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.

He and his wife avoided trial in January, 2006, on two felony charges and a misdemeanor, on charges of starving two of three children adopted from Russia. They retain custody of their biological children.

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.

She pled guilty to endangering her adopted children, now with other families. “How dare they do what they did,” said the new adoptive mother of one of the children, “I personally feel they should spend years in jail.” Mrs. Hansen won’t spend a day there, thanks to a plea bargain.

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.


"How much?", the adult adoptee asks....

Even prosecutor Ragan called the deal “a tradeoff to get back the money,” perhaps a reference to adoption subsidies possibly paid to the Hansens.

An interesting observation... one that got me thinking.....

$35,000 (in the form of a college-fund) does not sound even remotely close to "fair financial compensation",  not when one considers the type of "treatment" these adoptees received, (in the name of therapy), and how much therapy is still going to be needed, in the future, for adoptees abused by adoptive parents/therapists.

So, let's work it out....

How much, each month, does an AP get in 'adoption subsidy' if the adopted child is "special needs"?  Well, according to the NACAC website, the maximum rate is equal to the child’s rate in foster care, up to $28.25 per day; and most adoption subsidies are considerable less than the maximum rate.  However, I don't know how RAD is 'rated' by the state, in terms of severity and need.

The state will go above the standard base rate amount to assist the family if the child's medical, behavioral, or emotional needs require extensive supervision. For instance, this may include children with moderate to serious special needs such as prior residential placements, extensive learning disabilities, low IQ, physical disabilities, or emotional issues such as hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional behavior, attachment disorder, or other psychiatric disorders that may lead to adoption dissolution or disruption.  

[From: ]

It should be noted each state has it's own adoption subsidy program, so daily rates will differ from state to state.  This can get interesting, if we consider the way in which a sliding-scale can influence required fee for service.

Considering the history of "underground disruptions", and their affiliation with RAD ("attachment disorders"), parents who claim their foster/adopted child has either an attachment disorder or RAD might qualify for the maximum rate.  [Do we see where this is going, when only an Attachment Therapist can claim (for health insurance purposes) a child being treated has an attachment disorder?] 

Most Attachment Therapists cannot use a DSM diagnosis because they are not licensed to diagnose a mental illness, and only through differential diagnoses and associated work-up can RAD be ruled as the determined condition.  This may explain why someone like Ronald Federici will jump at every major news-worthy event featuring Russian children who have been adopted and abused.  His "professional opinion" serves his own special interest, especially when it comes to matters that relate to orphans and institutional living.  His reputation is some circles is indeed, almost legendary.

The label-making machine that's developed since ICA has become very popular and that concerns me.  There are a lot of people using titles and abbreviations as if credentials do not need to be questioned.  Just because a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. has the legal right to diagnose and treat psychological disorders and perform psychological testing, does that mean that professional is correct with his analysis, and does that professional have the training (the scientific proof needed) to properly diagnose?  So in the Federici situation, what is needed to re-create a new diagnosis ("institutional autism") and differentiate that diagnosis from others that have similar traits and symptoms?  [See:  The proverbial second-opinion, The second glance at institutional autism in internationally adopted children, By (another practicing psychologist) Boris Gindis, Ph.D.]

And more importantly, IS a “therapeutic parenting specialist” the same as a licensed, trained, state-board-approved therapist?

Seems to me, the devil is in the details, especially in Adoptionland.

As always, money seems to be a big factor in these cases. Koch reports that by the time the children were removed, the Schmitzes were bringing in over $9,000 a month (or over $100,000 per year) in state aid and subsidies. In Ohio, the Gravelles were getting $47,000 a year in subsidies for their children, plus their Attachment Therapist had charged the state $107,000 over a 30-month period.

As he often does in high-profile cases such as these, Attachment Therapist Ronald Federici has popped up, and in Koch’s story, supports the Schmitzes. Koch reports that Federici “evaluated” the children for the defense and declared most of them as having “severe brain damage or psychiatric disorders that make them inappropriate court witnesses.” He also claims the Schmitzes are innocent of the charges against them.

In a disturbing turn of events — not reported by USA Today or anyone else to our knowledge — the home-care nurses who blew the whistle on the Schmitzes in the first place are being sued by the state-appointed guardian for the children. He claims the nurses failed to report the abuses in the Schmitz home in a timely fashion. The nurses say they reported the first instance of actual physical abuse that came to their notice, which was told to them by one of the children.

[From:  USA Today Helps Expose AT Underground Trafficking of Unwanted Children ]

If money is always a big factor in these cases, one must ask:  How much do these "attachment therapists" get paid for their services?  The above quote states:   their [ The Gravelles ] Attachment Therapist had charged the state $107,000 over a 30-month period.

So, my seemingly simple questions become more complex because it seems the international adoption industry is breaking boundaries we never really had to think about before.  For example, what is considered within the scope of professional practice, in the case where a clinical psychologist is allowed to practice in various parts of the world?  Does that person have the authority to fashion a questionable diagnosis and treat a developing child, as he/she wishes?  What standards of practice does one follow, if each state has different limitations?  Next, one needs to ask, who will pay for services that are not endorsed by board certified professionals?  Private payers and insurance carriers?  Last but not least, if state/government adoption subsidies are being used to pay for private services that may pose a safety risk to children, shouldn't the state/federal government - at the very least - know that's how an adoption subsidy is being spent? 

I mention Federici specifically because, to my knowledge, no one has created a business niche within the adoption industry quite like he has. And if opinions are correct about Ronald S. Federici's Restraining Method, shouldn't foster/adoptive parents get stronger warnings ("treat symptoms at your own risk")  from adoption industry spokespersons?  However, let's be clear -- Federici is not the only person offering services to help adoptees and adoptive parents.  There are MANY people looking for lucrative and high-demand career opportunities. Parents must really do their homework before choosing any specialist to treat their child.  (Yellowbook searches and website forums is not enough.)  That's only good common sense.   

All of this brings me full-circle;  is $35,000 (in the form of a college fund) enough in terms of retribution, or damages caused by faulty parent instruction?

Knowing how much some of these "attachment specialists" are making through books, seminars, and other private endeavors, $35,000 from the Aparents is a nice gesture, but  not enough.  Too many people are profiting from the misery of others.  Lawyers working on adoption reform and judges reviewing these sort of cases have a much bigger problem that continues to get very little notice or restriction.  The problem revolves around parent-teaching programs, regulation oversight, and of course, greed. 

It's time to take the blinders off.  If more cases like this go to court,  more and more attachment therapists, or quack wanna-be-doctors, will be laughing all the way to the bank, thanks to judges and adoption law makers, and their final rulings.

Pound Pup Legacy