Theresa and Reed Hansen
Utah couple who appeared to use Attachment Therapy parenting techniques (ATP) on two adopted Russian children and were accused of “one of the worst” cases of child abuse ever seen by local authorities, were able to strike a bargain with prosecutors and avoid jail time.
Theresa and Reed Hansen, of Saratoga Springs, had been accused of felony and misdemeanor charges for withholding food, sometimes for days at a time, from two of their three children adopted from Russia, who were of pre-school age at the time. All three adoptees were removed from the home in 2002 and have reportedly thrived since in new adoptive homes.
Utah County attorney’s criminal division chief, Sherry Ragan said an investigation showed the couple allegedly were withholding food from the children as punishment for bad behavior. Subsequent medical exams showed the couple’s adopted 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter were severely malnourished.
“They were bad,” Ragan has said, adding the boy had lost two pounds over the past two years. According to the charges, Teresa and Reed Hansen withheld food from the children, as much as several days at a time, between July 2001 and February 2002, the time period selected for investigation.
The boy “was literally starving to death,” Utah County Lt. Jerry Monson told the local press. Within days of being taken into state custody, the boy bounced back, indicating that his condition was not caused by some medical condition, according to Monson.
Both of the allegedly starved children have been thriving since being permanently placed with other families, Utah officials have said. “They’re gaining weight, they seem really happy,” a spokesperson for Utah’s Health and Human Services Department told the Deseret News.
Attorney Phil Danielson, for a time representing Teresa Hansen, had told the press that the defense would argue in court that the two children had suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), suggesting that the severity of the children’s behaviors could exculpate the parents for their actions. This is a form of the “blame the children” defense which has been used by other ATP-related defendants around the country, though always unsuccessfully. While RAD is officially characterized by either extreme withdrawal or being overly friendly with strangers, Attachment Therapy proponents frequently attribute many unofficial features to the disorder, such as violence, sneakiness, and lack of conscience.
Disturbing investigators was evidence that the Hansens may have been practicing alternative treatments for RAD with their two children. “We really do feel strongly that that is the case,” Monson said. “We found literature that they had that was along the lines of disciplinary-type books.” One book &mdash When Love is Not Enough — was authored by “therapeutic parenting specialist” Nancy Thomas.
Also found in the home were two copies of Holding Time [Martha Welch], Parenting with Love and Logic [Foster Cline], and Growing Up Again (co-authored by Connie Dawson, a therapist who worked for the Attachment Center at Evergreen and the Attachment Center Northwest).
In addition, investigators found a pamphlet from the Cascade Center for Family Growth, an Attachment Therapy clinic operating at the time in nearby Orem, Utah. Monson has said authorities did not believe the couple were clients, but a connection to the Cascade Center was never publicly denied by the Hansens.
Control over food is a common device used by parents involved with ATP. Attachment Therapists and allied “parenting specialists” counsel parents to pick their battles with children — and win them at all costs. Starvation, or near-starvation, is a clear risk with such parental strategies; it has been reported in several cases around the country where Nancy Thomas ATP was involved. (For instance, see Heiser Victim Page and Gravelle Victim Page.)
There were also indications that the Hansen parents locked the children in the bathroom for long amounts of time. “He would be left in the bathroom locked in there for hours, overnight, without any bedding or clothing,” Monson said.
The case had come to light in Washington State where the children had been examined by a pediatric physician who specializes in Russian orphans. The doctor was alarmed that the children were severely malnourished and contacted Washington Child Protection Services.
The two children, along with a third adopted Russian child and three biological children, were placed in state custody. Parental rights to all three adoptees have been relinquished or terminated. The couple had been rearing the Russian orphans since December, 2000. The biological children have since been returned to the Hansens. They were allowed to keep custody of a newborn in August, 2002.
Legal wrangling long delayed the trial. The Hansens faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the original charges. The Hansens were finally supposed to go to trial in January, 2006, promising to be one of the longest and complicated trials in that part of Utah, scheduled to last two months, with defense attorneys previously claiming they were prepared to call up to 100 witnesses. The last-minute plea bargain avoided that.
Mrs Hansen pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, and received a one-year suspended jail sentence. Mr Hansen pled no-contest to misdemeanors for attempted reckless endangerment and received a six-month suspended jail sentence.
Both parents were placed on probation for two years, required only to report their address to authorities every six months. When charged in 2002, Teresa Hansen had already been placed on probation for earlier charges of beating one of her adoptees a year before. That probation was extended to run concurrently with the new probation. No fines were levied, but the Hansens agreed to pay $35,000 to college funds for the two children. The total amount must be paid before the Hansens’ probation can be terminated.
The plea bargain allowed the Hansens to retain custody of their biological children without oversight. Authorities say the Hansens’ biological children were treated better than the adopted ones and are in no perceptible danger. Dramatic differences in treatment between biological and adopted children has been noticeable in homes where ATP is reportedly used.
One of the new adoptive parents for the abused children bitterly complained that the imposed penalties were a “slap on the wrist.” Even prosecutor Ragan called the deal “a tradeoff to get back the money,” perhaps a reference to adoption subsidies possibly paid to the Hansens.