Friday, November 28, 2008

Did You Save Your Receipt?

I saw an immensely disturbing story on 20/20 tonight. Well, actually stories...the stories of 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, they've 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.
If you think I'm exaggerating by comparing this ranch to the SPCA, here's a quote from the journal of Amy Thompson: "We discussed how much we would love to get rid of them like dogs at the pound, and even contacted a ranch in Montana about taking them to other homes." Amy and her husband Gary had adopted two Russian children. In 2003, Gary intentionally lowered 3-year-old Liam into a tub of scalding water, and both Thompsons refused to treat his second- and third-degree burns for two days. Liam died.

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 is 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 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.

Well, let's break it down 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 fat 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.

I think I might know where things went wrong, Mrs. Mulligan. And it's got nothing to do with your children.

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, yet the abuses are appalling. Brenda and Bob Matthey sadistically punished and tortured their adopted 6-year-old Russian son, 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 six children (4 biological sons, plus Viktor's 4-year-old 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 while her husband was out of town. 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.
The murders of foreign adoptees pass quickly out of public consciousness. At this time, a mere handful of websites honour the dead children and call for increased oversight in the adoption industry.
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.


Wandering Coyote said...

I think I'd heard of the Mulligans previously, but not in as much detail as you write about here. It's really early and I'm only half awake, and I'm having a hard time digesting this post...A ranch in Montana used like an SPCA...? Oh my God. OH MY GOD.

SME said...

There are major, MAJOR problems in the adoption industry right now. I'm appalled. I thought of removing the SPCA thing until I found that quote from a convicted murderer, describing how she wanted to get rid of her adopted kids like you would a dog.

The Zombieslayer said...

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

Same with parenting. A lot of people shouldn't be parents, period, whether by adoption or by natural childbirth. But when I say that, people get butt hurt.

It's true, a lot of people shouldn't be parents. They think it will be easy and it's far from it.

SME said...

Yeah, it's not easy to say and I'm sure it's not easy to hear. But it's true: Some people just aren't meant to be parents, period.

tshsmom said...

I agree with ZS. Some people shouldn't have children, biological or adopted!

I see similar problems with biological families. Most people simply don't know anything about children before they plunge into parenthood. I blame our society. Teenagers don't baby-sit anymore. Everything is geared toward daycare.

I've been changing diapers since I was 9, and baby-sat at least 2 nights a week all the way through my teen years. Most of the young parents I know today, have NEVER spent more than a couple of hours with a small child, before they have their own. They have no clue how to discipline or care for a child! They don't watch their babies and toddlers close enough, which has resulted in horrific accidents. They're shocked to learn that parenting is a 24/7 task.

At the very least, adoption agencies should require parenting classes for prospective parents. Adoptive parents should also have a basic grasp of the language their child speaks. How scary must that be for a little one? They're ripped away from their environment and playmates by people who are speaking gobbledy-gook to them.

Good lord! I made you read everything you could find on hamsters, before I let you get one. Shouldn't people be knowledgeable about kids before they have them? It's not a difficult topic to research!

Word ver is phypho. What happened to fee and fum?

SME said...

Classes would be a good start. Or maybe adoptive parents should have to go to a ranch for intensive behavior modification and training when they f*** up.

tweetey30 said...

I dont know what to say really here. I am just as appalled.I couldnt imagine adopting children and them dumping them like trash basically because they werent as I expected them for one thing.

Here is a good question??? for you... Is it alright then to dump all our children that we have naturally into this foster home or what you want to call it because they arent perfect??? I dont think so but some people might and I dont want to give them any idea's here.

Its sad to hear about this. i read it earlier but just getting to make my comment.. I want to strangle these parents for what they are doing. I couldnt imagine taking Kora or Bri to this place because they had a lifetime health problem. Does that mean that all our down syndrome kids should be because there parents cant take care of them??

I dont think so but that is exactly what these folks are thinking... Yikes.. I am ranting sorry. These things really bother me when I think of my own two children....

SME said...

It bothers me, too. It must be awful to be taken to another country and expected to fit into someone's expectations without even knowing what they are, and then being rejected if you don't measure up. I feel for these kids and for the people who are taking care of them when their adoptive parents basically abandon them. The woman at the ranch struggles to reunite the kids with families, but she often ends up caring for the kids for years.

Laura said...

This is sick and twisted that people are equating these children with products purchased. At the same time, a lot of children adopted from second- and third-world countries have underlying medical conditions stemming from poor health and nutrition that are challenging for parents to deal with - the adoption agencies should do everything in their power to explain to these people that these kids could require some special care. Though it sounds to me that these assholes just didn't know what to expect from normal children. You can't just dump them because they're "not yours".

I don't understand how stupid people can be sometimes.