Friday, November 28, 2008

Did You Save Your Receipt?

The problems that can result from foreign adoptions have little to do with the children.

I saw an immensely disturbing story on 20/20 tonight, about American couples who adopted Russian children, then had second thoughts.

The program focused on Michael and Tanya Mulligan, a Florida couple who adopted three Russian children, two girls and a boy. The boy suffers mild brain damage and sometimes acts out violently. The girls are better-behaved, but have sibling rivalry issues and some minor behavioral problems. The Mulligans are currently suing their adoption service because, as Michael Mulligan so delicately puts it, "When it comes down to dollars and cents, you're basically buying a child." And they feel that the three children they "bought" are defective merchandise.

Unable and/or unwilling to parent these children as they agreed to do, the Mulligans have dumped them off at a Montana ranch run by a woman who takes in adopted children and teens (mostly Russian and Eastern European) that other people don't want. The ranch accomodates 40 children at a time, and it's always full. It's like the SPCA for Russian adoptees. Foreign adoptees whose "parents" can't afford the boarding fees at the ranch or at boarding schools end up in an already overtaxed foster care system, in federally funded programs like Job Corps, or back in Russia.

One Russian child at the ranch, a 9-year-old, was placed in psychiatric care after only 5 weeks in the U.S. because her family was alarmed by the way she ran around their house "touching everything", and by her temper tantrums. She now appears to be a wholly socialized and normal child.

Would you place your 9-year-old in a psych ward for "touching things" and having tantrums? Probably not. Even if you wanted to do so, the system doesn't make it that easy for biological parents to cop out on their responsibilities. So why do we make it easy for adoptive parents?

Faced with the fact that her youngest adopted child is brain-damaged, Tanya Mulligan whines that she'll have to take care of him for the rest of his life. She also whines that non-adoptive parents can't understand her situation, "People don't understand. These kids come at you every day … many times a day. It's like a battering ram and they just keep at you and keep at you and keep at you." She wonders where things went wrong.

I think I might have some answers for you, Mrs. Mulligan...

1. You "buy" children from a foreign country, probably with the expectation that they will be extremely grateful to you for "rescuing" them from a life of squalor.
2. You don't bother to learn a single word of Russian. The children, of course, do not know any English. Why would they? They didn't know they were going to be purchased by Americans.
3. You encounter situations (rebellion, tantrums, brain damage, sibling rivalry) that can and do arise in biological families. Rather than accepting such travails as challenges of parenthood, you see them as evidence that you aren't getting your money's worth. Much like those middle-aged men who order desperate 20-year-old wives from Russia, then can't understand why they're dumped after the ladies' green cards arrive.

This is not to say that some adoption agencies/agents aren't unscrupulous, dishonest, or even criminal. Some are, and should be held accountable. But shouldn't there be some accountability for adoptive parents who abandon their children when things don't go their way? And isn't it time we teach people to carefully weigh the merits and downsides of foreign child-buying adoption before encouraging them to jump into it? Should books like Adoption for Dummies really be on our library shelves?

The program mentioned that 15 Russian children have been murdered by their American adoptive parents since the early 1990s, and described the death of Nina Hilt in 2005. The 2-year-old was severely beaten by her alcoholic adoptive mother, who became enraged when the toddler tried to "attack" her other adopted daughter. Nina died during a Fourth of the July vacation the following day. Peggy Hilt gave police and prosecutors a sob story about being so overwhelmed by caring for a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old that she simply had to drink a 12-pack of beer every day.
Rather than making an example of Hilt, a court recently reduced her sentence. A Newsweek story on the murder actually begins, "Peggy Hilt wanted to be a good mother". Would anyone say this about a woman who pummeled, shook, and kicked her biological toddler to death? God, I hope not.

This list of Russian-adoptee murders shows that in every case, the child had been in the U.S. for less than a year. In most of the cases, the murderers were middle-class, educated people with no history of violence. A notable exception is the case of Brenda and Bob Matthey, who seemed to enjoy sadistically punishing the 7-year-old Russian boy, Viktor, whom they froze to death by locking in an unheated crawlspace. The Mattheys were outwardly religious people who insisted that Viktor's Reactive Attachment Disorder and tantrums drove them to duct-tape his mouth, lock him in a crawlspace without access to a toilet, and force-feed him uncooked or salty food without water as a punishment. They also whipped their other six children (4 biological sons, plus Viktor's twin brothers) with a cat o' nine tails. According to one website, Viktor might have been a victim of controversial "attachment therapy" techniques.

Renee Polreis tried to convince a court that her 2-year-old Russian adopted son, David, beat himself to death with a wooden spoon. When that failed to convince, her attorney produced a pathologist who said the bruising could have been caused by pneumonia. Polreis insisted David had severe Reactive Attachment Disorder, despite a psychologist's testimony that he had watched David hug and kiss her a month before his murder.

I don't know how many Russian mail-order brides like Anastasia Solovieva have been slaughtered by their husbands, but I fear that number isn't good, either.

Why is this happening? Is it possible that some people don't feel the same empathy for their adopted children than they do for their own children? Some of these cases remind me of the torture death of Sylvia Likens at the hands of other teens and children, egged on by her guardian. This woman, Gertrude Banishewski, was not known to abuse her own 7 children, yet she had no difficulty beating, burning, starving, and molesting another child in her care. Similarly, the Mattheys did not lock their own children in unheated rooms when they misbehaved. Is it really the children who have attachment disorders in these instances?

While people like the Mulligans aren't abusive toward their adopted children, I wonder about the emotional trauma that could result when children are forcibly removed from their home countries, made to live in households in which no one speaks their languages, and abandoned if their reactions to their new environments become bothersome. It is painfully obvious that many adoptive parents aren't prepared for any sort of parenting, much less foreign adoptions.

Some choices are meant to be permanent. If you can't live with their consequences, then you shouldn't be making them.


Genie said...

Smart comments on the 20/20 show re: international adoption. Interestingly, my teenage daughter knew a kid on the show and told me this child had been to a few of our home birthday parties many years ago--and how much she liked her--and how horrible it was that this child has been left at the ranch for over two years.
Regardless, I felt the M parents to be a bit disconnected when they discussed the fact the they were told the children came from "good living situations" or "good homes" which tells me they did little parent prep or research on adoption and orphanages in Russia--these comments seems counterintuitive--and maybe would have been a red flag with more stats and data. In terms of behaviors, I did not see anything a whole lot different than what we have experienced as parents of four bio children, and have heard tons worse with friends' kids--including, suicidal, borderline, cutting behaviors, drug addictions, teen pregnancy, etc... Many families in communmities feel this isolation with a child or two who does not toe the line-or misbehaves-or does not quite fit--; and the issue of the child being ungrateful for the beautiful they arranged is laudable--and the child expresses this in the story. There are two sides to every story, and we all need to hear the kids'.I am wary of such stories, and I am reminded that obstetrics has one of the highest lawsuit occurrences, as so many people expect perfect children; when the perfect child does not pan out, someone must pay. Adoption is a choice and requires more than a cursory education. **from a bio/adoptive mom waiting for two sibs from a Russian orphanage.

Karen said...

I am adopted and this story is so fucking gross. Oh I am going to adopt an 11 year old girl and get mad if she cries or throws a fit. I am going to cause brain damage on my youngest adopted son because he also isn't perfect so lets send him to a psych ward. Mike and Tanya Mulligan are evil people. It is obvious why god didn't bless them with the ability to have their own children. They don't understand the concept of unconditional love. My birth mother was Serbian and is in a mental hospital in chicago, she was a drug addict and many more things. She went through horrible unjustices in her own country and ended up suffering for it the rest of her life. I was adopted at 6 months old and the social worker told my adopted mother to be aware that I may not be normal. She even encouraged her to adopt some other child instead of me. My mother got me and loved me and believed in me. I had behavioral issues growing up as many children do. Thank god my mom didn't give up and walk away or dump me out like trash. Thank god she also understood how important my birth family is to me as well. With out them I wouldn't be here. I despise Mike and Tanya Mulligan!!!!! They are not fit to be raising children. Thanks for your article I just watched the show today and am disgusted.

SME said...

Genie: If the Mulligans were told the children came from good homes, you're right - that would have been a red flag to most people. But there's no guarantee that this isn't just a statement designed to help them win their lawsuit.

Dear friends of mine adopted a boy who turned out to have FAS, and have dealt with many serious problems related to it (lying, theft, etc.) But they love their son and would never have considered "returning" him. He's also a wonderful kid.

You're right; the adoption issues we're seeing are part of a larger problem of people wanting, basically, "designer children" who will fit into their lives almost perfectly. Bio parents can have the same unrealistic expectations that adoptive parents have.

I'm not sure what's needed to correct the adoption problems, but preparedness and education certainly won't hurt!

Karen: I am so glad to hear you adoptive mother stuck it out with you as all parents are meant to do! The Mulligans are so clearly unprepared for parenting that I can't comprehend why they even wanted to do it. First of all, if you're going to adopt Russian children - please, please learn some Russian so they won't be freaked out by being forced to live with strangers who babble nonsense at them! Of course children would react negatively to that situation.
I don't want to paint all adoption in a bad light, because there are so many giving, loving people out there who want to adopt for the right reasons and will make wonderful parents.
I'm a biological kid, but like many teens I gave my parents a rough time throughout adolescence. I don't recall anyone suing God or dumping me off at a farm...

the need for a father? said...

Please see the link >

Many thanks.

tshsmom said...

YES!! I finally have it in writing:"I gave my parents a rough time throughout adolescence."

We could never find a farm that would take you, so we just left you alongside the road. You always found your way home though.

On a serious note, there is no such thing as a perfect child. You take the precious gift of life you are entrusted with and do the best you can to form a decent, loving human being. That's all ANY parent can hope for.

Benita50 said...

The show done by the 20/20 program has done a great injustice to those of us who have FAS children. 20/20 did not do justice or was it fair in its representation of the adopted children from Russia. The comment that Genie made shows the how very little most people here really know or understand about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the devestation it causes families who have adopted children with these problems. I am the bio mother of two and the adopted mother of 5 special needs children, 4 of them were Fetal Alcohol Children. THE MAJORITY of the children who come from Russia, suffer from FASD and RAD, Reative Attachment Disorder. The sad part of the story on 20/20 was that it was very biased against the adoptive parents, making them look like parents who wanted the perfect child, and then wanted to as the title here say , Did you save your reciept? Like to say since it didnt work we will just take them back.
While Genie may have met the older girl from the story and also saw nothing wrong in her behaviors does not mean that they are not there. If you walked in our shoes 24/7 you would see a much different side than anything you would ever encounter with your bio children! Believe me. My oldest FAS daughter is now 30, married to her bio mothers ex husband who is 73 years old, this is her fifth marriage, she is also a Cutter, uses alcohol and drugs. Growing up before I got her, she ran the streets would not listen to anyone and would steal constantly, her sibling now is 28 and a fulltime prostitute, she has no desire to get out of the business. My adopted son E is the oldest ones child, she saturated him in a fifth of JD per day and every drug known to man, since he was 2 years old, he has set fires, has had an obsession with knives, and constantly has the need and desire to poke holes in walls , cut up clothing , furniture and curtains, will eat only certain food, has episodes of manic and then hysteria for no reason. will take off at will without a reason. His food must be cut a certain way and put on his plate a certain way, He did not walk until 19 months, did not talk until he 4 yrs old. Since the age of 3 he has been on various antidepressants, Psychotics and mood stabilizers. At the age of 9 now he still cannot read or write. J is only 6, a meth baby at birth with fetal alcohol effects has to be coaxed to eat, 10 times a day, he weighs 37 pounds, he rages to the simplest things throwing himself on the floor and then also holding his breath till he passes out. My kids like the M's will hide in closets or under the bed, walk around and touch things, (its call high sensory integration) certain clothing, underwear, socks, shoes, cause them so much irritation they can not tolerate them for any legnth of time.
This is not a case of toe the line and follow the rules and if you dont your out. This is compulsive behaviour caused by brain damage that affects neurotransmitters of the brain to malfunction. The way you discipline your bio child is in effective in these children. Time outs, loss of privelage , dont work and dont matter to children with alcohol and brain damage. What your bio kid learns to day he will remember tommorow, mine wont. what he learns today has to be repeated 50 times a hundred times until maybe one day the light bulb will click. The part of the brain that make you and your children know right and wrong, action versus consequences in these kids is totally non existant. Im sorry that 20/20 gave only one biased side of the story and the not the whole story of these children and both from Russia and here. That is not responsible jouralism. We parents who adopt these children live secret sheltered lives. We dont socialize but with others who have children like ours and understand, We very seldom ever leave our kids with babysitters, once is all it takes and you never see them again. Or you have some well meaning busybody from the neighborhood who calls Cyfd, because your son has climbed the roof ten times after you have removed anything that would allow them to climb to the roof and he has snuck out the window and did it again. We live with alarms on doors, locks on cupboards, and windows, not to keep others out but to keep our kids safe from harm. We very seldom invite anyone over as some of our kids, like to spray the bathrooms and smear feces on the wall, or they shred anything they can find including your carpets. Kick and punch holes in the walls. tear up the furniture, pull down the curtains and drapes. We learn to live at their level, not them learn at ours. Please see the YOU Tub videos called ARE YOU A FASAHOLIC? By a woman who has been a great impact on FASD, she one a million bucks and gave it away to start a goup for parents like us where she lives. Listen to what she has to say before you ever judge a parent again who has an out of control child. I could go on, but if your really interested, Start looking up FAS SITES On the Web and find out the REAL STORY,,, Then post your blog,, Education is the key to knowledge, and Knowledge becomes Power.. Blessings Benita50

SME said...

Benita, I'm very sorry to read of the severe problems you (and many other adoptive parents, and some bio parents) are experiencing because of FAS and related disorders. I know that it is not an easy life for you or your children, and I don't want to minimize the enormous challenges faced by people who adopt or foster special-needs kids. I also don't want to lay any blame for behavioral issues on adoptive parents, because most of those issues are pre-existing. I don't even like to blame bio parents for badly behaved kids, because you never know what's really going on! Perhaps the children have problems, I remind myself.

My only problem is with people who harm, abandon, or abuse the children they have adopted, then justify their actions by complaining that the children weren't what they expected or wanted. I also don't think it should be an option for parents to dump difficult, unwanted children into an already overburdened foster-care system. This system is intended for children who simply CAN'T be cared for by their bio families.

20/20 might have provided a more balanced view by interviewing someone like yourself, who has had severe problems, rather than people who experienced relatively mild ones. Maybe it's time to let adoptive parents know precisely what they can expect from foreign adoption, so that profoundly disturbed children won't come as a shock to them.

It's clear to me that there needs to be a LOT more support for adoptive and foster parents who are struggling with FAS, RAD, and other disorders. It seems many parents are turning to pseudoscientific, dangerous "solutions" like reactive attachment therapy simply because there isn't anywhere else to turn for help. Kudos to the woman who started the FASD support group!