|Max Shatto on the equipment that may have killed him.|
According to The New York Times today, a lengthy investigation by police, prosecutors and medical examiners have concluded that the boy, Max, who came to the Shattos with a known heart defect--died of an accidental injuries,
probably caused by a fall from a swing set. The visible bruises were self-inflicted, the experts added, by a deeply troubled child who clawed his skin raw, woke up night after night screaming, banged his head against walls and hurled his body on the floor, all behavior that the Shattos tried to cope with in the 79 days he was with them--and behavior that their neighbors, family and doctor knew about. Within weeks of getting him, the Shattos installed a video camera in the bedroom that would turn on whenever there was movement because Max was hurting his brother or himself at night. They moved the bed father away from his brother's and the wall, as well as putting gloves on him at night so he would not scratch himself. When they turned to Gladney for help. Gladney officials told them the boy was too young for either therapy or medication, but a pediatrician they took him too prescribed a drug not usually prescribed for anyone under five, risperidone. The Shattos took him off it after a few days as it turned him in to a "zombie," according to Laura Shatto.
21 RUSSIAN ADOPTEES HAVE DIED IN U.S. FROM ABUSE OR NEGLECT
The medical examiner in Texas has concluded that a fall unto something hard caused a small tear in the bowel, an injury that can be life threatening. Children die of this every year. Laura Shatto was in the house at the time of the accident to use the bathroom, and only left the boys outside playing by themselves for a few moments. When she returned Max was on the ground not breathing. She tried CPR, as the did paramedics who were immediately called.
After the child died, Russian authorities claimed that Max was the 21st Russian child to die from abuse or neglect in the U.S. One boy died of heatstroke when his father left him for nine hours in an overheated car; and the memory of a 7-year-old being returned to Russia with a note pinned to him was still fresh in everyone's mind, although it happened 3 years earlier. The Russians demanded they return Max's 2-year-old brother, Kris, and around the same time Russian authorities stopped adoptions from their country, including ones that were in already the pipeline. It seemed like this was just other case of neglect and punishment by an American couple unable to handle a severely troubled child.
The Times story is a long take-out--two full pages, beginning on the front page and includes interviews from officials in Texas and Russia, Max's biological relatives in Russia, and friends and relatives of the Shattos, Laura, 44 and Alan, 51. Max and Kris (called Kirill in Russia) both had troubled beginnings when they were born in Russia to a woman who appears to be an alcoholic, information that was not given to the couple through their U.S. agency, Gladney Adoption Services in Forth Worth. The couple did say Russian authorities did tell them the mother might have been drinking during the pregnancy. But the Shattos, desperate for a child, ignored the warnings, and decided to take the brothers, who have different fathers. They wanted more than one child anyway.
The Shattos married six years ago when Laura, a teacher, was in her late 30s. They tried several rounds of in vitro-fertilization and had three miscarriages before they turned to adoption. No matter how it happened, they were the typical older couple before they began trying to have a child. Their ages--in their 40s--are quite normal for people looking to adopt: people for whom natural or assisted contraception failed, and people who look internationally, where the promise of a white infant (with dark hair and blue eyes, as they specified) is more likely, and quicker than in the U.S. Living in Texas, they turned to one of the nation's oldest agencies that has been bringing Russian babies here for two decades, Gladney. The Shattos were anxious to get started with the adoption process because Alan, a petroleum engineer, was already 48 and soon might be deemed too old for a toddler.
FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME OR NOT
So, three trips to Russia ensued when the Shattos heard about two half-brothers, and while the couple had a few pangs of doubt due to problems--Max had the heart condition, and Kirill/Kris was born with a club foot. Then there was the mother's drinking. Yet they took measurements of the boys heads, sent the pictures to a doctor back home, who was looking for telltale signs of trouble, but eventually said that the boys--from photographs--looked fine.
The Shattos knew that the boys were developmentally delayed, probably as a result of staying in an orphanage. Their natural birth mother, Yulia Kuzmina, through neglect and poverty, had lost both of them. She placed Max in an orphanage because she lacked the means to provide for him, and later Kirill was taken away from her when child welfare workers found him dirty, neglected and undernourished. By October of 2011, both boys were institutionalized, as no one in her family was able or willing to take them in. Her mother has since disappeared and is presumed dead; her brother committed suicide, and her own sister grew up in an orphanage. Alcohol seems to be at the bottom of the problem, along with her own troubled family situation and crushing poverty. Ms. Kuzmina says she thought the boys would end up with a rich Russian family. While she blames the lack of real social services to help; her, her father is more blunt: "She is the one who doomed the boy," he says.
Yet the Shattos were told none of this; they were told the mother may have been drinking when
the she was pregnant, but they hoped it was just a few drinks, and when the officials did not offer much information, they naively did not press further. Love and desire conquers all, right?
The first Ms. Kuzmina learned the boys were in America was when she heard about Max's death, earlier this year. When the story about Max's death first broke, Ms. Kuzmina was trumpeted as someone who had turned her life around. She wanted Kris back, claimed she never got the support she needed in her hometown. Russian authorities paraded her on television where she wept and pleaded for Kirill's return. She said she once wanted to kill the Shattos, but in the succeeding months, her anger has subsided. "God will decide," she says.
NO HAPPY LINING TO THIS STORY OF MAX
There is no uplifting happy ending to this story. Kris, after initially being separated form the Shattos while they were under suspicion, has been reunited with them, but the sting of what happened looms heavily in their lives. Through she has been fully exonerated in Max's death in the U.S., Laura Shatto is sometimes called terrible names whens she ventures out, and wonders if she could have done more to save him. She is angry that the Russian agency and Gladney were not more forthcoming about the boys' backgrounds, and the mother's alcoholism. Heidi Cox, the Gladney general counsel, has said the agency was never told about the mother's drinking.
Laura Shatto can not bear to step into the backyard where the accident happened without her husband, and frets that the Russian officials who landed on her doorstep one day left open the possibility that she and her husband abused the boy. She wonders if Max's death and the fallout will threaten her job as a teacher. And while Kris, at two, did not ask about his brother at first, and did not seem to remember his violent episodes or his death, when he climbed on his Laura Shatto's lap when she was showing a reporter pictures of his dead brother, he pointed to them and said "Max!" delightedly, according to the Times story. "Max!" After each violent episode, there were days of quiet, Mrs. Shatto has said.
No one says that conditions in Russian orphanages are good. Certainly some of the children raised here by American parents will fare a thousand times better than growing up in a orphanage, even with the dislocation from their own culture. But the pressure must be on getting the countries to find the means to take care of their own children, through internal adoptions or better institutions, rather than merely to ship them to Americans and Canadians thousands of miles away and hope for the best.
Jane wrote the other day of Spence-Chapin getting further into international adoption, and dropping American infant adoption from their services--due the decline in the number of placements they are able to do. Abortion and the willingness and ability of single mother to keep their babies within their families has vastly changed the landscape, at the same time the worldwide demand for babies has risen. Last week I reviewed a Lifetime movie, The Baby Sellers, about the child trafficking that occurs to feed the hungry market for human flesh as infants.
CHILDREN AS A NATURAL RESOURCE
Having educated ourselves about the corruption--kidnapping and outright theft of babies--that happens elsewhere, and documented by investigative journalists such as Kathryn Joyce and E.J. Graff, we are critical of the supposed good that international adoption does because the demand for babies in such a market pumped up by people like the Shattos, who think they are always only doing something right. True, their second son Kris appears to be doing well without the attendant problems of his other brother. Yet by being part of the system--until it was shut down, probably temporarily--in Russia, the Shattos were willing customers who borrowed and used up savings to bring the boys here. It seems awful to say it, but children in poor countries have become a profitable source of income, and children are treated like a natural resource to be exported in return for cold cash. Children have become commodities. Cash changes hands. Babies for export become part of a country's recovery plan, as happened in Korea after World War II.
World of Grief and Doubt After an Adoptee’s Death
Russian say "nyet" to US adoptions Foreign adoption may save 'one child' but hurts many
Adoption options as Russia closes its doors
The Baby Deficit
International Adoption Advocates Fight Back against decline in adoptions
The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too
Abuses in International Adoption: The Lie We Love
Abuse in International Adoption, Part 2 with new commentary
Spence-Chapin out of the infant adoption business
The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
“Kathryn Joyce’s book The Child Catchers is a compelling, meticulously researched, and insightful dissection of Conservative Christians and their participation in the international adoption complex. Joyce unmasks this new fertile ‘mission field’ of children, defined by a labyrinth of adoption agencies, organizations, and activists. By unmasking the truth behind many of these ‘adoptions’ of children with loving but impoverished families, Joyce gives voice to the children hurt by this neo-colonial Christian mission. The Child Catchers is an important must-read in order to understand the business of adoption, and the pain that can befall the child’s biological family, the child and, at times, the adoptive family.”--Anthea Butler, University of PennsylvaniaAnd see Jane's review, The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too
Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee's Return to Korea (Above)
"Trenka shakes up literary expectations in a beautiful, ponderous record of moving back to her birth country, Korea. Adopted as an infant, Trenka (The Language of Blood) was raised in the U.S.; in her latest, she faces lifelong feelings of inadequacy stirred by her move there, following an expired marriage (and several visits). Trenka uses her struggle for acceptance in Korea-her blossoming relationships with blood relatives, her struggle to achieve fluency in Korean-to re-examine a life of similar challenges in America. Trenka employs anecdotes, lists, newspaper clippings and other sources to create a multi-pronged approach to the idea of "home," though some techniques (like odd collections of key words) can be a distraction. Trenka tackles her bleak material with courage and grace, raising interesting questions, but her charm also shines in simpler memories, like her account of childhood piano lessons gone awry,"--Amazon
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