The Struggles American Parents Face When Adopting Troubled Kids From Overseas

Adopted children do not come with an unconditional warranty — and “refunds” should not be given, either

If you’ve ever been privy to what goes on in family court in the Hudson Valley and beyond, as I have, you know judges are overwhelmed with cases and desperate to clear files from their bench. They’re often indifferent and mechanical, operating just efficiently enough to keep track of cases from hearing to hearing.  

Once in a blue moon, an exception comes along. His name is Edward McCarty III, a New York judge who is deciding a case in which a Long Island couple is trying to “vacate” or undo the adoption of two Russian-born children who suffer from serious mental disorders and are living in state mental-health facilities. The couple is suing adoption agencies Spence Chapin and Cradle of Hope for fraud, alleging they had been told  their adopted children, who were 6 and 8 years old when they came home in 2008, were “healthy and socially well adjusted.” They also allege their children are not siblings, despite having been told they were.

In a case like this, most New York State judges would bar the public from their courtrooms, not because an open court is illegal, but because that’s just the way it’s done. But Judge McCarty, in a conscious effort to shed light on the underbelly of Russian adoption, felt this matter was far too important to “limit the public from access.”

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That decision thrilled me, and so many of my friends and Hudson Valley neighbors who understand, as Judge McCarty does, that Russian adoption is a hornet’s nest and what has gone on behind closed doors for nearly two decades needs to be made public. So many of us have struggled in secrecy and shame while raising children who have been badly damaged by abuse and neglect from alcoholic and unfit birth parents, and from living in orphanages.

Related: Local Journalist Pens Memoir About Bonding With Adopted Daughter

That’s why I wrote Rescuing Julia Twice, a memoir about the child my husband and I adopted from Siberia in 2003, which chronicles the difficulties we had in getting Julia, who is now 12, to attach and learn to accept love. And that is why I have turned my writing career toward exposing a subject that flies under the radar, and seemingly only matters to a few.

But this should really matter to us all. There are some shocking stats:  Over the last two decades, 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans, and, in that time, 18 children, many younger than 2, have died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

But there is also what I hear on a daily basis through emails and on social networks. There are legions of desperate adoptive parents, not only from Russia, but from China, Korea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Ukraine, who are raising children who are not able to attach, who have been diagnosed with numerous emotional problems, who are affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In so many cases, parents who can barely hold their marriages and families together wonder if they’ll ever find answers. At best,  they want comfort and community.

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I have a friend and Rockland County neighbor who has a grown child adopted from a Russian orphanage. When her daughter spirals or goes on a bender and she is unable to help her, I feel helpless, too.

We all live some version of this tale — though we’ve been pretty lucky in putting Julia on a good path. Still, this community is my community and what we deserve is to be seen, heard, understood, and helped.

This Long Island case matters to me, as it should to you. It is so difficult to understand how adoptive parents feel when they have opened their hearts completely and bring home a child who won’t/can’t connect, who is depraved, who is so badly scarred that she is unwilling to accept being part of a family. In a scramble for help, parents turn to experts, but, too often, therapies and medications don’t help. Sometimes nothing does. Too many months of neglect or abuse in an orphanage, or in a dangerous home, hardens a child to the point where he cannot be parented. These children can’t let down their defenses. They cannot stop lying, cheating, harming others, killing pets. They are hell-bent on self-destruction.

Too many of us believe this is not something we need to know about. That’s wrong. Adopted children are your relatives’ children. They are your friends’ children and your neighbors’ children. Adopted children go to school and camp with your children. They live in your community. These children are growing up. Hopefully their paths will be productive. That’s what we want for all children. We want a future generation we can count on.

So, Hudson Valley parents, childcare givers, elected politicians, pay attention. Pay close attention.

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