not discuss the details of the case.

“It’s one of the last things one would ever want for a child,” she said. “It’s heartrending.”

Ms. Thogersen said the agency had worked in Russia for 20 years, and it conducts home visits and provides support to parents after they bring children home.

An American couple who was nearing the end of the process of adopting a Russian baby reacted with despair to the news that Russia would suspend adoptions. The couple, who asked that their names not be used to avoid offending the Russian authorities, had already visited Moscow once to comply with legal procedures and was planning to return soon to receive the baby.

“My heart is sinking,” the father said. “We knew about laws changing in midstream, that these foreign governments are very bureaucratic, and that there is a lot of posturing that causes delays. But we picked Russia because it seemed like we had a pretty good chance. Now we don’t know what to do.”

Jack Healy contributed reporting from New York, and Bill Harless from Shelbyville, Tenn.


4 Comments on “Russian Adoptee’s Parents Sent Him Back To Russia With One-Way Ticket and Note

  1. I haven’t been able to see straight since hearing about this story. This poor, poor child!!

    This woman should *never* have been cleared to adopt. How could she have proceeded through the adoption of an older child without understanding/knowing that there may be a higher chance of emotional issues?

    Forget about the fact he allegedly has serious psychological issues, the bottom line is that she put him on a plane back to Russia with a note. That alone is unforgivable. I can feel the anger rising as I type that line.

    Did she never think to contact her placing agency to discuss her concerns? A counselor? Pediatrician? Which brings in to question the placing agency and home study provider who deemed her an appropriate candidate…

    • I wouldn’t be so quick to judge without knowing all of the details. I agree the actions were extreme, but my guess is the family was desperate and not getting the help they needed to work with a challenging child. If you adopted you would be aware of RAD and how individuals with RAD are superficially charming giving the initial impression that they are easy to care for. The behavioral problems often associated with RAD can be quite extreme and violent. Depending on the State/County services can be quite marginal. In my line of work I have seen a number of failed adoptions and believe adoption agencies need to do a better job of preparing people for the worse. Conversely, the adoptive parents often have high expectations and believe love can solve all the problems. My feeling is that compassion is needed for all.

  2. Give me a break! Yes, RAD-afflicted kids are hard to handle. I adopted and raised two extremely difficult older boys by myself. I know the heartbreak of parenting, believe me.

    But putting such a vulnerable kid on a long international flight by himself is inexcusable. Adding insult to injury is sending him away forever with a note ending in “I no longer wish to parent this child.” How about: “I love MY SON so much that I have reluctantly decided that it is in HIS best interest for him to get the help he needs at _______ (fill in the blank) institution. Please help OUR FAMILY!!”

    You can read my more reasonable sounding blog at

  3. John, I completely agree with you in many ways, but please keep in mind that I don’t necessarily endorse any comment that is posted as a result of my posts.

    Jacki – Unfortunately compassion does not solve all problems. I think it is completely inexcusable for an adoptive parent to put their child in this sort of a situation.

    Unfortunately, I think too many people believe it is the adoptive parents who are the victims and not Artyom.

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