Torry Hansen: When an Adopted Child Hates You

Parents of violent children support Torry Hansen's struggle with Russian son.

April 15, 2010— -- Carol Skeirik had high hopes after adopting a 5-year-old girl from a Chinese orphanage. She was the mother of six biological children and had worked with troubled and aggressive youth. The family had lived overseas and her husband spoke multiple languages.

"It was a faith story for us," said the 49-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. "There are so many waiting children out there. We knew our daughter would have issues, but we had a reputation as being good parents and having good kids."

Within days of the adoption, her daughter Sier threw a 14-hour temper tantrum that couldn't be quelled, and within months she turned violent and sexually aggressive, threatening to murder the family and attacking her siblings -- even the family pets.

"She began abusing my youngest child immediately," said Skeirik. "She broke Elijah's nose so severely it had to be corrected. He was hemorrhaging."

Good parents like the Skeiriks, who have struggled with an international adoption gone wrong, say they have empathy for Hansen, the who sent her 7-year-old adoptive son Justin back to his native Russia alone with a note in his backpack.

These parents don't approve of the way the mother handled the situation, but say they can understand her desperation when Hansen's adoptive son, born Artyem Saviliev, threatened to burn down the house.

As police consider whether to press charges against Hansen, the boy is in a Moscow hospital in good condition.

Hansen created an international incident, with Russian officials threatening this week to shut down all U.S. adoptions. The State Department said today that American adoptions have not yet been suspended, according to the Associated Press.

Just three weeks ago, after spending thousands of dollars and exhausting local psychiatrists and short-term therapy, the Skeiriks finally sent now 8-year-old Sier to a therapeutic boarding school in West Virginia.

"If you met my daughter, you would be charmed," she said. "She is sweet and bright and extremely intelligent. That's not unusual at all. Only in the family environment are they threatening. She can tell you straight up: I do not want to love them."

"The psychiatrist said, 'You know, it's up to her. It's an internal choice they make,'" said Skeirik. "She feels powerful hurting people, and if we didn't make this choice and did it differently, she'd probably become a killer."

Skeirik said she still loves her daughter and would never dissolve the adoption, but separation was the only solution.

To be sure, most adoptions are successful, but the primary reason that placements disrupt or dissolve is "inabilility to attach," according to the Attachment Trauma Network.

Sier was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) -- or failure to bond with her new family.

According to all accounts, Justin Hansen was well-behaved on board the flight from Viriginia to Moscow and didn't display any violent behavior, but Skeirik said that is typical of RAD.

Though Torry Hansen hasn't spoken publicly about the incident, the reaction to her actions has been ruthless, accusing her of abandonment and child abuse.

Skeirik said she faced similar criticism.

When the word got out that the Skeiriks were sending Sier away, "my husband said he feared when he came home, they were going to be picketing outside the house because of the backlash when you speak the truth and it's so intense."

Other parents who have struggled with violent adoptive children agree that Hansen acted irrationally, but they understand the pressure to cope.

Parents Struggling to Cope Say They are Not 'Demons'

"I don't blame this woman," said Kathy Cox, a Rexburg, Idaho, mother with two biological and four adopted children aged 5 to 19. Two of her children came from an orphanage in Sierra Leone.

"Something must have snapped," she said. "I've been too close to snapping myself to judge. Being a parent is hard."

One of her adoptive children has brain damage and is medicated for violence and bipolar disorder.

"I felt very close to him, yet he never quite attached to me," said Cox. "I chose to do this. But I am stuck in the hardest position I have been in my life."

"I am not a demon," she said. "But I can be drained of sanity by children knocking holes in walls, threatening bodily harm to me and their siblings, foul and hateful language shouted at me and each other, starting fires, seeking porn, peeping tom stuff, dressing like a hooker, and manipulation."

Cox credits the agency that handled the adoption from the U.S. as "honest, yet inexperienced."

"I would feel better if they would acknowledge that attachment problems do exist in overseas kids," she said.

Adoptive parents say prospective parents need to know more about the risks of international adoptions, where children may have been abused, exposed to alcohol prenatally or lingered in institutions.

Both Skeirik and Cox -- strong advocates for adoption -- say more education is needed for the American families who adopt more than 20,000 international children each year.

"We believe there is a culture of secrecy surrounding adoptions so as not to impede the flow of adoptions happening, but in the process, thousands of families are traumatized and scarred," said Skeirik. "We believe it is possible to be both an adoption advocate and honest about the significant costs."

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, agrees that all agencies, institutions and countries involved in adoption need to be more forthcoming with information about children.

He said support is needed for all families -- those with biological, foster and adoptive children.

"There are insufficient resources for parents who need help with their kids, period," he said. "It's not about scaring people off adoption, but helping people do a good job as parents."

Pertman said parents looking to international adoption need to "know what you are getting in to -- and not in a negative way."

"If you had a kid with diabetes, you would want the best possible information and real resources to help you as parents," he said.

The story of Justin Hansen is "a cautionary tale -- not about adoption, but about learning how to take care of the kids you have."

"Whether you are the biological or the adoptive parents, you are legally the parent of that child," he said. "Biological parents have a difficult time with kids, they wind up on the street and in institutions and we don't say, ' Look what happens when you give birth to a kid.' You are making parenting decisions if they are born or adopted."

Parents Say Giving Up a Child is Excruciating

For Debbie Bettiol, a 54-year-old former nurse from Salem, Ore., the decision to send her violent adoptive daughter to a residential treatment center was excruciating.

She adopted her 11-month-old daughter Fanica from a Romanian hospital in 1991. "I thought she wouldn't have too many problems," she said. "She bonded with me right away."

Besides being small for her age, Fanica had night terrors and severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic tendencies. She was later diagnosed with a brain injury and mental retardation.

"They felt she had post traumatic stress disorder," she said. "She would bite and pinch and ran around getting into everything. If she got loose from you in public, she would just run. You had to go catch her because she wouldn't stop. She also stripped off all her clothes all the time."

Bettiol tried medicines, homeopathic treatment, special camps and adult foster care. But nothing worked.

"I had to keep the faith," said Bettiol. "She was the hardest baby I ever dealt with in my life."

Bettiol, a single mother, already had four children and had a sixth after the adoption and the situation got worse. When Fanica went to high school she threatened to kill her mother and siblings. She was hospitalized, then placed in a nearby treatment center.

"Even though she was 17 at the time, it killed me to have her go," said Bettiol. "After she left I realized how much stress the kids and I were under."

Now 20, Fanica is doing well in a more structured environment. Bettiol is still her legal guardian and advocate and talks to her daughter three times a day, joining her in activities twice a week.

"I was a single mom with other kids, some who were close to her age," she said. "But I never thought of sending her back! She was my baby!"

Randy Lutz, who was abruptly moved into an adoptive home at the age of 5 when his mother was jailed, said he feels compassion for adoptive children like Justin Hansen, who can't cope with a new family.

"You could never possibly understand where he is coming from," he said. "You go from Life A to Life Z with no transition and nothing in between."

Now a 28-year-old business consultant from Providence, R.I., Lutz said he "hated" his adoptive parents.

"More than not bonding, we truly detested each other as the years grew on," he said.

Lutz was shuffled from boarding schools to alternative school and group homes.

Now that he has his own 4-year-old biological son, Lutz said, he even sympathizes with the boy's mother, Torry Hansen.

"As an adult, I can't imagine bringing a child who hated me, or was severely unstable or emotionally disturbed into my home, and I think that if anyone really thought about it, they'd agree," he said.

"I was never psychologically disturbed, I was just a really pissed off kid, but I can't imagine turning that up to psychologically disturbed and being blindsided by that as an adoptive parent," said Lutz. "I wish my adoptive parents had sent me back. I think she did the kid a favor."

But Carol Skierik said she could never give up on her daughter Sier, and continues to be her mother -- even at a distance.

She admits, though, that the emotional toll has been heavy.

"I feel guilty and I struggle not to feel like a failure," Skeirik said. "I do believe I have bonded with her. Just because she doesn't love me, I do love her. It's sad, it's hard and it hurts your heart."