What To Consider Before Adopting Traumatized Children - Guest Post by Nancy Farrell

This is a guest post written by Nancy Farrell, a freelance writer and blogger. She regularly contributes to the criminal justice degrees , which discusses child abuse, human rights, divorce, and crime related articles. Questions or comments can be sent to: nancy.farrell13@gmail.com.  Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to share your thoughts with the readers of Portrait of an Adoption!

Nancy writes:
Adoption, especially for parents who cannot physically bear children, is one of the most rewarding experiences anyone will ever go through. I know from first hand experience, because my brother was adopted, I had volunteered for a Russian orphanage while studying there a few years ago as a student, and I know several friends and family who have brought an abandoned child into their home to raise as their own.

Still, adoption, as many adoptive parents know, is never a walk in the park, even if you adopted your child as an infant. But adopting an older child with many behavioral problems as a result of early trauma is a challenge that few are willing and –let’s face it– able to take on.

Take, for example, the story that became international news earlier this year when a Tennessee mother adopted a seven-year-old boy from a Russian orphanage, cared for him for several months, then sent him back alone on airplane with a typed note to Russian officials saying the boy had severe psychopathic issues that she could no longer deal with.

Although it is still unsure to what extent Artyom Savelyev was a serious threat to his family, this story is especially heartbreaking, considering the boy’s one shot at redemption was ended, after having been removed from the care of his alcoholic mother and subsequently having lived in a grim orphanage in Far East Russia for most of his life.

Other than learning the not so surprising fact that airport security is still a joke (who allows a seven-year-old child to board two flights, one international, without adult supervision?), what else is to be learned from this story?

For one, taking care of an older adopted child with a troubled past will always be ten times more difficult than you would think it is. Especially for children exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero, like young Artyom was, the possibility that the child has severe developmental problems is also present.

Although Torry Hansen, Artyom’s temporary adoptive mother, was a nurse and a responsible mother of a natural born son who was around Artyom’s age, sometimes being a caring and nurturing person is simply not enough for certain adopted children.   As noted in an Open Salon article, a child that shares a similar background as Artyom needs more than just the support of his or her family. A many-pronged intervention program for adoptive children with behavioral issues is highly advisable.

The article notes:
“Love can do many amazing things.  It can provide a safe environment that a normally maturing child can respond positively to.  It can help nudge a child at high-risk for future problems towards a positive trajectory.  It’s an important part in a mixture of components needed for placement success.  However, love cannot erase completely past maltreatment or neglect.  It cannot erase years of dysfunctional attachment behavior in eight months.”

On the other hand, although often “bad” stories draw more public attention, there are several good endings for internationally adopted children from traumatic backgrounds. Take, for example, another Tennessee mother who had adopted a Russian child.  In an interview with this Memphis mother, she noted that being well-acquainted with a Russian community in Memphis helped her get through the difficulties of raising a troubled Russian child who did not speak English well. She emphasized the truth of it “taking a village to bring over a child.”

In my own personal experience with abused and neglected Russian children, I know that kindness goes far, but extreme, unconditional patience goes further. A good friend of mine was likewise raised in a family who had adopted a Russian boy. My friend was seven at the time, and the boy was five.

The boy, Mikhail, came from an extremely troubled background—Mikhail’s mother was a prostitute who was shot and killed by his own alcoholic father. Even worse, the boy witnessed the murder with his very own eyes.

Now, Mikhail is a well-spoken, intelligent teenager with flawless English and only a slight accent. Although he still has frequent nightmares, and he has no desire to even think of visiting the land of his birth out of a deeply-ingrained fear, he told me that he now cannot thank his adoptive family enough for having the patience and the foresight to offer everything they could to him despite his frequent and often violent outbursts the first few years he lived with them.

Before any potential adoptive parent thinks about adopting an older child from overseas, one must remember that a child is not a purchased object, nor an investment. It is a responsibility that will be the most difficult one you have ever assumed in your life. If you have not carefully done your research, if you have not garnered much support from friends, family, health services, and the community, then it is best to consider other options.

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