What Can Parents Do When an Adoption Goes Wrong?

What happens when an international adoption goes wrong, and advice for parents.

ByABC News via logo
April 13, 2010, 8:34 AM

April 13, 2010— -- The case of a 7-year-old Russian boy who was returned to Moscow by his adoptive U.S. mother has highlighted the challenges families face when an international adoption goes wrong.

About 1,600 Russian children found adoptive families in the United States last year, according to the National Council For Adoption. Most of the adoptions have been successful, but the few children who live with an array of psychological and behavioral problems can tear families apart. One family, requesting that its last name not be used to protect the privacy of its sons, went so far as to terminate their parental rights.

After struggling with infertility, Lori and Tom said adoption seemed like the natural next step.

"We did a lot of research," Lori said. "We were full of hope and encouragement."

After successfully adopting their first son from a Russian orphanage, the Minnesota couple went back nine months later for another child, Joe. But this time it was different.

"He was in an orphanage -- a special needs orphanage -- and all the children in that orphanage, the children were shrieking," Lori said. "There was something wrong immediately with that environment."

Once they returned to the United States, Lori said, Joe hurt the family pet, attacked his two brothers and threatened to kill his family.

"He called me upstairs in a very shrill voice, and I knew something was wrong," Lori recalled. "And I went up the stairs and I found the light on, and I looked, and on the floor right by my bare feet there were pins that were sticking up … out of the carpet waiting for me to step on."

Joe was diagnosed with fetal alcohol exposure and reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, a rare but serious condition in which children can't bond and instead lash out at their parents. RAD is rare, not exclusive to adopted children and is caused by abuse and neglect in the earliest years of life. (CLICK HERE for more on RAD from the Mayo Clinic).

"Most individuals who have severe RAD, who are from an adopted background, are likely born to women who used some substance, whether it's alcohol or drugs," Dr. Jane Aronson, a New York City pediatrician and international adoption specialist, said. "I think those kids likely had organic brain syndromes."