Wow. Thank you to everyone who has walked with us through this. We are certainly not alone.
U.S. government, adoption agencies seldom help; one family shares challenges of caring for daughter
NEW YORK – Amanda Alexander always wanted to adopt. In 2008, when her adoption agency sent a picture of a Russian girl who was available, Amanda fell in love.
The girl was almost 2, and the agency warned that she had a “developmental and speech delay.” Two years later, an American doctor also diagnosed the girl with fetal alcohol syndrome and severe attachment disorders.
Now 7 years old, Alexander says, the girl has attacked her mother and classmates and tried to cut out her tongue with scissors. In the last three years, she has been hospitalized nine times for psychiatric care.
The Alexanders sought help from schools, social workers and other parents. But they found there is little assistance available for parents of international adoptees, particularly when children have severe trauma and emotional problems.
Their situation reflects a quandary faced by adoptive parents across the United States. With high hopes and often at great expense, families have adopted needy boys and girls from orphanages overseas, only to realize after returning to America that the children have behavioral or psychiatric problems that hadn’t been diagnosed or disclosed.
Many parents are unprepared to handle the problems. Their adoption agencies often won’t help. And neither will the U.S. government. Amanda Alexander left a job in management to devote time to her daughter. The Alexanders travelled from Seattle to Virginia to meet specialists, amassed enormous medical bills and moved to a different state to get better care for her.
In September, a Reuters investigation revealed how some desperate parents have turned to Internet groups to seek new homes for children they regret adopting. The practice is called “re-homing,” and the online bulletin boards enable parents to advertise children and arrange custody transfers that bypass government oversight.
In response to the news agency’s findings, state and federal lawmakers are seeking measures aimed at stopping re-homing, and Russia and other nations are calling on the United States to account for what has become of international adoptees. Since the late 1990s, Americans have adopted about 243,000 children from other countries, but no authority tracks what happens after those children arrive in the United States.
The Alexanders say giving their daughter to a stranger they met online would have been unthinkable. “It’s not something that we would ever do,” Amanda Alexander says.
But for parents who hold onto a troubled international adoptee, the way ahead can be grueling. Reuters interviewed about two dozen families with troubled children adopted abroad. They described how their children molested siblings, tried to crash their cars, pulled knives on them, killed or tortured animals, or took weapons to school. Many of the parents did not want their names to be published, in part because they say they worry about stigmatizing their families.
Amanda Alexander, 34, decided to speak publicly. “It has been really hard,” she says. “It’s completely changed our lives in every way.”
‘LEAP OF FAITH’
In 2008, the Alexanders made three trips to Russia. There, eight doctors evaluated the parents-in-waiting to see if they would be fitting caretakers. The Russian physicians listened to their hearts with stethoscopes, inquired about drug and alcohol use, even asked about their greatest fears. The exam seemed somewhat staged to the Alexanders, who say the doctors asked them to pay $800 each for the service. They obliged.
The trips were required to complete the adoption. On each journey, the Alexanders learned a little more about the toddler they hoped to take home. On the second visit to Russia, they recall learning that the girl had a heart condition; on the third, they discovered she also had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Amanda Alexander says she requested all of the girl’s Russian medical records but was told by the adoption agency, European Adoption Consultants, Inc. that she would receive them on the final trip to Russia. When she did get the records, they were in Russian and contained references to conditions including cerebral palsy and a heart issue that were not mentioned in the English paperwork that the Alexanders had initially received.
An attorney representing European Adoption Consultants, citing confidentiality agreements, said the agency could not comment on specific cases but that parents typically receive the full medical information from orphanages earlier in the adoption process.
After the family brought their daughter to her new home in Tennessee, the family took the girl for a battery of tests by American doctors. They discovered her heart condition was a benign murmur, and the cerebral palsy was mild. But the girl’s behavior was odd. She was hyperactive and would hit her head against her crib.
Doctors initially diagnosed her with ADHD. It would be another two years before Amanda learned that the girl had all the characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome, along with child trauma and severe attachment disorders.
The Ohio-based adoption agency also offered no training and little information about the possibility of attachment issues, stating only that these were rare, the Alexanders say. Instead, the agency offered advice about travelling to the Moscow airport and how to declare money. The couple says they took it upon themselves to buy and read adoption and parenting books to prepare.
The executive director of European Adoption Consultants, Margaret Cole, said that training is part of the homestudy requirements, and the training includes “all the elements of parenting and adopting.” Cole did not respond to further requests to comment.
International standards recommend – and will soon require – that adoption agencies provide 10 hours of training for parents seeking to adopt overseas. That’s not nearly enough, parents and adoption experts say.
The Alexanders say they would have proceeded with the adoption if they had known more about their daughter’s eventual diagnoses, but would have prepared differently.
“I took a leap of faith and said, ‘I want her,’” Amanda Alexander says. “She was meant to be ours.”
SWEET BUT VIOLENT
When the girl was age 4, the Alexanders placed her in a pre-kindergarten program. She received private speech and language tutoring, but the school determined she was not eligible for a specialized program.
The girl was volatile. She could be sweet and spunky, then become physically destructive without warning. She attacked other students at school. Doctors prescribed medicine. Still, Amanda regularly received frantic calls at work about the girl’s behavior.
When the girl threatened to kill a classmate, her pediatrician recommended a psychiatric hospital. It would be the girl’s first of nine hospitalizations in the next three years.
Please read more: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption-follows/#article/part3