Adopted Russian girls in series of foster homes N.Y. abuse zTC case drags on

children are moved 6 times

October 12, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- As the case against an Arizona couple accused of abusing their newly adopted Russian daughters on a flight to New York City drags into its fifth month, the girls have been on their own strange odyssey.

They have had to make six moves among four foster homes in two states, staying in two of the homes for only a few days.

The girls, still Russian citizens who speak little English, are technically in the custody of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, which oversees 42,000 children in foster care.

But because the parents, Richard and Karen Thorne, are from Phoenix, the girls, 4 and 5, are living in a foster home in Arizona while New York City courts consider abuse charges against the Thornes.

Every day that the case goes unresolved is another day in foster care, which takes its own toll on the girls; they previously had spent all their lives in a Russian orphanage. Adoption and foster-care experts say that the longer the girls are not living permanently with a family, the more psychological damage can occur.

"These are children who are extremely 'at risk' because of their early experiences in life," said Victor Groza, a social-work researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a specialist in both international adoption and foster care. "To keep them bouncing around in the system is to do them no service."

Nicholas Scoppetta, commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services, said in an interview Friday that the city's goal was to protect the children.

"Foster care is clearly second best to being in a home where the child is getting the attention and unqualified support and love of one or more parents, for sure," he said.

"But during the pendency of this proceeding -- when the Thornes are charged with abuse and there are five witnesses with no apparent ax to grind or ulterior motives testifying that there was abuse -- it seems only prudent to keep the children in foster care."

He added: "It's unfortunate that it's taking so long. We want to be fair to the Thornes, but we can't ignore the testimony of five witnesses," some of whom missed their connecting flights to make statements to police against the Thornes.

Judge Joseph M. Lauria, who is presiding in the Thorne case in Family Court in Queens, is overseeing 1,108 other abuse cases. He hears about 40 a day, and his own calendar is already booked solid with hearings through January.

The city removed the girls from the Thornes when their plane landed May 28 at Kennedy International Airport. The Thornes had had custody of them for several days until the 10-hour flight from Moscow.

Flight attendants and passengers have testified that the Thornes screamed at the children, slapped them and told them to "shut up." The parents testified last week that all of the witnesses misinterpreted their actions.

For example, the Thornes said, what passengers had described as a slapping sound was actually the sound of the parents clapping to music. They said that one of the girls had not wanted to be adopted in the first place, screaming from the moment they met, and both went wild on the plane.

Mrs. Thorne testified that after the girl who didn't want to be adopted had slapped her face five or six times, she was angry, frustrated and embarrassed and slapped the girl on the hand.

When the plane landed, the parents were jailed and charged with child abuse, neglect and endangering the welfare of children. Those charges are pending in criminal court, as Family Court considers whether abuse took place.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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