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Mom who sent adopted boy back to Russia vilified, but some understand

Linda Hagen and Joe Kalinoski of Fort Lauderdale adopted three siblings from a Russian orphanage. Hagen says intensive counseling helped the family cope.

Photo courtesy of Linda Hagen (2009)

Linda Hagen and Joe Kalinoski of Fort Lauderdale adopted three siblings from a Russian orphanage. Hagen says intensive counseling helped the family cope.

Who on earth could return a human child like consumer goods?

That's what we're asking after a nurse from Tennessee sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia last week.

In a note, the mother said the boy she cared for since September was unstable and violent.

"I no longer wish to parent this child."

Since then, Torry Hansen has been vilified. She has been called "ignorant," "sick" and "a monster."

But psychiatrists, adoption lawyers and parents of adopted international children say Hansen's desperation is not uncommon. They say that sometimes there's a dark side to international adoption that doesn't fit the rosy narrative.

"I've seen it happen dozens of times," said Dr. Ronald Federici, a Virginia psychiatrist and father of seven internationally adopted children. "Parents escort them back to orphanages. They leave kids at baggage carousels. They leave them at Disney World. They leave them in my office and drive away.

"This is not an unusual situation."

When Hansen sent her son back, prompting Russian officials to announce they were suspending American adoptions, she touched off a national debate.

Most Americans who adopt children from elsewhere find joy. But what about the others?

Why couldn't Hansen and her son get the help they needed? How do we prevent this from happening again?

• • •

Linda Hagen was prepared.

She and her husband had saved money and read books and learned Russian phrases.

They knew the children they were going to love had spent 18 months in a dank orphanage, with little food, lax hygiene and scant medical care.

They knew the fables the orphans tell each other: If you're adopted by an American, you'll either live like a king, or your body parts will be used to heal sick American children.

So when they showed up in Russia in 2005 to adopt two siblings, 8 and 9, they were ready.

They would keep the kids close. Introduce them to undecorated bedrooms and not take them to stores or parties, to reduce the chance of over-stimulation. Choose their food for them. Set rules quickly.

Hagen was surprised as they left the Russian ministry of education when her new son wanted a balloon so badly he began screaming and banging his head on the ground. That evening, in a Moscow apartment, when she and her husband turned their backs for a second, the boy ran. They found him on the street trying to buy ice cream.

The first week home, the kids stuffed their pockets at the grocery store in the few seconds Hagen was paying the cashier. A few days later, the boy disappeared when they weren't looking. They called the police. They found the boy in the attic.

Hagen, of Fort Lauderdale, laughs about those early days. The children are 12 and 13 now, and Hagen adopted their older brother, 17. She is hesitant to talk about recent issues but acknowledges they have maintained their family unit with the help of intensive counseling.

"To this day, my children sleep with baby monitors," she says. "I need to know where they are."

Hagen, 48, now participates in online support groups with about 3,000 similar adoptive parents. A recurring topic: How can I find residential treatment for my adopted child?

"They might say, 'My child cannot remain in my home. He has already killed my dog and threatened me with a knife. We've been in psychiatric hospitals.' "

The answer?

Pay $3,000 to $4,000 a month to one of a handful of places that offer specialized residential treatment, she says.

And what if they can't afford that?

• • •

The problems: Lax oversight of U.S. adoption agencies that don't do legitimate home studies, don't provide pre- or post-adoption assistance and charge $30,000 or more per adoption.

Corruption in countries trying to get rid of orphans and line their own pockets.

Naive parents and counselors who believe that enough love and time will cure all.

Federici says some in the adoption field have been calling for more oversight for years.

"The issue is far greater than one case. These parents are screaming. They're desperate."

Americans adopted 1,600 children from Russia last year. Institutionalized children from Eastern Europe, who spend years in bleak orphanages, often come to the United States with a load of mental health problems. Some are unattached from years with no parental figure. Some are traumatized by past abuse. Some are grossly undersocialized, cold, even feral.

And what happens when parents don't know how to deal with those issues and can't find help? Some turn them over to states. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services counted 81 children adopted overseas who were relinquished to officials in 14 states.

Sometimes it's worse.

"M-U-R-D-E-R," Federici spells (He's with a young patient). "We've seen 21 cases. All are identical. All were beaten to death with objects by the mother."

That number, 21, couldn't be verified. Some put it at 16. Russian officials say more than 12.

Whatever the number, the cases are extreme. One mother caught her adopted daughter smearing feces on the wall and punched and kicked the child to death. Another beat her troubled child to death with a wooden spoon.

Dr. Myra McPherson, who has counseled desperate adoptive parents in Sarasota, says it's no surprise. "A child in distress has a brain that's been poisoned," she says. "It's like trying to bring a wild animal into your house."

The children need attention, but reject it.

One local family adopted a 2-year-old from overseas, McPherson says. The little girl scratched and bit herself all the way back to America. She cried for hours, refused to sleep. Banged her head. The mother was afraid to take the girl out of the home for fear people would think she was abusing the child.

"These are well-meaning, loving families," she said. "Professional folks that you and I would respect, but they say, 'We can't do this.' "

Florida doesn't track the number of disrupted international adoptions, but the director of a family safety program for the Florida Department of Children and Families said he wouldn't describe it as common. Sometimes it's prevented when the parent finally finds help.

"I've seen many a parent who wants to give their child back," says McPherson. "Many."

And they're afraid to step forward for fear they'll be judged, like the woman who sent her child back to Russia.

Hagen doesn't want to discourage adoption, because she has seen the rewards. But she also knows the cost.

"People need to know that it is not likely at all to get a kid who has no issues. You need to know that you can't get into this unless you have the resources."

Times staff writer Leonora LaPeter Anton and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

fast facts


on adoption

. U.S. Department of State:

. Florida Governor's Adoption Initiative:

. Families for Russian

and Ukranian Adoption:

Mom who sent adopted boy back to Russia vilified, but some understand 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 11:00pm]
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