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February 15th, 2010
11:52 PM ET

Another side of adoption: What a 'Ranch for Kids' is doing to help

Program Note: Don't miss Gary Tuchman's report on the 'Ranch for Kids,' tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent


On January 12th, a story I reported was scheduled to air on AC360°. But later that day, the horrifying earthquake hit Haiti and the story was put on hold while we covered the breaking news in Port-au-Prince.

At that point, we did not realize the irony of our story that was supposed to air. It is a report about orphans from other countries who are adopted by parents in the United States; orphans that sometimes have serious emotional problems as they grow up.

After I arrived in Haiti, I found myself doing several stories about orphans in Haiti, and their prospective parents in the U.S. who at first wanted to know if they were alive; and then wanted to get them to their new homes as soon as possible.

We are now also doing stories about the missionaries who were arrested on allegations of trying to kidnap orphans. It is likely we've done more orphan stories on CNN over the last month than we've done in years.

Well, now it's time to tell you about the story we were scheduled to air last month. It's an important story, and now – because of the tragedy in Haiti – an especially timely topic.

What happens when an orphan is adopted as a baby or a toddler and little or nothing is known about the birth parents? That is sometimes the case when a child is adopted from other countries. The great majority of the time everything is absolutely fine. But sometimes, when a baby has been ignored for the first two or three years of life, and/or when the mother was an alcoholic during pregnancy, the child can end up with serious issues as he or she gets older. Many times, the children become violent and uncontrollable, and parents don't know what to do.

In the small Canadian border town of Eureka, Montana, a grandmother is doing the best she can to help out. Joyce Sterkel runs the "Ranch for Kids." It's a facility for parents who have tried everything, and don't know what else to do for their unruly and often violent adopted children.

Producer Ismael Estrada, cameraman Kevin Myers, and I met some wonderful children there who broke our hearts when they told us they want to be good, but often just can't control themselves. We don't want to scare or alarm you if you are considering adopting a child from another country. But we hope you'll watch, because there is a lot to learn. We did.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Gary Tuchman
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Rebekah

    I was adopted from a foreign country when I was about 3 years old. I had no name, no place of birth, no date of birth. I lived in an orphanage for a year and have the physical scars of abuse that is no longer in my memory; however the emotional scars long remain. I am active in the adoptive community and talk with couples who are pursing adoption to help them understand that children who are adopted from any country, have special needs and not just needs that can be healed by food and water, but by understanding and patience. It takes a special person to adopt a child whose nightmares are based on real life and torment us long into adult-hood. I have been blessed to know many adoptees who are well adjusted, well educated, loving adults with families of their own. So to all of you parents out there with children whose torments you wish to ease; there is hope and there are many success stories because I am one of them.

    February 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  2. Samara

    Can't wait to see the whole story.

    The most important thing adoptive parents can be told is to accept your child for who he/she is. I am adopted, and always felt 'different'. My parents poo-poo'd this notion and thus I've never felt really 'worthy' of their love. That is what Alec was going through, his way of acting out through violence was his way of pushing those who love you away BEFORE they can leave you.
    My heart aches for these children and their parents. God bless the woman trying to help in Montana..

    February 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  3. pistachio

    There is never only one reason why children turn violent and out of control. There are as many reasons as there are people in the world. Everyone has different thoughts running through their heads even children who have not been adopted and raised in the same home. My brother, sister and I are totally different even though we have the same parents, and my own 3 children could not be more different from each other and I even have one son who I gave up for adoption at birth who I reconnected with when he was 27 years old. He is a very gentle and a nonconfrontational human being. It would be wonderful if all a person needed was love but each of us requires something different for our emotional makeup. I do believe that the older a child is before they are adopted the more emotional baggage they come with. Also, many years ago the couple who lived next door to me were adopting a boy who was 11 at that time from a place in CT. I was sent a form to fill out for character witnesses to the couple adopting the boy. I filled it out to the best of my knowledge after being friends with this couple for a few years. I must say that after they adopted him noone from that agency EVER contacted me again to follow up and see what I was observing about their parenting skills. I thought that was kind of odd that once he was adopted noone in the agency or the state bothered to follow up with those of us who vouched for the adoptive parents. Now about the children adopted recently from Haiti, some of those children are at the age where they may have started acting out even if they were with their own parents so I am curious to see what will happen with them in the near future being brought to another country.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  4. Stacey

    Too many people don't think about all the possibilities before adopting children. Just as your biological children can (and do) have a variety of problems, so do adopted children. Too many times parents expect adopted children to be perfect, so every problem is magnified. I have also seen times when biological parents are supposed to just accept their children's problems, but adopted parents are sainted for handling their children's problems. No matter how they come into your life, once you are a parent, those children are yours.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  5. Neal

    I was adopted, my parents loved me but there was an overwhelming feeling of being an outsider, like something wasn't there. I couldn't see myself in my either of my parents. I couldn't see myself in my brothers who were not adopted. This was and still is an enormous void in my life. My records are "sealed" and I have been unable to find my birth parents. I was born in Dallas in 1971, April 3. I love my adoptive parents but I attribute my troubled attitude while growing up to this sense of difference that was so inherent. Chances are my birth parents had many shortcomings and this is why they either gave me up or I was taken. Troubled parents giving up a troubled child. This is more Nature than Nurture. My father and both brothers are attorneys and after years of feeling unworthy and comparing my accomplishments or lack of to them I chose to go back to college. I am now an RN with a Bachlors degree. I just recently found out that my birth grandmother was an RN, my birth mother worked in a hospital at the time of my birth and my father was reportedly a medic during vietnam. I am content... Go figure.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:27 am |
  6. Sylvia

    We have adopted six children from domestic foster care and two have varying levels of attachment disorder. Many of my friends are adoptive parents, as well, so we are speaking as people who are knowledgeable about the subject from an experiential as well as observational stance.

    Comments such as the one posted by John suggesting that "love is enough" when dealing with children with severe attachment issues perpetuates two very dangerous adoption myths.

    The first is that "love is enough." Sadly, that is not true. Love in itself does not heal severe attachment issues, nor does it heal mental illness, repair fetal alcohol syndrome, reverse prenatal drug exposure, or impact a host of other issues that often don't reveal themselves for years after an adoption is finalized. Often "love" as it is traditionally shown from parent to child can have the exact opposite effect on an attachment disordered child, making the situation worse instead of better. Love is NOT always enough. Parents who are considering adopting MUST be told the truth and MUST go into the adoption realizing that a child with attachment disorder will not "get better" if shown enough love. Other children in the home may or may not help, and it is always possible that weaker children – and animals – will be in danger from an attachment disordered child.

    The second myth is the underlying and subtle belief that somehow "I" could impact this child more than his her foster or adoptive parents. One of the main symptoms of attachment disorder is the child's charm and apparent "bonding" with those outside the family unit. This gives relatives, friends and, unfortunately, social workers, therapists and potential adoptive parents the feeling that they will succeed with the attachment disordered child where others have failed. This subtle undermining of the parents is not only devastating for the parents, but exacerbates the child's attachment issues by keeping him/her from getting close to the parents. This myth can lead to multiple placements and failed adoptions once the honeymoon is over and the attachment issue rears up once again.

    Attachment is a relatively new field and the average therapist is unable to provide any meaningful assistance. There are many good books on the subject, and a Google search will yield some attachment clinics and/or specialists. Nonetheless, the therapies may not be effective in increasing the child's attachment and for some families, out-of-home care is the only safe solution to a tragic and traumatic situation.

    Until someone has lived in fear of the attachment disordered child, he or she has no right to judge the actions of parents who have clearly reached a point where they can no longer effectively parent their child. Kudos to them for protecting the rest of their family and making a courageous choice about care and treatment for their child. I wish them the best.

    In the meantime, if you are considering adoption, please remember there are many warning signs of attachment disorder, but we generally choose to interpret them in other ways. I encourage families to do a lot of reading and research on the subject so they can make an informed choice about whether to accept or decline placement of a child.

    February 22, 2010 at 2:39 am |
  7. Trudy

    I was most disturbed about the young boy that had to find out his mother didn't want him while he was being filmed by your crew. That doesn't seem very kind. That just strikes me as media exploitation. What did he do to deserve being bounced around like that?

    February 22, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  8. reshalefhe

    Anderson, while the caveat is necessary with an adoption of any child, I believe your reference to the total state of Haitian children with regard to adoption is a bit off. Throw some statistics out there in addition to "what one would expect in adopting a child (international)". Bring into focus those facts that highlight the need a loving home and care. Don't make Haitian children look like monsters to be dealth with if adopted.

    February 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  9. Gary

    We were pleased to be able to complete domestic adoptions of "healthy" infants in 1999 and 2002. Unfortunately both had issues with fetal alcohol and drug exposure, and one had a hereditary issue with bipolar disorder. All of these issues were unknown to us before the adoptions were completed (using facilitators and adoption lawyers), despite meeting the birth parents and performing the usual private and state agency investigations. Today these children have psychiatrists, psychologists, speech therapists, tutors, vision therapy, and dyslexic therapy. The bipolar child has caused several police visits and makes his mother cry regularly. I encourage potential adoptive parents to understand that the possible downside is very real, and realize that all the parties mentioned above have a vested financial interest in you proceeding – regardless of the outcome.

    February 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  10. renee

    I adopted a daughter from China almost 15 years ago-I love her dearly but life with her has been a challenge. Her family history is unknown-she was found outside a police station as a newborn. She spent the first 16 months in an orphanage. At the time we adopted her, the thinking was if you get the child before age 2-3 years, you would have a good chance of overcoming the effects of a less than optimal infancy. I believed that love, good nutrition and early intervention would give a positive outcome.
    We have been taking her to therapists and doctors since she was 3 years old. She has significant emotional and cognitive issues as well as some physical problems. I believe some of the problems are genetic and some due to spending too much time in an orphanage. I guess the point of this is: love cannot overcome every problem-it cannot change a less than optimal start. My daughter may never live independently-she will probably always require some assistance to function and live. I wonder who will be there for her if/when I am not here. This could have also happened with a birth child. I continue to encourage people to adopt-just be prepared that you will probably face some additional issues with an adopted child.

    February 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Dee

    I know many people who work with special needs children. I also know people who've been adopted. I believe that children with ADHD are highly creative, but their creative outlet is either blocked, or not recognised. These children should get into group activity as quickly as possible – the faster their talent is discovered, the better, rather than labelling them with a condition, which often results in a bigger complex. Kids who have excessive energy sometimes end up being amazing athlethes, dancers – things like that, once they get some kind of discipline going. Some people believe that children with ADHD are Indigo Crystal children, who have this quality for a spiritual reason. I'm not doctor, but I am not so sure about drugging kids, just to keep them docile – masks the problem, rather than dealing with it the underlying issue. I have a couple of friend's who have ADHD kids, who've gotten them involved in many activities, which has greatly helped. They need a lot of love and affection to thrive also. I believe that parent's do not get enough guidance before adopting children. There are certain ways in which to approach a child, which people don't realise – quite often very simple forms of communication, whic do not happen, so the child can't relate to the adult, which leads to frustration. I think if a child is made feel like the World owes them something, the'll often be difficult , but if they are brought up loved knowing that there are other kids just like them, then they tend to do better.

    February 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  12. Lynn

    My cousin has first hand experience with The Ranch for Kids. She adopted a sweet 6 year old from outside the US. The first 5 years were fine but when the girl hit puberty all hell broke loose. The girl became violent toward her and seemed to revert in age. My cousin worked very hard for four years to find help for her daughter – therapies of all kinds, medical doctors, pills – anything to help her daughter. Finally she found The Ranch for Kids and was thrilled at first. Long story short – the Ranch over promised and really under delivered. The girl was there for 5 months before moving to another facility in Utah with more supervision and more educational opportunities. She did make some emotional progress at the Ranch but there was only so much they could do.

    February 21, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  13. Ron Miller

    The brain has more connections than the NYC phone system, and on those kids the wireing is screwed up, "love" will not fix them, i do not have the answer but it is not "love them enough"

    February 21, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  14. debi

    I agree with naomi. I too adopted right here at home. Although I trained with the state to participate in foster care, I adopted outside the system, so was "kicked out" of the state program. Because I had knowledge of what happens to kids when they are wards of the state and go into foster care, I took the three older siblings of a 7 month old I adopted. I was deeply offended when a pediatrician I took the baby to told me I was a brave woman, that you never know what you are getting in adoption, and you can end up with a mass murdered. I was sure that environment had everything to do with raising children to become productive adults. If I could see that pediatrician today I would apologize to her for my ignorance 13 years ago.

    The oldest, who was 13, was selling drugs out of my house and in my ignorance I had no idea. He has since been kicked out of the service and in prison.
    The second was 10 and got discharged from the service before finishing bootcamp for drugs. He has been out of work for 6 months, having been fired for stealing at his last job.
    The third was 7 and at 21 is the mother of a 3 year old with no job, no car and no education. You see, they all three were unable to complete high school. She also has serious problems with fidelity in relationships.
    My 14 year old has managed better than the others, although he has ADHD to the point of total class disruption without his meds and for the first time is faiing in school.
    Their mother was a drug addict and died of AIDS and their father is an alcoholic. I have found that their aunt is schizophrenic and their grandmother was bi-polar.

    Children don't get a choice of parents, family or genes. They still deserve love and a chance at a better life. I cannot change who they are or what they do, but I can give unconditional love, the one consistent thing in their lives.

    There are many children right here in the US that need homes and a chance. Other countries have problems too, but we need to help ourselves and our children before we go on crusades to other countries. Take care of those at home if you want to adopt. Help OUR country for a change.

    February 21, 2010 at 5:52 am |
  15. Josie Behnke

    Yes adotion can be both a wonderful and a nightmare, especially if problems come up that the adoptive parents are unaware of. Yes it can be from both domestic and foriegn (sp) adoptions. The father of my two kids and his siblings are all adopted, all had their own issues the family had to deal with over the years; some disorders are genetic, so the parents adopting might not know until the child is older.

    At least there are places out there to help parents that do need the help. Many parents that adopt have a huge heart! At least that is what I have found out through experience.

    February 20, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  16. Laura

    PLEASE make parents, and the general public, aware of the many issues adopted children can face. I have two, American, adopted children and the past twenty-seven years have been a nightmare. We have dealt with violence, lying, stealing, drug use, problems at school, etc. As another poster stated there is NO help. The adoptive family is on its own. Instead of trying to help, the court and school systems blame the adoptive parents for something they have done or failed to do. Usually these troubled children are reacting to things they can't even remember. Both of my children have told me many times that they have never felt happy. While many adoptions go well there should be some help for the children and parents of those that don't.

    February 20, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  17. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    Gary,

    I was looking forward to seeing this report when it was first announced, but as it turns out it will be even more important and meaningful because it is being shown after the many stories on the Haitian adoptions that you and Anderson reported on.

    Your talk with Alec was sad, but you treated him gently. You have a real talent for connecting with people of every age, whether it be seniors or children. There is something very approachable about you.

    As you said, you didn't do this report to scare people, but I think it will give prospective adoption parents information on a side of this issue they may have never even considered, but one they need to be aware of.

    Jo Ann

    February 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  18. naomi

    Please realize that these issues occur in domestic adoption as well. I have two adopted children through the foster care system, they are not biological siblings and both have these major issues.

    Or 12 year old son, whom we adopted at the age of 7 1/2 is extermly violent, has RAD's, Bi-Polar, ADHD. None of this we were told before adopting, we were never told after either. We found out through a Dr, after she dug through his medical records, that he was already diagnosed before we adopted him, but the state took him off the meds, just before he moved in with us, so we wouldn't know. That was not only unfair to us, but to him as well. Imagine being sick and suddenly stopping your meds??!!!

    I could go on with the nightmare we have lived, but I too, don't want to scare off adoptive parents. Just make sure to go into this with your eyes wide open, realize, if it goes bad, you are on your own, don't expect any help from the case workers and former therapist. They seem to disappear the minute you sign the papers.

    Don't ever believer the line " they will change with love"!!!! It is going to take allot more then love to change violence, stealing, lying ect......

    February 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  19. Isabel Siaba, Brasil

    Wow!! The report looks very interesting and timely just now. And much better it is now shown because many people are thinking about adopting children.

    Motherhood (and fatherhood too) is not easy. There are wonderful moments, but there are some very complicated and difficult in that relationship so special.

    I'll be looking forward this report.

    February 15, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  20. julie

    I am adopted myself. I can also tell you that these same issues occur with domestic adoptions. I have never been violent but other issues have come up. Adoption is wonderful and I am grateful but many of us need therapy as soon as possible.

    February 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  21. Cindy

    Unfortunately a lot of kids that are adopted were abused or neglected and have major issues that have to be dealt with. Luckily the parents of these children haven't just given up on them and gave them to foster care or what not. Thankfully there are places where they can get help. Looking forward to this report tonight.

    Cindy..Ga.

    February 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  22. john Laforme

    Anderson,
    I honestly believe if you show children love they will have a normal life sometimes mixing with other children will help in this area .
    They feel this way because their natural parents failed to show them any attention or love

    February 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm |

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