There has been a great deal of attention in the U.S. to the recent arrest, guilty pleas, and deportation of ten Russian spies. Although those involved have left the U.S to be returned to Russia, as a child welfare professional, I cannot help but think of the future for the children involved. As of this writing, it appears that all but one of the minor children will be leaving the U.S. One teenager is essentially orphaned here in the U.S.
The fate of these children continues to weigh heavy on my mind. While some say that the very young should have an easy adjustment to life in Russia, I would disagree. After all, they are leaving behind the friends, neighbors, and the only country they have known in their short lives. There is ample evidence pointing to the critical bonding and attachment that occurs in early childhood, which has been disrupted by an extremely unusual and traumatic event. This has no doubt been a very confusing and disturbing time for them, with the arrest of their parents, the uprooting and placement into state custody with persons who are likely strangers, and the move to a country foreign to them.
There are so many levels and layers to be considered when evaluating this situation. To start with, recent research points to the trauma experienced by children who witness the arrest of a household member. Add to this the unfathomable trauma of learning that everything about one’s life has been a lie, including their names, family life, etc., perpretrated by those most trusted of all, their parents. Then there is the separation and associated trauma, again, which we have come to know impacts a child throughout their life. (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is devoted to providing research and resources to professionals and families about children impacted by trauma.)
Although there is little known about the long-term consequences for children of spies, anecdotal information from children such as Robert Meeropol, son of executed spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, suggests that these children will have a difficult life ahead of them.
I can only hope that they, and all other victims of trauma, are surrounded by persons sensitive to the challenges they will face and that there will be supportive, caring persons available to provide guidance and nurturing as they grow, develop, and learn to navigate in a world that has been turned upside down.