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The Need for Post Adoption Support Can No Longer Be Ignored

April 12, 2010

My blog has been unusually quiet lately. Last time, I blamed it on a very busy week. Without a doubt, that still holds true. But in addition to keeping up with my home study clients, I’ve experienced a bit of a writer’s block since last Thursday. Last Thursday, when the news story aired about the seven-year-old boy adopted from Russian, “returned” by his adoptive parent. Sent across the Atlantic, alone, with a one way ticket, to a stranger at the other end. A stranger who was found on the internet and paid $200 to meet this little guy on the other side of the ocean.

I knew I needed to write about this story. I blog about adoption, right? How could I pass up the opportunity to blog about this international headline? Problem was- I just didn’t quite know what to say. For one, I wanted to avoid a knee-jerk reaction based on hearsay and sensationalistic reporting. A part of me believed (believes!) that there MUST be more to the story. Right? I mean, how else does someone wrap their head around the fact that a mother put her child, her young child, on an international, ten hour flight. By himself. How is this even possible? Can you really put your seven-year-old on an international flight, unaccompanied, with a stranger to pick him up? But in addition to my moderate state of disbelief, I think the story just hit too close to home. I have a very special little guy in my life- a little guy who lived in a Russian orphanage for more than one year of his young life. And knowing, LOVING, a little boy- not much older than seven- who began his life in a Russian orphanage prior to coming to the United States just made the story too much for me to blog about.

Until today (obviously!).

As a professional, I feel compelled to reserve judgment and outrage until more is known about the circumstances that led to this bizarre “disruption” story. I think I’m still in a state of disbelief, feeling positive that there MUST be something that the public doesn’t know yet. I’m pretty sure that if was an adoptive mother, I’d have a harder time being quite as objective.

It is possible- even likely- that this young boy was psychological disturbed. Knowing only what we can imagine this child has experienced in his short life, it is reasonable to consider that he demonstrated some severe and even dangerous behaviors. I could be convinced that the mother was not properly educated or prepared. I could be convinced that she was not given accurate information about Artyom Savelyev’s special needs. I could even be convinced that she really could not continue to parent him- for her sake and for his. What I am having trouble understanding is why this course of action was chosen. Why the one way plane ticket? Why did her mother drive Artyom to the airport? Why was “returning” the child the only option she saw? Why did she not ask her agency for help? Or local child welfare officials? News sources indicate that she “consulted” with a psychologist but never brought Artyom to meet with a psychologist or other mental health professional. Why?

And why did this family not receive better adoption support? And maybe I’m making a huge leap there- but I have to believe that a woman who was adequately prepared for adoption and then adequately supported during the post adoption period would not believe that the only way she could fix this situation was to buy a one-way plane ticket. I admit- that could be an erroneous conclusion.

The American adoption pendulum is swinging. Fewer families are adopting healthy newborns and more families are adopting children who have experienced developmental trauma. Reading “The Primal Wound” is no longer enough adoption preparation and education. We must offer better services to children and families. Social workers need to do a better job vetting prospective adoptive families. And I’m not talking about “raising the bar” and being more “critical” of who is worthy of parenthood. I’m talking about providing real, accurate, and honest information about what it means to adopt a child who has experienced trauma. Families must be presented with real information about the challenges of raising a child who has been institutionalized. And after placement, we all need to do a better job ensuring that those children and families do not slip through the cracks.

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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

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