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April 10, 2010 permalink
After Artyom Savelyev was separated from his Siberian alcoholic mother and became a paper orphan he was adopted by Tennessee nurse Torry Ann Hansen and rechristened Justin Hansen. Six months later Torry abandoned the boy by placing him alone on a plane to Moscow. Russians, and Americans as well, are understandably outraged. A Tennessee newspaper report appears below, there is also video from the CBC (flv) showing the boy's arrival in Russia.
TN mom's return of adopted son to Russia ignites furor
TN woman put 7-year-old on a plane back to Russia
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Authorities in Tennessee and Russia have opened investigations after a Shelbyville woman sent her adopted son on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.
The incident has provoked an international uproar, with Russian officials threatening to cut off all adoptions to the United States.
Law enforcement in Bedford County, the state Department of Children's Services and child welfare officials in Russia have opened inquiries into a decision by Torry Hansen, a 32-year-old nurse, to return 7-year-old Artyom Savelyev to his birth country.
The boy's adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen, said family members feared for their safety.
"He drew a picture of our house burning down, and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the actions "the last straw" in a string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong, including three in which Russian children died.
No charges have been filed in this most recent case, but the family retained an attorney Friday as inquiries from Tennessee and abroad mounted.
"Initially there appears to be a lot of pressure from external matters involving the adoption," said Trisha Henegar, a Shelbyville attorney who practices family law and criminal defense. "We're hopeful that after our investigation, the family will have a reasonable explanation of what has occurred."
The case has ignited a firestorm in Russia, where officials have become increasingly wary of international adoptions.
Americans adopted 1,586 children from Russia in 2009, the lowest number adopted from the country in a decade, according to the U.S. State Department. Forty-one of those children were adopted into Tennessee homes.
A spokesman for Tennessee Department of Children's Services said the agency has no oversight or involvement in international adoptions, but the family's actions are being investigated for signs of child abuse or neglect. It was unclear Friday whether there were other children in the home.
Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce also said Torry Hansen was under investigation, but plans to interview family members Friday afternoon were put off to next week after Henegar asked to speak with them first.
Henegar said Friday afternoon she planned to interview the family this weekend. She said she could not confirm or deny any details of the case until then.
The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption — the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Wash.-based agency — for the duration of the investigation.
Julie Snyder, spokeswoman for World Association for Children and Parents, said the organization is limited in what it can say because of confidentiality rules. She said the group is working with authorities in the U.S. and Russia.
"It's as shocking to us as to anybody else to hear about it," she said.
No one answered the door Friday at the homes of Torry Hansen and relatives on the outskirts of Shelbyville along Highway 41A. Neighbors said they had seen a police car on the property Thursday, adding they have had little interaction with the family since the Hansens moved in, in the past three years.
According to Russian media, Torry Hansen adopted Artyom Savelyev in September from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East. Savelyev was given the name Justin Hansen.
The boy returned to Russia on Thursday, arriving unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. The Kremlin children's rights office said the boy was carrying a letter from Hansen saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.
"This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues," the letter said. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...
"After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."
Nancy Hansen vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment. She told The Associated Press that she had flown with the boy to Washington, where she put the child on the plane with the note.
Hansen said the boy was watched over by a United Airlines flight attendant, and the family paid a man $200 to pick him up at the Moscow airport. He was then taken to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
Hansen said she and her daughter went to Russia together to adopt the boy, and she believes information about his behavioral problems was withheld from her daughter.
A social worker had checked on the boy in January and reported to Russian authorities that there were no problems. But after that, the grandmother said incidents of hitting, kicking and spitting began to escalate, along with threats.
"The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him," she said.
United Airlines disavowed responsibility and said it requires a parent or guardian dropping off a child to show an ID and to list who is picking the child up at the destination.
United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said all unaccompanied minors on the flight that arrived Thursday in Moscow were picked up by the person listed on the form. Russian authorities said a Russian man delivered Savelyev with his papers to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
Russian state television showed the child in a yellow jacket holding the hands of two chaperones as he left a police precinct. Social workers sent him to a Moscow hospital for a health checkup.
Child mental health experts in Middle Tennessee said it is common for children who switch homes through adoption — whether within the United States or from abroad — to have difficulty adjusting.
Children coming from another country are more prone to tantrums if they struggle to communicate verbally as they learn a new language, said Dr. Lynna Hollis, a child psychiatrist and regional medical authority with Centerstone.
"A person entering another culture has to learn all new rules, a new language. The food is different. The climate is different. Expectations in the home can be very different," Hollis said.
Compared to other countries, Russia offers little background information about children in its orphanages, said Connie Reguli, a Brentwood family law attorney who helps parents interested in international adoptions. Reguli adopted three 5-year-old Russian children in 1996.
Parents often don't know before the adoption whether a child has a past that includes abuse or fetal alcohol syndrome, she said. Some parents fail to make adequate preparation for their new children, including finding a counselor that the child can see in the U.S.
"People become enamored with the process and they don't think about that," she said.
Families in circumstances such as those the Hansens say they faced can essentially put the child up for adoption again in the U.S.
It was unclear Friday whether the child was still considered an American citizen. The Associated Press reported that Artyom Savelyev was traveling on a Russian passport.
But Reguli said children cannot leave Russia with their adoptive parents until the process is complete. The adopted child enters the U.S. as a citizen and is not required to go through an immigration process.
"Technically, that is their child," Reguli said. "They have the same responsibilities as any parent."
Treaty called for
Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has requested that no new adoptions be allowed until the U.S. and Russia hammer out a formal agreement on conditions for them. He said the U.S. had refused to negotiate such a deal in the past.
Russia's children rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov, also gave a televised interview in which he called for a treaty.
"How can we prosecute a person who abused the rights of a Russian child abroad?" he said. "If there was an adoption treaty in place, we would have legal means to protect Russian children abroad."
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said both countries bear responsibility for the child's safety. Asked if he thought a suspension by Russia was warranted, Crowley said: "If Russia does suspend cooperation on the adoption, that is its right. These are Russian citizens."
On at least two other occasions since 1996, Reguli said, Russia has frozen international adoptions — leaving potential adoptive parents waiting for a resolution. Those suspensions followed reports of mistreatment of Russian children.
American parents have been convicted of killing Russian children they had adopted twice since 2006. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are investigating a third instance in which a 7-year-old Russian boy was killed.
Russian authorities told The Associated Press that Torry Hansen had told the boy that he was "bad," that she "did not love him," and used to pull his hair.
Nancy Hansen said the boy had suffered mistreatment in Russia. She said the boy was skinny when they picked him up, and he told them he had been beaten with a broom handle at the orphanage.
Hollis, the psychiatrist from Centerstone, said it's common for children adopted out of an orphanage to suffer mental damage. Often, if they aren't cuddled and hugged as infants, they grow to be distant and prone to tantrums.
"A child coming from an orphanage can often be deprived in that way," she said.
Adoption advocates in the U.S. said they are outraged by the case.
"Child abandonment of any kind is reprehensible," said Chuck Johnson, acting CEO of the National Council For Adoption. "The actions of this mother are especially troubling because an already vulnerable, innocent child has been further victimized."
The Tennessean's Clay Carey and The Associated Press' Travis Loller, Joshua Freed and Foster Klug contributed to this report. Contact Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Tennessean
Addendum: Comic Relief! News video (flv). The tiny town of El Bethel Tennessee is inundated by international news reporters equipped with satellite trucks.
Addendum: Russia is demanding child support payments from the adoptive mom, Torry Hansen.
Russians want child support from Tennessee woman who returned adopted son
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. - An American woman who sent her adopted son back to Russia has been hit with a child support claim by an adoption agency, but her attorney asked a Tennessee juvenile court to throw the claim out.
Torry Hansen, who had been living in Shelbyville, sent the 8-year-old boy on a plane to Moscow by himself last April with a note saying that she didn't want to be his mother anymore because the child had psychological problems. The incident created an international uproar.
According to documents obtained by the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, Hansen's attorney filed a motion to dismiss child support claims made by Hansen's adoption agency, World Association for Children and Parents, in juvenile court in Shelbyville.
The newspaper reported Thursday that Russian authorities want Hansen to pay about $2,500 a month to care for the child, who is living in an orphanage.
Hansen's attorney, Trisha Henegar, filed the response Dec. 28. Hansen has since retained a different attorney, Jennifer Thompson, who declined to discuss details of the case when reached by The Associated Press on Thursday.
Henegar argued that the juvenile court lacks jurisdiction to order child support because Tennessee is not the boy's "home state" and said the termination of Hansen's parental rights is currently being handled by a Russian court.
Henegar said in the documents that Tennessee state law defines the "home state" as where a child lived with a parent for at least six months. She said the boy, who was named Justin Hansen, lived with the family in Bedford County less than six months before he was sent back.
Henegar wrote that the National Council for Adoption, an adoption advocacy group that joined in the petition against Hansen, has been trying to persuade a court in Moscow to postpone proceedings that would terminate Hansen's parental rights. Hansen "will not have to pay child support in Tennessee once her rights are terminated and will not be held criminally liable," Henegar wrote.
Neither Torry Hansen or her mother, Nancy Hansen, who put the child on the plane under the care of the flight attendants, has been criminally charged. Local authorities have said they have not been able to determine if a crime occurred in Bedford County.
An attorney representing the adoption agency did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.
Source: Kingsport Times-News