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A Russian Adoption Gone Bad

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Dr. Keith Ablow (Warner Brothers)

Adoptions of Russian children by Americans are under a microscope following the recent bizarre actions of Tory Hansen, a nurse from Tennessee who adopted 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev from a Russian orphanage in September.

Hansen and her mother Nancy recently sent the boy back to Russia with no notice, booking him a flight out of Washington and reportedly arranging for a driver she found on the Internet to pick him up in Moscow and take him to the Russian education ministry.

The Hansens claim that Artyom had been given a clean bill of health by officials in Russia, but then reported to them that he had been emotionally and physically abused there. They also claim that he threatened to burn down their home, tried to attack a Hansen family member with a 3-pound statue and was caught trying to start a fire in his bedroom.

When Artyom arrived in Moscow, he was reportedly carrying a note from Tory Hansen that referred to his violent impulses and stated, “I no longer wish to parent this child. As he is a Russian national, I am returning him to your guardianship.”

Hansen’s complaints about Artyom are prompting others who have experienced difficulties with foreign adoptions to step forward with horror stories about candy-coated descriptions of troubled children they agreed to adopt. It is true, after all, that many orphanages do not paint accurate pictures of the girls and boys they are trying to place. They may have powerful financial incentives to move their wards along, even if it means saddling unsuspecting families with physically or psychiatrically ill children.

This particular case, however, isn’t one that should spark deep discussion about the pros and cons of foreign adoption agencies or orphanages. The fault here lies completely and entirely with Tory and Nancy Hansen.

Any parent in America with a child who is potentially violent can readily obtain psychiatric care for that child. That care is often initiated by mental health clinicians working in hospital emergency rooms or community mental health centers. Services range from outpatient counseling, to day treatment programs, to admission to locked child psychiatry units.

There is clearly a shortage of child psychiatric services in the United States, but Tory Hansen doesn’t claim to have tried accessing any such services at all. Her story doesn’t include ineffective counseling of Artyom by a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. It doesn’t include undue pressure to take him home from an emergency room or a psychiatric unit. It doesn’t include heart-wrenching stories about side effects from psychoactive medications.

Hansen’s apparent lack of diligence in getting Artyom help for his supposedly severe psychological symptoms makes her whole version of events suspect. So, too, does her reprehensible decision to put a 7-year-old on an international flight alone, to return to an uncertain future thousands of miles away.

After sheltering an orphan for several months, Hansen apparently had no empathy whatsoever for her adoptive son. She didn’t have the decency to mentor him through the process of potentially being adopted by another American family. She didn’t have the humanity to make absolutely certain the driver she paid a few hundred dollars to take him to the education ministry in Moscow wasn’t a kidnapper or pedophile or murderer. She certainly couldn’t place herself in the position of a traumatized child being cast out of yet another family, journeying again into the hands of strangers.

Whatever traumatic events led Artyom Savelyev to live part of his life in a Russian orphanage, Tory Hansen’s actions have only compounded them. Artyom is better off without her, of course, but he would have been still better off never having met her. If the facts are as reported, authorities should certainly investigate bringing charges against her for child abuse and neglect, if for no other reason than to prevent her from adopting again. It would be wise, as well, for her professional nursing society to review options available to them to sanction her for cruelty to a child and to closely supervise her work with patients in the future. The inability to resonate with the needs and feelings of a vulnerable human being doesn’t exactly sound like one of the characteristics of a trustworthy healer.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com.