This past week Torry Hansen was ordered, by a Tennessee judge to pay $150,000 in child support for her adopted son. The seven year old boy was returned by Hansen via plane, unaccompanied, to Moscow with little more than the following note:
“This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues/behaviors. I was lied to and misled by Russian orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues… 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… I am returning him to your guardianship and would like the adoption disannulled”
In what became a hot story in both the Russian and United States media, the world learned of the underbelly of disrupted and dissolved adoptions. At least Torry Hansen hoped to legally dissolve the adoption. However, the Tennessee judge and the Russian authorities decided otherwise. Now, Hansen is obligated to pay child support for her adopted son now living in a group home in Russia.
Torry Hansen claims that the young boy, aged seven when she returned him to Moscow, wanted to kill her and that she felt unsafe with the child. Russian authorities, on the other hand, have evaluated the child and they have rejected assertions that he is unstable, antisocial, or a threat to others.
This particular international incident, in which a child’s rights were absolutely violated, was one of at least 60,000 Russian-American adoptions since the mid-nineties. According to Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s Child Rights Commissioner, as of 2012 there are 19 documented cases of Russian adoptee deaths as a result of parental abuse and/or neglect and of children who have experienced physical and emotional child abuse.
As a result, a new bilateral agreement between Russia and the United States was recently ratified in Moscow. This agreement strengthens standards of practice for US adoption agencies, requiring agency accreditation under The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. While this article is too brief to explain the intricacies of this international private law and the related domestic law in the US1, the newly enforced standards of practice most certainly place more responsibility on U.S. adoption agencies and families hoping to adopt Russian children.
As this child support news story broke, I was traveling in Guatemala where I conduct research on a variety of issues including intercountry adoption and orphaned and vulnerable children. While there, I heard two of the worst adoption disruption stories imaginable. Adopted children being sent back and abandoned in Guatemala have not yet been documented in the international press, but the stories that I heard are so profoundly disturbing that I suspect we will hear more if and when the story breaks. Because I cannot verify the facts, I will restrain myself from the sharing the details. And, the deserted children deserve their confidentially. However, it appears that recently a number of the children have now been rescued and sent back to the United States and placed into state foster care in those states where they were resided prior to abandonment. Because they are U.S. citizens, their cases were reportedly handled by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City in collaboration with state child welfare authorities. Now, I wonder if more rulings of child support will be ordered. We shall see…