Russia's foreign minister has threatened to shut down international adoptions with the United States after a Tennessee woman sent a 7-year-old boy she adopted back to Moscow on a one-way flight this week.
The boy, named Artyom Savelyev, apparently had a letter with him addressed to "whom it may concern." In the letter, Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tenn., says that she was misled by the orphanage about the boy's behavior problems and asks that the adoption be canceled.
"The reality is that most children who are adopted out of institutional care from around the world will have at the very least some developmental delays," says Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption. He says the first year is often rocky, especially for older children, but calls the Tennessee adoption case the first of its kind.
"Occasionally inter-country adoptions do disrupt," he says. "Usually the child would remain in the United States and alternate care would be arranged for the child. This is the first time that I'm aware of that an internationally adopted child was put on an airplane and returned in this manner."
Johnson says the fact that the child made it back to his home country —- by himself — creates a new set of diplomatic problems.
The National Council for Adoption is working closely with the U.S. State Department to try and talk Russia out of suspending international adoptions.
"[The] United States will talk to Russians and explain to them that this is not what America stands for, that this is against our law as well," says Larisa Mason, one of the people working the phones for the council. A Russian living in Pittsburgh, Mason adopted a Russian orphan herself.
Mason says the U.S. takes the case very seriously and plans to file charges against Hansen.
"And if Russia wants us to do something and strengthen our procedure on international adoptions, we're ready to do that and talk to them," she says.
Rob Johnson of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services says case managers are investigating the incident with law enforcement. He says the state didn't know about any problems before the boy arrived in Moscow. The boy's adoption was finalized six months ago.
Since 1998, more than 47,000 Russian children have come to the U.S. The number of annual adoptions has tapered to just 1,600 last year. Part of the reason, according to adoption experts, is that Russia is doing a better job of placing orphans in its own country.
Still, Steve McGill of Nashville was sickened when he heard the news of a woman sending the boy back with a note. He and his wife adopted a Russian child in 2004.
"I am certain that she was overwhelmed, but the choice she made has — it's going to cause other kids not to be adopted," he says. "We've already had trouble with Russia shutting us down before because of corruption in the adoption industry. Kids get left without homes because she couldn't reach out for help here. So I'm angry."
Russia's threat to suspend American adoptions leaves thousands of families in limbo who are midstream in the years-long expensive process of bringing a Russian child to the U.S.