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Just about one year ago, a nurse in Tennessee put the international adoption world into an uproar when she sent her newly adopted 7-year-old back to Moscow on a one-way trip. Fearful of her son, Torry Hansen said she put him on a plane because he threatened to burn down the house and had psychological issues.
Russian adoptions had already been in a steady decline, but Russian officials threatened to suspend placements with American families altogether. Though adoptions have continued, they've been at a much slower pace. In 2010, there were roughly 1,000 Russian adoptions, more than a 30 percent drop from the previous year.
Children like Anastasia Tomlinson — Anna for short — still made their way to the U.S. But her placement with the Tomlinsons in Tennessee was very nearly ruined by the Hansen incident, as it just came as Wayne Tomlinson and his wife were finalizing Anna's adoption.
"Before we caught the plane from Moscow to her city of Novosibirsk, is when we got a call from our agency saying 'You're not going to be heard,' " Wayne Tomlinson says.
Russian authorities suspended the license of their agency, the same organization working with the Hansen family.
"Well, it was crushing. Anna had her suitcase packed. She was ready to come," he says.
Because of the adoption gone wrong, the Tomlinsons had to start over with another agency. Still, they completed the process by year's end. And along the way, Tomlinson says he was made well aware of the risks.
"We had been through the same coursework. You were trained and you were taught about all the kinds of behaviors that are possible, and a lot of them are not pretty," he says.
Psychologist Linda Ashford, who works at the International Adoption Clinic at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, says that Russian orphans come from a hostile environment.
"Love is not enough to fix and repair these attachment, psychological issues that in some ways can scar some of these children for life," Ashford says. Still, Ashford says, there's never an excuse for turning your back on a child.
Law enforcement has been unable to charge Hansen. It's difficult to say whether the boy was abandoned in a legal sense, and if so, where. Hansen won't talk to investigators or the media, who still stake out her house.
Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, says his group is helping Russian authorities get child support from Hansen. "It just amazes me that someone can place a child, their child, on an airplane and to another country unaccompanied, and that that's not a crime," Johnson says.
He says it's the least she could do to help the U.S. mend relations with Russia. The two countries are working on a new intercountry adoption agreement now.
"I think we're close to being back to normal. Of course, it will be the new normal. I don't think we'll ever see a return to the glory days," he says.
The glory days were in 2004 when nearly 6,000 children were adopted from Russia. Because of the Hansen incident and others, that figure dropped to roughly 1,000 adoptions last year.
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