Russian Adoptions Slow but not Stopped a Year after Uproar

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Vickie and Wayne Tomlinson pose with their new daughter Anna after a celebration lunch in Russia.

Vickie and Wayne Tomlinson pose with their new daughter Anna after a celebration lunch in Russia.

It was a year ago this week that a small town nurse in Shelbyville put the international adoption world into an uproar. Fearful of her newly adopted son, she sent the 7-year-old back to Moscow on a one-way trip.

Russian adoptions had already been on a steady decline. Russian officials threatened to suspend placements with U.S. families altogether. But the adoption pipeline was never completely shutoff.

Children like Anastasia Tomlinson still made their way to the U.S. Her placement with a family in Brentwood was very nearly ruined by that other family in the state.

As a woman named Torry Hansen was sending her son back to Russia, saying he had psychological problems, Wayne Tomlinson and his wife were finalizing Anna’s adoption.

“Before we caught the plane from Moscow to her city of Novosibirske, that’s when we got a call from our agency saying you’re not going to be heard,” he says.

Russian authorities had suspended the license of their agency, the same organization working with the Hansen family.

“Well it was crushing,” Tomlinson says. “Anna had her suitcase packed. She was ready to come.”

Aware of the Risks

Because of the adoption-gone-wrong, the Tomlinson’s had to start at square one with another agency. Still, they completed the process by year’s end. And along the way, Tomlinson says, they were made well-aware of the risks.

“We had been through the same coursework,” he says. “You were trained and you were taught about all the behaviors that are possible, and a lot of them are not pretty.”

Linda Ashford is a psychologist and says anyone savvy enough to adopt internationally should be able to find her International Adoption Clinic at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, especially if a child is threatening to burn the house down, as the Hansen family has indicated.

Ashford says Russian orphans come from a hostile environment.

“Love is not enough to fix and repair these attachment, psychological issues that in some ways can scar some of these children for life,” Ashford says.

Still, there’s never an excuse for turning your back on a child, she says.

Never Charged

While the Hansen case seems straightforward, law enforcement has been unable to charge the woman with a crime. It’s difficult to say if the boy was abandoned in a legal sense, and if so, where.

Until she’s charged with something, Torry Hansen won’t talk to investigators, much less the media, like CNN, who’ve tried staking out her house.

“It just amazes me that someone can place a child, their child, on an airplane and to another country unaccompanied, and that that’s not a crime,” says Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption.

Johnson has all but given up on criminal charges. His group is helping Russian authorities seek child support from the mother. Johnson says it’s the least she could do to help the U.S. mend relations with Russia. The two countries are working to finalize a new intercountry adoption agreement now.

“I think we’re close to being back to normal,” he says. “Of course, it will be the new normal. I don’t think we’ll ever see a return to the glory days.”

The glory days were in 2004 when nearly 6,000 children were adopted from Russia. Because of the Hansen incident and others, that figure was down to roughly a thousand placements in 2010.

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