Documents 'fudged' because of concerns about Russian response

Date: 2010-08-22
Source: t-g.com

By BRIAN MOSELY

E-mails between adoption workers involved with the case of a Russian boy who was sent back to his homeland alone by a former Shelbyville woman appear to indicate that reports about the placement of the child to Russian officials may have been "fudged."

In April, adoptive mother Torry Hansen sent 7-year-old Justin, also known as Artyom Savelyev, back to Moscow without an adult escort, triggering an international uproar over the adoption of Russian children.

The boy had been placed with the Hansens by World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), a Renton, Wash.-based adoption agency, and the family had been investigated by Adoption Assistance Inc., an agency based in Danville, Ky, on behalf of WACAP.

The adoption had been finalized last November, when Torry Hansen received the official certificate, but the boy was returned to Russia on April 8 by Nancy Hansen, the boy's adoptive grandmother.

Justin was placed on a Moscow-bound plane alone with a note that described him as "violent" and "psychopathic."

However on March 29, a little over a week before the child was sent back to Moscow, an e-mail conversation was inadvertently forwarded to Torry Hansen by Janet Anderson, the Family Finders Program Information Specialist for WACAP, which suggested that adoption workers alter information in the post-placement report that was to be passed along to the Russians.

"Fudge" visit dates

An e-mail to Lisa Mosley of Adoption Assistance from Anderson dated March 18 dealt with "the edited version of the Hansen post--placement report," with Anderson saying they "need to stick 'exactly' to the template and cannot add or subtract any categories."

Anderson stated that a work or business phone was needed for Torry, but she told Mosley that "(w)e also need to fudge on the visit date, because it's too early by Russian rules."

"Visits can't happen any sooner than 30 days before the due date," Anderson's e-mail to Mosley reads. "The Hansen's due date to our office is 3/29/2010, and that would make the earliest date the 1st of March."

Anderson also said that "(w)e had to take out the last sentence where you were describing discipline, because it wouldn't translate well."

"The sentence describing talks and verbal reprimands is enough," she wrote. "Russians are very different disciplinarians (by Western standards) and we don't want any misunderstandings."

Anderson explained that they had "edited the sentence at the beginning of Family Unit/Family History," asking Mosley to confirm if Torry owns or rents her home.

"We also edited the portion where it states the extended family, 'live outside the home,'" Anderson wrote. "When translated, this might mean that they live in a tent or something..."

When the Hansens lived in Shelbyville on Highway 41A North earlier this year, their property consisted of several homes and a horse barn that were joined together by a fence.

Home school concerns

Anderson also told Mosley to "(p)lease be extra cautious" about future reports "for any family with a Russian adoptee with regards to the family homeschooling children."

"Russia really frowns on the concept of homeschooling," Anderson wrote, pointing out that a homeschooled Russian adoptee living in Pennsylvania "was murdered by his parents this year."

"If it is mentioned, you need to elaborate that the homeschooling curriculum is being administered by the state/school board/etc., and that the child gets to socialize with other children or is enrolled in sports/activities with peers." Anderson said. "Russia does not want to see the child(ren) isolated at home, and neither do we."

Anderson concluded the e-mail stating that when the final version of the post-placement report is submitted to them on letterhead, "we need to have the notary date and signature date match the date that the report was written."

"I know that this isn't best practice, but it is Russia's rule," she wrote, adding that if Tennessee required "any extra text or questions, you'll need to leave those out of this one and create another version (sorry)."

Mosley replied to Anderson three hours later, saying "I totally understand, you know best what Russia will want to see." Mosley said she would add "the highlighted info into the report and then print it off and get it to Torry to have apostilled."

Wishes the best

On March 29, Mosley e-mailed Anderson to say that she mailed copies of the post-placement report on the 19th to Torry, adding "I have not heard from her, but she is very responsible and I am sure she will get you the report as soon as possible."

Anderson then e-mailed Torry Hansen, asking if the report had been mailed yet, but when she did this, the entire electronic conversation between the two adoption agency workers was forwarded as well.

Speaking to the T-G about Justin earlier this week, Nancy said they still care about him and that they don't want him exploited, but the Russians have taken guardianship of the boy.

The Hansens no longer live in Tennessee, Nancy said.

She said it was her belief that a suit filed in Bedford County by the WACAP was an effort "to please the Russian government so that adoptions can continue."

WACAP filed a petition in May requesting that the county's Circuit Court appoint the agency as a temporary guardian for the child at the center of the controversy. The case has since been transferred to juvenile court following an agreed order, but no court date has been set as of press time.

Nancy said she wasn't going to get into the details of the case, but said "we know what happened."

"We don't care what people think about us," Nancy told the T-G. "We do what God thinks is right."

She also said the family "wants this to go away" and wishes the best for Justin.

Bedford County investigators have not charged the Hansens with any crime due to the fact that they have not been able to speak to the boy to learn what happened, or if he had been abused.

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American exceptionalism

So much for the value of post-placement reporting.

Of course we all know by now that staying in business is the main concern of adoption agencies, especially in the light of declining numbers of inter-country adoptions. On top of that, staying accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education is not easy. Over the years many agencies have received accreditation, but most have lost it somewhere down the line too. Much of the flux in accreditation status in Russia has to do with post-placement requirements, which agencies cannot meet.

Russia demands a number of post-placement reports after finalization of adoption to monitor the well-being of the children placed in the US. From the Russian side this is an understandable requirement, but one that can in reality not be met. Once an adoption is finalized in the US, adoptive parents no longer have an obligation to any other party, and any enforcement of post-placement monitoring can be regarded as undue meddling in a family's privacy. As a result, participation in post-placement monitoring is strictly voluntary, and often adoptive families refuse to participate in it.

The United States has a fundamentally different approach to constitutional rights than nearly any other country, Russia included, in that it defines its articles in a negative sense. The American constitution defines what the Federal Government is not allowed to do, as opposed to defining the rights and obligations of citizens and state. This makes it hard to define Federal laws that oblige a US citizen in any shape or form, including the requirement to participate in post-placement monitoring. It is this cultural/legal difference that makes it so hard to come up with solutions that will satisfy the Russian government.

Adoption agencies will do anything in their power to comply with Russian demands to keep their accreditation. Accreditation in Russia, means supply of those children most in demand by American families (only Italy is more keen on adopting Russian and other East European children). Of course there are illegal umbrella constructions being used all the time, but the major revenues with such a construct are for the accredited agency, not for the agency placing the children.

In that light, it's not remarkable that WACAP will do anything in their power to send Russian Authorities the sort of post-placement reports they want to see. It didn't help, the agency's accreditation was suspended April 9, 2010, anyway.

What is remarkable is that we get to know about this "fudging" of information. Usually this sort of information doesn't leak, making it difficult to demonstrate the fraudulent practices going on in inter-country adoption. WACAP is certainly not the only agency, adapting the truth to the demands of foreign authorities. I would in fact be very surprised if this was anything other than common practice.

There are a couple of interesting details to the "fudging":"

Anderson also said that "(w)e had to take out the last sentence where you were describing discipline, because it wouldn't translate well."

"The sentence describing talks and verbal reprimands is enough," she wrote. "Russians are very different disciplinarians (by Western standards) and we don't want any misunderstandings."

It is interesting to see how Russian disciplinary actions are compared to Western standards, since the US is actually the major exception when it comes to attitude towards corporal punishment and harsh disciplinary measures against children. Only if the US is seen as the West and Canada and Europe make up some other geographical entity, does the statement make any sense. Most countries in the West (and in Eastern Europe and Latin America as well) see a decline in the use of corporal punishment and a growing opposition to its practice, while it remains massively popular in the United States, especially in the South, where corporal punishment is still allowed in schools.

Given a different attitude towards corporal punishment and the large number of cases where American adoptees were tortured, it makes sense Russian authorities are worried about discipline used against their former citizens.

Anderson also told Mosley to "(p)lease be extra cautious" about future reports "for any family with a Russian adoptee with regards to the family homeschooling children."

"Russia really frowns on the concept of homeschooling," Anderson wrote, pointing out that a homeschooled Russian adoptee living in Pennsylvania "was murdered by his parents this year."

"If it is mentioned, you need to elaborate that the homeschooling curriculum is being administered by the state/school board/etc., and that the child gets to socialize with other children or is enrolled in sports/activities with peers." Anderson said. "Russia does not want to see the child(ren) isolated at home, and neither do we."

Again, Russia is not all that exceptional in this situation, most countries other than the US, frown upon homeschooling, and the number of cases where homeschooling and child abuse coincide is quite large. In fact many of the torture cases we have collected happen in families that engage in homeschooling.

So it's interesting to see how the WACAP representative makes it sound as if Russia is exceptional in their approach to children, while in fact it demonstrates American exceptionalism.

Aparent compliance

Once an adoption is finalized in the US, adoptive parents no longer have an obligation to any other party, and any enforcement of post-placement monitoring can be regarded as undue meddling in a family's privacy. As a result, participation in post-placement monitoring is strictly voluntary, and often adoptive families refuse to participate in it.

There in an unfortunate reality that goes with this.   Those who respect the rights of children and care about their well-being are the same people who have no problem maintaining 'voluntary' contact with appropriate agencies/departments.  [They have nothing to hide.]

Those who do NOT want further contact with central authorities usually refuse to comply (for the child's sake) for 'a reason''.  How does a siren not sound?  When an AP refuses to participate in follow-up observation/study, one should see all sorts of  serious red flags.  How likely are those non-complaint "pre-screened" parents prone to lose patience and fall into negligent and/or abusive patterns?   How likely are they to blame the adopted child for all sorts of family problems?  These are questions that need to be asked and issues that need to be addressed.

I'm tired of PAP's complaining how 'invasive' the adoption process is.  We're not talking about adopted puppies or kittens.  We're talking about human lives.  One look at our abuse cases proves just how much adoptees need outside eyes and ears watching and monitoring the life of a child altered by adoption... especially if that adopted child was obtained and transported from another country.

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