“How Could They DO It?” When Parents Give Up

The adoption community has reacted with outrage and horror at the news of the seven-year-old Russian boy who was sent back to Russia by his adoptive family.

While many have been quick to denounce the mother, those who are interested in preventing this from happening again need to consider the broader picture. In particular, we need to consider how these children are treated prior to adoption — and how those experiences impact the long-term emotional and psychological profile of those children. Finally, we need to address what post-adoptive services agencies are required to provide for their families. 

Carrie Craft at About.com is running an excellent article on the failed Russian adoption that supports this idea, written from the perspective of a couple who adopted THREE special-needs kids from Russia.

“How could they do it?”  It’s a question that is often expressed, and reasonably so, with regards to the adoptive mother of this little Russian boy. Specifically, how did she come up with the plan to return her son, once the adoption had been finalized?

The first time I heard about the story, I was reminded of another adoptive mother — a close friend who has foster-adopted four boys from the foster care system. My friend is battling leukemia, and her fifteen-year-old son has been tormenting their entire family, and has been in and out of mental hospitals. He doesn’t want to live with them any more, and the family has exhausted every legal means to have the boy placed in another home.

My friends have been advised — by lawyers and social workers alike — to abandon the boy (a “planned abandonment,” it is called). Leave him at a police station or hospital, and let the chips fall where they may.  The down side? It requires trusting that the same social system that has been unable to do anything for them so far will finally come through and keep their names off the registry. So they can keep the other three boys safe.  So they can continue working in schools and in their church. So they can get some relief from the unrelenting anxiety and stress this boy has brought into their lives.

So far my friends have refused to take this advice. The stakes are too high. But then, this choice has also had a price.  A second child has now been hospitalized, due to the stress of living in a home with a violent brother and a desperately ill mother. They pray and pray that someone — anyone without younger children — will take the oldest boy, even for a time. But so far, that prayer has not been answered.

When I heard about the Russian child, I wondered . . . had that little boy’s mother received advice similar to what my friend received? Did someone advise her to send the child back? And when the mother told her adoption agency of the terrifying images and threats the boy was making … did anyone give her a better alternative?

I don’t know. Do you?

I’m not saying putting a boy on a plane, alone or with a paid escort, is the right way to resolve a failing adoption.  I just can’t help but wonder if heaping the blame wholly on the adoptive mother’s shoulders is either constructive … or fair.

Perhaps the interests of these Russian children would be best served by halting the placements from our side until better, more consistently applied safeguards can be put in place for families accepting institutionalized children, to ensure they receive the long-term help they need. Let’s build the cost of these post-counseling services into the adoption fees, as part of the placement services, so that these families do not avoid getting help because of the expense.

What kind of parent gives up on a child? For most of us, it’s unthinkable. But for those who are in a position to mediate adoptions — and the extended family and friends of those who see a family in crisis — we must think. Then, we must act.