When foreign adoptions fail--Montana Ranch

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by TerryJ2, Jan 6, 2008.

  1. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    This was in today's paper. Very interesting and well rounded, especially for an adoption article. I especially like the emphasis on how our police and SS agencies are clueless when it comes to dealing with-these situations.


    Ranch raises hopes for adoptees
    Youths so troubled that parents weigh giving up find friend in remote haven

    By Bonnie Miller Rubin | Tribune staff reporter
    8:47 AM CST, January 6, 2008
    EUREKA, Mont.

    At first glance, the children saddling up the horses look like they were cast by Hollywood to play wholesome, athletic, all-American kids. But appearances don't tell the whole story.

    One has molested a sibling. Another has tried to kill the family pet. Lying, stealing, vandalism and fire-setting round out the list of transgressions.

    Because their parents no longer can manage them at home, the 24 youngsters -- almost all international adoptees -- have ended up on a special ranch in this remote, rugged corner of northwest Montana.

    Related links
    For adoptive parents, options are limited
    This is the final stop. Most already have logged countless hours in psychiatric units, wilderness programs and residential treatment centers, searching for answers to their disturbing behaviors. The goal is that through intense intervention and structure, their conduct will improve sufficiently so they can go home.

    But a handful will never return, moving on to new families. They are victims of an expanding phenomenon known as adoption disruption -- the official term for when parents attempt to return their adopted children.

    "Some parents just can't do it anymore; they're done," said Joyce Sterkel, who runs the Ranch for Kids, a therapeutic boarding school. "It's tragic ... and everyone is a victim."

    No one appears to keep data on adoption disruption. While still a statistically rare occurrence among the approximately 20,000 foreign-born children adopted by Americans each year, such relinquishment is happening with increasing frequency, experts said.

    One Ohio adoption agency reports receiving as many as five calls a day from parents about disruptions, up from just one or two a month a couple of years ago.

    "No one knew the magnitude of the problem," said Sterkel, 60. "The horror stories just keep on coming."

    While dissolutions of domestic adoptions are not unheard of (a decade-long study of 5,750 Illinois children adopted from foster care through the mid-1980s found a rate of 6.5 percent), it is among the international population where experts are seeing a troubling spike.

    Experts blame the jump on a confluence of factors.

    First, as Americans adopted more children from overseas -- the figures have almost tripled since 1990 -- the number of children with despairing behaviors grew, and these children are now hitting adolescence, when their rages are more dangerous.

    Moreover, many parents were unprepared for the challenges, in part because agencies glossed over their charges' complex medical histories -- or omitted them altogether. "Now, they're out there all alone ... living in a constant state of crisis," said Amy Groessl, a therapist with the Children's Research Triangle in Chicago, which serves high-risk families.

    Problems lurk beneath surface

    While some adoptive parents may undertake parenthood with unrealistic expectations, more typically they are merely ill-equipped to cope with profoundly damaged children. Due to one or more of a variety of reasons -- among them fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness, abuse, attachment disorders -- the youngsters can't function in a family, though they show no outward signs of disability.

    "These kids are the victims of every kind of abuse you can imagine -- sexual, physical, emotional," said Sterkel, who runs what may be the only therapeutic school exclusively for adopted children.

    Parents receive no hint or preparation for the tumultuous road ahead, she said: "They thought love was enough."

    So when the nuclear family melts down, parents must grapple with a heartbreaking choice: "Do we remove this child ... or do we all go down?"

    Sterkel, a nurse and mother of three grown children, knows the struggles personally as well as professionally.

    She witnessed threadbare orphanages when she lived in Russia for two years in the early 1990s as part of a humanitarian relief effort.

    After returning to the U.S., Sterkel couldn't shake the image of Katya, suffering from years of abandonment and neglect. She adopted her in 1996 at age 10. Two years later came a 14-year-old Russian boy, Sasha.

    The oldest of four, Sasha and his siblings were first adopted by a Colorado family, an arrangement that quickly unraveled. Sasha moved on to a second household, also in Colorado, while his two sisters and a brother were split up and placed in several other states.

    Soon after, Sasha tried to poison his new mother -- slipping crushed pills into her sandwich. Charged with felony assault, he was sent to juvenile detention.

    "My new mother told me that I should forget them [his siblings], but I couldn't," the 23-year-old said recently, sitting in the ranch's cozy kitchen. "I went nuts."

    When Sterkel heard his story, she decided to rescue him. The adoption was finalized in 1999. Today he helps out on the ranch, connecting with angry, hard-to-reach kids like he was.

    "I still have a lot of trust issues ... especially with women," said Sasha, his blue-green eyes narrowing. "But life is a lot better now. Of all the families I've had, this one is the best."

    There would be one more son -- Michael, now 20 -- bringing the brood to six.

    Ranch built on word of mouth

    Meanwhile, the word ricocheted around the country that this Montana woman, who speaks conversational Russian, and her husband, Harry Sutley, could offer a respite to parents in crisis. The phone would ring, and before you knew it, the Sterkel-Sutley clan was caring for a dozen or so troubled children.

    The wind howls across the craggy landscape here, 5 miles from the Canadian border. There's plenty of physical activity and virtually nowhere to run. In the early days, Sterkel didn't have much of a treatment plan beyond keeping the kids busy and nurtured.

    Today the program employs 15, but the youngsters -- most between the ages of 12 and 17 but some as young as 4 -- live in the same Spartan dorms, with their meticulously made beds and family photos on their nightstands.

    The blueprint is unchanged: The route to self-esteem is through teamwork and productivity.

    The first half of the day is devoted to academics (a former convenience store serves as a one-room schoolhouse), followed by chores. On a ranch, cows always need milking, ditches digging and fences mending. It's a bracing change for socially isolated children more accustomed to finding companionship with a TV or computer.

    The most coveted time, though, is spent with the horses -- also known as equine-assisted psychotherapy. Push a horse and he'll push back, while hefty doses of kindness, patience and respect will usually yield results. It's a way to connect with aggressive, angry children and nudge them toward new insights.

    Traditional counseling, meanwhile, is available, but only at a parent's request.

    "Here, everyday life is therapy," said Bill Sutley, Sterkel's 35-year-old son, an electrical engineer by training and an affable wearer of numerous hats, from ranch manager to math teacher. His Soviet-born wife, Elena, also works with the children.

    The typical stay is 6 months to a year, although some students stay longer. Tuition ranges from $2,950 to $3,500 a month, for room, board and school.

    Since 2004, about 150 kids have cycled through, with only six booted out -- all within the past year. One severely ill girl lasted just four days, after swallowing a fistful of batteries. Her parents and insurance already had spent more than $900,000 on treatment, with no end in sight. (Unlike special-needs kids adopted from the U.S. foster care system, no federal subsidies exist for children from overseas.)

    "It takes a lot before Bill and I will cry 'uncle,'" Sterkel said. "But we have the staff to think about."

    From here, about one-third will return home, while another third -- mostly those 16 and older -- will move on to Job Corps, an education and vocational training program run by the U.S. Department of Labor.

    The remaining third will discover that their parents are relinquishing their rights.

    Preparing parents-to-be

    Sometimes the task of telling a child that he or she will be joining a new family falls to Bill Sutley.

    "I just say: 'This is not your fault. You have a screwed-up brain.' And then I do my best to explain why the current situation isn't working. I tell them, 'Take something from this. Learn from your experiences.'"

    He rarely judges those adoptive parents who arrive at this painful conclusion. Sure, one couple sent a one-paragraph e-mail ("just incredibly lame," Sutley said). But for the most part, such families are held hostage -- especially when adoptees act out sexually or falsely allege abuse by their adoptive parents.

    "Sometimes, parents have no choice ... otherwise they risk losing the rest of their family."

    When all efforts have failed, Sterkel starts a new placement process with a call to A Child's Waiting in Akron, Ohio -- one of the few adoption agencies that works with youths they did not originally place.

    Children are listed as green, yellow and red, based on the difficulty of finding replacement families for each.

    Their numbers have risen so dramatically that A Child's Waiting plans to build transitional housing specifically to accommodate that group, said Crissy Kolarik, co-director. "The red kids have the most significant issues, such as sexual predators," she said.

    To help prevent future disruptions, agencies are emphasizing more preadoption training and postadoption support for international adoptions. Some are telling prospective parents they should assume their children were exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero.

    For one north suburban Chicago mom whose foreign-born daughter is at the ranch, the warnings came too late.

    Often accused of abuse, she said police and DCFS knocking on her door have no framework for dealing with such an impaired girl. Her short-term solution? To never be alone with the child. She is still undecided about the long term.

    "All I can tell you is that we grieve for what might have been."
  2. JJJ

    JJJ Active Member

    That place sounds amazing. I went to their website and it is only for children adopted from Russia. Too bad, I think Kanga could benefit from a place like that.
  3. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    I know. Maybe it will give other people ideas to start their own places?
  4. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    And I say -----ONCE again.

    If you are giving up a child - that child has the right to know FROM BIRTH - WHY they are being given up. No names, no tons of details - but if you've ever read Primal Scream (i think that's the name) it says a lot about how you get disconnected at birth and don't even know it mentally or subconsciously. Really Really.

    Good article Terry!
  5. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    I've never read Primal Scream, but we have an open adoption just because it makes sense. We've known too many people who have spent yrs of their lives searching for the bmoms (for some reason, rarely their bdads) and we thought, why not just have an open adoption and dispense with-all of that?

    These Russian kids don't have a chance, considering that their parents are quite often alcoholics or drug addicts, and no one knows or cares about the parental history. On top of it, most of the institutions are Institutions with-a capital "I."

    I used to subscribe to an adoption magazine and there was only one Russian adoption story in there about meeting the bmom ... and that a-mom guessed it was the bmom because she stayed in the background and never came forward. I mean, she literally stood in the hallway.

    We can express any opinions we want, but if we go for non-domestic adoptions, we have to play by their rules.

    Bless this woman in Montana.
  6. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911


    Well I'm no expert, I'm just adopted. But my thoughts as an older adoptee regarding rarely looking for bio-dad go back to the sub-conscience mind - when we think of birth - it's rare that we picture a father - because well men can't give birth. So your minds eye thinks of a woman, mother figure. And at that point whether adoptees ever admit it or not - you feel that she somehow had the final word OR you would either a. be with her or b. be with your bio father. Since you are with neither you tend to go to the thoughts of who had the ultimate say over "yes I give this child up"

    In almost every movie portrayed about adoption - you see the MOTHER carrying the child and the MOTHER saying "I'm putting the child up for adoption." You rarely see the father stepping in and saying "Now wait a minute - I want that child." Mostly because there is usually a good reason why the MOTHER is giving the child up. And there are so many good reasons - the list is endless.

    As far as seeking out a bio parent. I've had some curiosities in my life. When my health started to take a dive around 38, I was told it was genetic, did I have any history, and how valuable that would be. Well I didn't, and I said if you know it's genetic then what does it matter WHERE it came from? Not like I need a kidney or something. And the doctor laughed but agreed - it's just more HIS curiosity than mine.

    So there are two things I think all births should have - a history of physical, mental and well being. If someone died at a young age - from what. AND the reason the child was given up.

    In my mind without knowing - I felt like I had been thrown away. I have/had FANTASTIC parents from around 3 months on. So it wasn't anything that they did that made me feel like that. BUT it DID affect my choices in men, how I viewed myself, how I thought the REST of the world could treat me - and I kept having friends say "WHY do you let so & so treat you like that?" and I never knew until I did hypnosis. It was bizarre. My brain knew exactly what made me have poor decisions but it was buried so deep I had NO IDEA how to get to it to even work ON it.

    I think = a lot of adoptees that are exhibiting out of control behavior would benefit from someone saying to the birth Mother - OKAY before you give this child up - we need to know:

    Are any of you mentally ill on fathers or mothers side -
    Are any of you from a family with a history of cancer, diabetes, etc.

    What is the reason you are giving the child up:
    Better life that we could never give due to illness
    Better life because I am not married to the baby's father
    Better life because baby's father unknown
    Better life because I am poor, old, etc.

    I mean you get the idea but I'd rather have dealt with the truth when I heard "YOU were adopted." Because I know my next question was "WHAT? YOU aren't my real mom, well where is she? Why did she give me up? Didn't she want /love me? "

    And my Mother handled it beautifully with her answers about the fact that I was wanted, loved, of course I was wanted but for some reason (would have liked to have known) I was given to be her daughter instead." I mean I was like 4 1/2 or 5 and I remember it all like (snap)

    I'm glad for my sake it wasn't open adoption - At a certain point I reached a decision that I was who I was - with or without biological parents - I'm here. AND the fact that in your mind as an adoptee you tend to make up scenarios as to WHY you weren't wanted which feel like the ONLY thing you have that connects you to anyone or anything - and even thinking I was probably a princess and I'd get a dowry when I turned 21, no 31, no 41 - oh it must be 50...thoughts like that still plague your mind - and then you see a woman in Walmart with 7 kids, all dirty, her yelling and screaming and you think - OKAY THAT could be - and you realize you are better off where you are than to go looking.

    I was lucky - I had love all around me my whole life. Had I not felt that - Probably would have looked for both parents.

    Now I just say THANKS and live my life - To make myself proud, my Mom proud and my biomom proud. But that didn't happen without therapy - believe me. And whats worse is I never knew it.

  7. meowbunny

    meowbunny New Member

    My daughter's kind of lucky, I guess. She knew her biomom. She knew her biomom fought in court to keep her. She saw her biomom after the adoption was finalized for awhile. I always went out of my way to let my daughter know that her biomom loved her dearly, just had no clue how to be a parent. She did the best she could, but it really and truly wasn't good enough.

    Strangely, from about age 10 on, she has never asked about her biomom at all. Not a single comment from then until today unless someone asks her and then she simply says her biomom didn't know how to be a mother. Part of me has always felt bad for my daughter that she seems to have no interest in seeing her biomom but it is her choice and I will support her either way.

    I do have a little of the family medical history. Not as much as I would like, but at least enough to give my daughter some ideas.

    Okay, now that I've gone off-topic, back to the Ranch. I've heard many good things about it. I do wish it would open up to any Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) child. It sounds like the perfect fit -- much better than most of the RTCs for kids with attachment disorders just because ADs are so hard to treat.
  8. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    and then you see a woman in Walmart with 7 kids, all dirty, her yelling and screaming and you think - OKAY THAT could be

    So true, but as you pointed out, most people don't figure it out until middle age. Your worries, concerns and even depression are relatively common and very understandable.

    So often, we understand things intellectually, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. It takes yrs to work through it all.

    Thanks for the info on bdads and wondering about them.

  9. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Oh, by the way, in our case, we asked the bmom and grandmothers on both sides for their medical histories. Not much info there ... except now, when difficult child comes up with-different Dxs, the one grandmother will say, "Oh, R had that happen at that age."
    Say WHAT? Thanks for telling us!
    So filling out a standard medication history isn't all it's cracked up to be.
    But it's a start.
  10. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911


    You are correct - and even if there was some mental illness (thinking of my own sons Paternal side) NO ONE would ever admit to it because they are part of the problem. I saw it, but didn't know what it was till years later.

    Like I said - it didn't matter to me. But it does make me wonder some days -even now; because some of the issues I deal with are very "region" or race specific.

    Ima wee bit O'everything. lol
  11. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Our difficult child told us she wishes we had not told her she was adopted from the beginning. I'm not suggesting that's the way to go but I did find it interesting. She said she would have rather not known and found out later. I asked her if she would have felt we lied to her if we had done that and she said no...who knows.

    Most adoptees do not consider the boyfriend because they don't understand the role the man plays in conception until much older. My difficult child thought that my husband was her boyfriend, she didn't realize there was another man out there. No wonder she hated me so much since she thought I took him away from her bm. To this day she still doesn;t ask anything about her boyfriend and has expressed no desire to find him, although she does want to find her bm.

    This ranch sounds like a wonderful place. I'm not surprised at the number of foreign adoptions that are failing. We have a fellow adoptive mom who started a foreign adoption agency in our area years ago and we predicted it. It's no wonder when you see the number of domestic adoptions that are troubled and the problems with kids who were left in orphanages in other countries just magnifies the whole situation.

    We did receive social and medical history but it was very sketchy and only left more questions. When we contacted the agency two years ago to get clarification the bm promised to write a letter and give us information and never did.

    I can't even imagine how my difficult child feels knowing that she is not being raised by the person that gave birth to her, and that that person decided for whatever reason that she couldn't parent her. It took almost 16 long, hard years for difficult child to accept us.

  12. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911


    WOW - you know I have often thought the same thing. And at one point I did tell my parents I wish they had just kept it to themselves. Mostly I think because knowing didn't make it better or worse - it just complicated things for me.

    And I have wondered over the years if I had not been told but then found out later how I would feel, and what I think now is that I would have felt betrayed or hidden.

    And yes - at her age (16) is about when I started to figure out that I was loved, no one was leaving me again, I wasn't going to be abandoned - but I still made poor choices and had NO idea why.

    At 38 - I found some solace in therapy and hypno therapy. The attachment issues were there - whether I had been told or not. You somehow just know I think.

    You are the Mom, you have been wonderful, you have stuck by her - and if there is any proof that it gets better for a Mom - I am it because now my Mom would tell you I am her heartbeat. She is my love. Wasn't always that way - but I'm so glad it is now.