An American adoptive grandmother has become a parent to two Russian twins. Phyllis Matthey-Johnson adopted them after her own son and daughter-in-law Robert and Brenda Matthey had been indicted for manslaughter of Viktor, the brother of the twins. She testified at court against her son and his wife and did everything possible to deservedly punish them and deprive them of their adopted children. Now her four own grandchildren hate her.
The atrocious story about the death of the seven-year-old boy named Viktor Tulimov who, when adopted, was named Viktor Alexander Matthey, caused a stir both in Russia and in the USA in 2000. The investigation showed that the child died of hunger, cold and beating. The boy spent only ten months with his new parents.
Grandmother Phyllis who stood up for the Russian children and actually renounced her own son became known as soon as she appeared with the twins in the Russian Embassy in Washington. Volodya and Zhenya are 12 now. In fact they are named Jeziah and James; they practically don’t speak Russian and lead an American life. But for the death of Viktor, it would be a typical story, since adopted children, including foreign children, are no rarity in the USA.
According to the US National Council For Adoption (NCFA), Americans annually adopt 130,000 children in the USA and 20,000 from abroad. The last figure is higher than in all other countries counted together. According to the NCFA President Thomas Atwood, it can be explained by the growth of Americans’ well-being and the gradual change of the public attitude towards adoption. “We have had several generations with adopted children, and almost all of them had a positive experience”, said the expert and underlined that in the USA adoption is performed “with more respect and love”.
In 2007 US parents adopted 2,310 Russian children, more than from any other country, for instance, China or Guatemala. But the influx of Russian children to the USA has been going down during the recent several years. American families adopted 3,706 Russian kids in 2006 and 5865 children in 2004. About 50,000 Russian children have moved overseas since 1991. Fourteen of them died in the new country.
There is no excuse for ill-treatment, Atwood said. But he reminded that such cases take place in Russia and other countries as well. Besides it would be unfair if a small number of tragedies overshadowed a greater number of happy adoptions.
Indeed, many Russian children find themselves in caring and loving families once they are adopted by US-based parents. For instance, twins Max and Andy Greenfield, legless from birth, were abandoned by their mother in the Russian town of Podolsk and subsequently adopted by Ronald Greenfield from the USA. “Since I have a prosthetic leg myself, I thought I could do more for them than anybody else,” said the veteran who lost a leg during the Vietnam War.
Compassion and a wish to give a better life to a child is always involved in all cases of adoption, and with couples who have their own children it is a domineering factor, Atwood said. However, the noblest of all human desires can often disappear. Apparently, this was the case with Viktor Alexander and his brothers.
I asked Phyllis why her son and his wife needed three Russian children when they had four children of their own. She confessed that she was perplexed by that too. But at first she was proud of such a noble act. Moreover, it was greatly approved by the parish to which Robert and Brenda Matthey belonged.
Phyllis is a Catholic; her son became a Pentecostalist, truly faithful, one of those who are referred to as “reborn” in the USA. The mother could not judge the religious beliefs of her son and daughter-in-law and said that she could not understand the people who combine faith with whips. However, whips and lashes were regularly used in the Mattheys’ family, which was proved by testimonies of their own children. These children were placed under the guardianship of the pastor of the church.
The parents will stay in prison until February of 2009. This is the result of the deal between the Mattheys and US legislation that Phyllis labeled as “a travesty of justice”.
The major issue in this story is to prevent the tragedy from repeating. Judging from her own experience, Phyllis suggested US authorities should introduce obligatory regular check-ups of adopted children conducted by specially trained experts.
The practice has been put into effect in many US states and yielded unbelievable results. Two years ago New York psychologist Boris Gindis reported on several cases of unprecedented phobias with adopted Russian children. They confessed that in Russia they were afraid of the fact that “Russian children die in the USA”. At least in one case the warning came from a director of the children’s orphanage.
Atwood sees the way out in tightening up the criteria of selecting parents and looking after the further well-being of children. Almost all fatal incidents are connected with the so-called “independent” adoptions. The NCFA hopes that such adoptions will be completely banned and children will be adopted only through “agencies legalized by the Russian authorities”, Atwood said.
He associated the lower influx of Russian children to the USA with the compulsory re-registration of agencies. Worthy agencies have been accredited, which will surely show a positive influence on the qualitative results of their work in the near future, the expert believes.
Now it is usual in the USA to tell adopted children about their origin. Nobody is ashamed of that. Despite all, Phyllis Matthey Johnson agrees with this attitude. She considers that “10,000 cases of happy adoptions” outweigh one tragedy with Viktor.
She does not complain of her life, although it is hard for the lady to bring up the twins. Now they all dream to go the children’s motherland (the Amur region of Russia) to see their elder sister and two brothers.
Translated by Julia Bulygina