Sunday, November 30, 2008

Russian adoptees in the news

A few people so far have alerted me to the recent 20/20 series on Russian adoptees which can be viewed in its entirety (in 5 segments) on ABC's website. You can read the text here or go directly to the first video segment, linked here.

The series focuses on adopted international children who have been found to have Reactive Attachment Disorder. I found the program fairly accurate in its portrayal of the struggles that families and children face in such cases. Any of the children portrayed could be children whom I know.

I had a little trouble with the presentation. I didn't appreciate the way that 20/20 overdramatized everything, such as the family's disgust at the lack of hygiene that their newly adopted children displayed. The narrator emotionally announced the family's horror at seeing the bath water turn black. There was another scene in which an adopted girl from Russia ran around crying for an hour, captured on home video. I didn't like the way that the report talked about "these children," as if they are a different species or a lesser part of society.

I wanted to empathize with the families and children and say, "yes, this happens." But at the same time I wanted to ask what the ABC television network had to do with it. How was it doing any good for them to go and make a news story out of it? Are they helping to break a taboo? Will there be more support offered for families? It felt like they were treading on personal territory, as if you turned on the tv and saw that in a foreign country your personal traumas were being analyzed by the public. I wondered if the reporter had ever been to Russia.

The "intriguing" development that 20/20 offered was a report on a special camp that adopted kids can visit, run by a woman who seems to get along well with them. I liked what I saw of her on the program. I could see how the camp could be therapeutic. It had a fairly regulated daily schedule, including chores, which may more closely resemble orphanage life and therefore help a child calm down. It also had plenty of outdoorsy activities to help release some nervous energy. And we saw the kids being coached to love and respect their adoptive families.

The only thing that bothered me about the camp portrayal was that I wondered if it could be run by Christians, but nothing was mentioned. I wondered what could possibly give someone the heart and the stamina to reach out to children in such a way. But on 20/20 there was no mention of God. We only saw a brief scene of people saying grace before a meal.

After watching all 5 parts, I looked up the camp lady, Joyce Sterkel. She has apparently received much commendation for her work serving international adoptees. I skimmed a few articles about the ranch and didn't see Joyce mention her faith anywhere. But then when I went to the site itself, it did describe the ranch as a Christian home, and it said in very careful language that children were encouraged to attend church and improve their spiritual lives. I just wish that God could be given a little glory in the news. The problems are real, but the solution is more than just another program.


  1. The program sounds thoroughly depressing. I have been blessed, I guess, to have adopted four children who have nothing resembling RAD.... Lovely, sweet, GOOD children who would be a blessing in any home. Now, I do think that two of them have some "issues".... Having been neglected as very young children creates some anxiety and difficult behaviors. There is a wonderful book which goes by the short title, "Beyond Consequences" written by a woman who adopted two children with RAD. She is Christian, and though she doesn't over-emphasize it, probably so she won't turn-off people who might be helped, her point of view has really helped me spiritually. Her motton is "Love Never Fails"....and I believe it to be true. Using her philosophies of discipline and child-management I really have become a more loving person. Her website is

    Back to the program... one of the reasons I dislike such things is that there is already so much prejudice against adopted children. I visited one school considering enrolling Zhenya, prior to his arrival and the teacher I spoke with was openly disguested at the prospect of having him in her room and happily related horror stories of an adopted Russian child another teacher had. I was so offended.

    I am also wondering why the emphasis on foreign adoptions...when so many children in foster care have RAD. And, for all the same reasons. Except our foster care system (unlike the Russian orphanage system) seems to make it so much worse. I actually heard a SW say that they were moving a child because they didn't want him to "become attached".

  2. Liz I appreciate the effort you put into researching it more. All I did was watch the segments and think about what was portrayed.

  3. Annie, thanks for mentioning your children being blessings. Do you feel that as an adoptive parent you find a body of support with other adoptive parents? I wonder how RAD can be given attention tastefully, without it being a "media sensation" or causing children to carry a stigma. I really am against placing such labels on people. Children have a right to react to having been hurt, but they need to be encouraged that they're not "damaged" for the rest of their lives.

    Mary, I didn't want to just be an advertisement for 20/20, but I wanted to see if others interested in Russian orphans would have comments.


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