Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Artyom, Disposable Children, Elaboration of Harm and the Sorrow That Is Reactive Attachment Disorder

Talk about a subject which can arouse passion in me...

As an adoptive parent and Guardian ad Litem, I can definitely say that little in life prepares you for dealing with that moment when you realize you have made what should only be a lifetime commitment to a very badly damaged child.

When you want a child in your life, most people envision a shiny, new, loving and heartwarming child. You don't envision a child with years upon years of deep, and possibly permanently neurotransmitter/chemically entrenched, psychological damage that seems to frustrate both your, and their, every desire for closeness, ease and enjoyment. It's a shock to see that you have adopted a child that appears almost hell-bent on self-sabotage and to see that they have incredible skills and deftness at pushing you over edges you didn't even know you have. It's a scary thing and having been there and done that, I can't minimize how hard it is to deal with a wounded child who arrives in your home and proceeds to set up a little shop of horrors there. I've got the bite scars to prove my point, memories of lying in bed around dawn wondering really, seriously, how I was going to make it through another long day of calls from school or if there was no school, all the behaviors, the anger and tantrums. I even have the memories, from early on, of times locked in my bathroom to cry in private while worrying about what could happen to the pets, or the house as a whole, while I'm in there.

So I can understand any parent's frustration with a wounded and reactive attachment disordered child. It is such a very, very tough thing to work through. But even so, there's just simply nothing that one can say that excuses what happened to 7 year old Artyom:

Clearly this woman was just not able to cope with this child's behavior. She gave it a good, and I admit I say that with a sarcastic undertone, six months. From the perspective I have, of six years down the road from her, she clearly knew her limitations and frankly I shudder to imagine what this child's life was like while with her. There's this line from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited that has described so many kids I've known in the foster care system who were removed or abandoned by parents and then placed into bad placements or bad adoptive placements:

A blow upon a bruise...

That's exactly what you do to a child who was already messed up when you give that child away yet again, especially after saying you were their forever family. When that blow is on the bruised heart and mind, you are looking at diminishing odds for saving that individual. Imagine having your life damaged beyond repair by age 7.

I have been amazed by reactions of friends about this story. I've heard people who don't seem to understand just how very bad it can get with an aggressive RAD child. (Black eyes? Been there, done that. Bruised ribs from being elbowed so hard by a tantrumming child that it literally took my breath away? Oh yeah. Completely trashed room? Ditto. Told child that when he was calmer that if he needed a bit of assistance picking things up to call me and not to pick up anything that was clearly broken like glass... but left it as it was, since, as I pointed out, it was his room.) And I have heard people say that some foster children really do turn around and kill their families and/or burn down their houses.  That's true, too. But you know what? On the continuum of "I know what I'm doing here and things are getting better even if it's slow going" and "This is so much more than I am capable of handling and I may do this child more harm than good and vice-versa" I just know there is a way better solution than packing up a child and putting him, unaccompanied, onto an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

The Hansen family did not contact any social service agency in their county for help and the local adoption agency that was to monitor the family's progress hadn't been able to get a hold of the family for their monthly home visit since late March. What they did was abdicate all personal responsibility. They didn't deal with the fact that a child who had told them he'd been beaten and mistreated so badly that he set things on fire back home in Russia might do better in the care of a social service agency in Tennessee than he would in their home or certainly back in Russia where he was beaten and provoked at age 6 or 7 to set things one fire because of his psychological issues. They clearly didn't want to go to Court and be embarrassed by having to tell a Judge in front of a room full of people that they did not know how to parent this child and that they didn't think they could or even wanted to try anymore. They didn't want to deal with the dark sad looks that people would give them as they surrendered their parental rights and then wonder if those people would think very, very badly of them. 

No, instead they sent Artyom back to where he'd been mistreated. They paid a driver $200 to get him there.

And that my friends, is a crime beyond any law that one can find in the Tennessee statutes on Child Welfare. But it's a crime, as everyone from the Russian president to my 14 year old thriving child can tell you.

~ ~ ~

The Diane Rehm Show had an excellent program on International Adoptions this morning on NPR. You can check out the streaming audio later today.

You can learn more about dealing with RAD from Dr. Jane Aronson at and from the website

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. Couldn't agree more fully with this entire post.

  2. Second that. Also would like to congratulate you on your saintly past accomplishments.

  3. Thanks for the comments Ali and Uzza. And Uzza while I appreciate the spirit of the kudos, I really don't feel that I've done one thing exceptional beyond, it seems, keeping my word and making a lasting commitment to my child. I had faith in the potential I saw in him and was lucky that my husband and older children supported that belief. Six years down the road from some of those dark times we can almost joke about them.