10:16am

Thu April 7, 2011
U.S.

Fewer Russian Adoptions Since Mom Sends Son Back

Just about one year ago, a nurse in Tennessee put the international adoption world into an uproar when she sent her newly adopted 7-year-old back to Moscow on a one-way trip. Fearful of her son, Torry Hansen said she put him on a plane because he threatened to burn down the house and had psychological issues.

Russian adoptions had already been in a steady decline, but Russian officials threatened to suspend placements with American families altogether. Though adoptions have continued, they've been at a much slower pace. In 2010, there were roughly 1,000 Russian adoptions, more than a 30 percent drop from the previous year.

Children like Anastasia Tomlinson — Anna for short — still made their way to the U.S. But her placement with the Tomlinsons in Tennessee was very nearly ruined by the Hansen incident, as it just came as Wayne Tomlinson and his wife were finalizing Anna's adoption.

"Before we caught the plane from Moscow to her city of Novosibirsk, is when we got a call from our agency saying 'You're not going to be heard,' " Wayne Tomlinson says.

Russian authorities suspended the license of their agency, the same organization working with the Hansen family.

"Well, it was crushing. Anna had her suitcase packed. She was ready to come," he says.

Because of the adoption gone wrong, the Tomlinsons had to start over with another agency. Still, they completed the process by year's end. And along the way, Tomlinson says he was made well aware of the risks.

"We had been through the same coursework. You were trained and you were taught about all the kinds of behaviors that are possible, and a lot of them are not pretty," he says.

Psychologist Linda Ashford, who works at the International Adoption Clinic at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, says that Russian orphans come from a hostile environment.

"Love is not enough to fix and repair these attachment, psychological issues that in some ways can scar some of these children for life," Ashford says. Still, Ashford says, there's never an excuse for turning your back on a child.

Law enforcement has been unable to charge Hansen. It's difficult to say whether the boy was abandoned in a legal sense, and if so, where. Hansen won't talk to investigators or the media, who still stake out her house.

Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, says his group is helping Russian authorities get child support from Hansen. "It just amazes me that someone can place a child, their child, on an airplane and to another country unaccompanied, and that that's not a crime," Johnson says.

He says it's the least she could do to help the U.S. mend relations with Russia. The two countries are working on a new intercountry adoption agreement now.

"I think we're close to being back to normal. Of course, it will be the new normal. I don't think we'll ever see a return to the glory days," he says.

The glory days were in 2004 when nearly 6,000 children were adopted from Russia. Because of the Hansen incident and others, that figure dropped to roughly 1,000 adoptions last year.

Copyright 2011 Nashville Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wpln.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

One year ago this week, a nurse in Tennessee sent shockwaves through the international adoption world. Afraid of her newly adopted son, she put the seven-year-old on a one-way flight back to Moscow. Russian adoptions had already been on a steady decline, but Russian officials threatened to suspend placements with U.S. families all together.

As Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports, adoptions have continued, though at a much slower pace.

BLAKE FARMER: Russian officials made threats, but the adoption pipeline was never completely shut off. Children like Anastasia Tomlinson still made their way to the U.S.

Ms. ANASTASIA TOMLINSON: My name is Ana. I from Russia.

FARMER: Ana's placement with a family in Tennessee was very nearly ruined by another Tennessee family, as a woman named Torry Hansen was sending her son back to Russia, saying he threatened to burn down the house and had psychological problems. Wayne Tomlinson and his wife were finalizing Ana's adoption.

Mr. WAYNE TOMLINSON: Before we caught the plane from Moscow to her city of Novosibirsk, is when we got a call from our agency saying, you're not going to be heard.

FARMER: Russian authorities suspended the license of their agency, the same organization working with the Hansen family.

Mr. TOMLINSON: Well, it was crushing. Anna had her suitcase packed and she was ready to come.

FARMER: Because of the adoption-gone-wrong, the Tomlinsons had to start over with another agency. Still, they completed the process by year's end. And along the way, Tomlinson says he was made well-aware of the risks.

Mr. TOMLINSON: We had been through the same coursework. And you are trained and you are taught about all the kinds of behaviors that are possible, and a lot of them are not pretty.

Dr. LINDA ASHFORD (Psychologist, International Adoption Clinic): Good job picking up the toy. Oh, thanks for bringing it back to me.

FARMER: At the International Adoption Clinic, housed at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, playtime is used as therapy. Psychologist Linda Ashford says anyone savvy enough to adopt internationally, should be able to find her clinic. Russian orphans, she says, come from a hostile environment.

Dr. ASHFORD: Love is not enough to fix and repair these attachment psychological issues that in some ways can scar some of these children for life.

FARMER: Still, Ashford says, there's never an excuse for turning your back on a child.

While the Hansen case seems straightforward, law enforcement has been unable to charge the woman. It's difficult to say if the boy was abandoned in a legal sense and if so, where? Until charged, Torry Hansen won't talk to investigators, much less the media, like this CNN reporter who staked out her house.

Unidentified Man: Usually do this a couple of times a day.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Unidentified Man: And then they never answer.

Mr. CHUCK JOHNSON (President, National Council for Adoption): It just amazes me that someone can place a child, their child, on an airplane and to another country unaccompanied, and that that's not a crime.

FARMER: Chuck Johnson is president of the National Council for Adoption. His group is helping Russian authorities get child support from the mother. Johnson says it's the least she could do to help the U.S. mend relations with Russia. The two countries are working on a new inter-country adoption agreement now.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I think we're close to being back to normal. And of course it'll be the new normal. I don't think we'll ever see a return to the glory days.

FARMER: The glory days were in 2004, when nearly 6,000 children were adopted from Russia. Because of the Hansen incident and others, that figure dropped to roughly 1,000 adoptions last year.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.