Patty Cogen, Ed. D.
The first news was shocking:
a 7 year old boy sent alone back to Russia: an orphanage returnee. How
did his adoption connection switch tracks to become a train wreckor
as they say euphemistically in the trade, an adoption disruption?
Who failed Artyom aka Justin? It is easy to point the finger at the parent,
the agency, or the social worker who did the home study and final placement.
But ultimately it is the family whose life will be turned upside down
if parents are unprepared for a high risk child, a child with special
needs. And in truth, every internationally adopted child is a child at
Tatyana Gindis, BGCenter, Director
Boris Gindis, Ph. D.
Parenting an internationally adopted
child is far different from parenting a child birthed into the family.
The desire to have a family is a natural and laudable goal. If raising
non-adopted children is like taking a day-hike, creating a family through
international adoption is like climbing Mt. Everest
Preparation and a knowledgeable support staff are vital to the mission.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes two villages of saints
to raise a child from overseas.
Statements attributed to Artyoms
family indicate that they were either not prepared or in denial of what
theyd been told. They clearly had no support, nor did they genuinely
seek out help. Neighbors, including some who raised foster children,
a psychologist and the agency were all kept at arms length.
Understanding child development
and the unusual path it takes with high risk children is part of being
a responsible parent. Statements by Artyoms family reveal that
they did not understand what was normal behavior for an international
adopted child---they labeled such behavior psychopathic.
Instead they thought love was enough. We went to WACAPs
website and discovered that love, and loving family are words that appears
frequently in their presentation. Parenting is a word that is conspicuously
missing. Adoption agencies have a responsibility not to mislead parents
or feed on their romantic notions of adoption a charming child with
Artyom was physically healthy, but
he was a hurt child, carrying the emotional and social scars of his
earlier life. Prospective parents must assume that every child available
for international adoption has a painful past that will erupt into the
present. Happy children from functioning families are not in the adoption
pool. The behaviors Artyom displayed were not signs of an adoption-on-the-rocks.
Hitting, spitting, screaming, throwing things, even threats to parents
are typical behaviors for older internationally adopted children. Such
extreme behaviors reflect the degree of frustration, terror, and confusion
a child has at that moment. Artyoms brain was responding with
fight or flight behavior to (perhaps temporarily) excessive demands.
A prepared parent would know that reducing stimulation and lowering
expectations would be the appropriate response.
Rather than point fingers, what
can you do to prepare yourself, as a parent, or to prepare your clients
and thereby avoid an adoption disruption? What needs to be done in the
In our professional experience at
the Center for Cognitive-Developmental
Assessment and Remediation of older internationally adopted children
and in Patty Cogen's experience as an adoptive parent and adoption therapist
we know there is more to do:
The agencies and media need
to be honest, repeatedly speaking about the reality of raising a high
risk child. International adoptions are not for every family. Its
not fair to the families to reinforce their unfounded dreams of having
it the easy way, as if problems can happen only with others, but will
never happen with them. Agencies must take a stand and refuse to place
a child with a family who seems reluctant to embrace the reality of
the task ahead.
The agencies need to provide
all medical/educational documentation from the country of origin, doing
better job of obtaining it from their adoption sources. In our experience,
the documentation is often incomplete, poorly translated by a non-professional
interpreter who does not understand medical terminology and skips or
miss-interprets information. This creates a more rosy picture
of the childs medical and social history than the original document
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