Challenges of adoption come to light

Lauren Rees

Kris McClelland is confident she and her husband will bring home a young boy from Russia, despite the possibility the country will freeze U.S. adoptions.

The Dunlap, Ill., resident also is confident they will be able to handle caring for their new son, even if he eventually exhibits behavioral or emotional problems.

"I almost expect problems, and if there aren't problems then that's a great blessing from God," she said. "You can't really take a child out of a situation like that and not expect there to be problems. It's a hard way to start your life."

U.S. adoptions of Russian children could be frozen after Tennessee nurse Torry Hansen sent her then 7-year-old adopted son to Moscow alone last week just six months after adopting him. Hansen sent a note with Artyom Savelyev saying he had psychological problems and was violent and unstable.

A Russia Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday that U.S. adoptions of Russian children were suspended after the incident. But the organization that oversees international adoptions, the Education and Science Ministry, said it has not received any formal word to freeze adoptions.

Still, U.S.-based adoption organizations and adoptive families are concerned about what the situation might mean for the future of international adoptions.

Russia could decide to change its international adoption rules and bar single women such as Hansen from adopting, said Margaret Cole, founder and director of European Adoption Consultants Inc., an agency that assists U.S. families in the international adoption process. Or other countries with many U.S. adoptions might review its rules and change its screening processes.

But above all, Cole said the headlines will just bring awareness to the fact that adopted children and their adoptive families need constant and consistent support, even after the adoption.

"These children need help, they need assistance and love and care, and this kind of incident does bring attention to the fact that all adoptive parents need to pay attention to the resources around them," Cole said. "In all the children, there's issues with missing their birth mom or relatives or other children in the orphanage, issues with language, food, cultural differences." The older the adopted child, the more likely problems are to develop, she added.

Early infancy is considered the easiest time to adopt, because there isn't a major disruption in the child's bonding with a parent, said Dr. Claire Etaugh, a Bradley University professor of psychology and co-director of the school's Child Study Center.

"You're dealing with a child who may have problems of insecure attachment, even assuming the child is normal in every other way," she said. "Clearly the more developmental issues a child has, the more challenging for the parent. ... You have to be prepared for what might be a challenging upbringing."

Post-adoptive counseling and resources are vital to a successful relationship, experts said. That's why Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, a not-for-profit organization, offers Adoption Preservation programs to stabilize families after an adoption.

"Certainly a child who's had experience of trauma is likely to have a more complex history and more complex needs," said Ruth Jajko, director of adoption services for the Lutheran social-services agency.

Adopted children may have issues arising from multiple caregivers or congregate care in an orphanage or institution, Jajko said. They may have been exposed to substances or traumatic experiences, and might have trouble adjusting to the more intense relationships in a family home. As a result, "The parenting they receive will have to be pretty sophisticated," she said.

Kris McClelland said she and her husband, Gregg, have the resources in place to help their adopted child through any issues. The couple have four girls already in a blended family from previous marriages, but decided to adopt because they felt "God was calling," Kris said.

The McClellands are part of an adoption ministry called Open Hearts, Open Homes through their church, Bethany Baptist.

"We have so many people we could go to if we have issues," McClelland said.

The family has also had more than 30 hours of certified adoption training and has learned the types of problems that are more common in Russian children, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Drinking and alcoholism rates are high in Russia, Etaugh said. This leads to a higher risk of fetal alcohol syndrome manifesting itself, whether in mild or extreme cases. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome can have mental or physical retardation, behavior problems, learning disabilities or a lack of impulse control, she said.

The McClellands chose Russia after Gregg heard a story on National Public Radio about orphans in the country.

"There are so many orphans, and the kids who aren't adopted and raised in the orphanages are kind of treated as second-class citizens," Kris said.

The McClellands will travel to Russia next week to meet the child they may one day welcome into their home.

"I hope we can just get through this and everything will go well," McClelland said. "You never know with international adoption."

Peoria Journal Star writer Lauren Rees can be reached at