By Liz Collin, WCCO-TV
(WCCO) — A group of Minnesota mothers went all the way to Russia to seek answers on the struggles their adopted children face.
Laurie Jarvis of West St. Paul, Cheri Johnson of Maplewood and Melinda Cathey of Cottage Grove recently returned from a two-week trip to the cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow.
They found the courage to speak up after a Tennessee mother sent her adopted son back to Russia on a plane last spring.
“Our lives and homes don’t make sense to these children, and these children don’t make sense to us,” said Johnson, who has five adopted children from Russia.
Around the same time, Jarvis found her family in the headlines as well. She recently had given up her adopted Russian son after years of psychological trauma and violence. While in foster care, her 14-year-old son brought a gun to Hastings Middle School and threatened classmates. He is now in juvenile detention.
When Jarvis spoke openly about her struggles, other mothers of adopted Russian children came forward with similar stories of challenge – from anger and hostility to detachment issues and often fetal alcohol syndrome.
Melinda Cathey is the Executive Director of program called the Harbor, which helps older, forgotten Russian orphans transition out of the state system. She invited a group of mothers to travel back to the place their children were born in hopes of better understanding their children.
“I wanted to put a human face on these moms before the Russians, because in the Russian media, these moms are demonized, these families are demonized,” said Cathey. “In reality, they’re having the same problems you (Russians) are having but refuse to acknowledge.”
The women met with psychologists and caregivers in St. Petersburg orphanages. The mothers even conducted parenting seminars for young mothers who are orphans themselves, and met with psychologists at St. Petersburg University.
They also traveled to Moscow to meet with the US Embassy and top adoption officials, and found the government listened to their concerns.
“When they heard all of us tell our stories, they reacted by saying, we now know full well Russia has a big problem and we are going to be going into bilateral talks in the coming weeks,” said Jarvis.
“The majority of Russia still believes to this day that orphans are defective,” said Cathey, who says psychology and social work are still in infancy stages there. “Both governments are equally at fault for turning a blind eye to the real issues, there is a small minority of people beginning to speak out.”