Abusive re-homing system unmasks cracks in broken adoption system
Last September, Reuters, in its multi-series piece, "The Child Exchange," exposed the dangers of privately re-homing legally adopted children to online solicitors. From 1999 to 2013, 249,694 children were adopted from foreign countries; Reuters estimates that at least 24,000 (about 10 percent) have failed if it is in line with the low end of domestic adoption failures. After adopting, many parents have discovered additional special needs or behavioral issues that were not previously disclosed. Reaching the end of their rope, with little to no support from adoption agencies or the government, many have turned to online forums to "disrupt" their adoptions and re-home their children with strangers. Using Facebook or Yahoo groups, such as Adopting-from-Disruption, the original family seeks out a new family and often transfers their child to a virtual stranger. The practice reveals dangerous cracks in the current adoption system and solving the re-homing issue requires more than just criminalizing the practice.
Because the original family, which is desperate to get rid of the child, are the only ones vetting the new parents, the online underground market is easily manipulated. When Reuters analyzed the information provided by posters in the same group, they found that at least 70 percent of the children listed were foreign-born (22 percent were unclear), 18 percent had a history of physical or sexual abuse and over 50 percent had some sort of special needs. Children born overseas were especially vulnerable to exploitation as they often don't speak the language, don't know anyone in the country and don't have any biological relatives to look out for them. Reuters detailed several of the new families where sexual abuse occurred, but the most bewildering example is that of Nicole and Calvin Eason who have a history of neglect (leading to the accidental drowning of an 18 month old child) and child sexual abuse. Their own two biological children were taken away from them before they began taking in re-homed children. Between 2007 and 2013, in addition to the 10 year old boy that was removed from Nicole and Randy's care, seven re-homed children were taken in by the Easons, and removed either by concerned third parties, the original parents or the authorities.
It all stems from numerous flaws in the original adoption system. According to the Donaldson Adoption Institute, 47 percent of children adopted from overseas have special needs and many were undiagnosed or not fully detailed to the adopting parents before the adoption was final. Adopting inside the Hague Adoption Convention-a multi-country agreement that regulates adoptions between different countries-requires 10 hours of training. Countries outside of that, such as Ethiopia, the country most represented on Adopting-from-Disruption, have no resources. Post-adoption there is no follow up, no tracking of the success of the adoption and no support. Data from the Donaldson Adoption Institute revealed that 57 percent of parents had to seek out therapy and other post-adoption assistance themselves. Re-adoption is time-consuming, expensive and often the original family is told they must be investigated for possible neglect or abuse. Private re-homing is a cheaper and quicker option for both parties.
With all this in mind, is the practice of re-homing illegal yet? Yes and no. Re-homing children often uses a "power of attorney" document which allows for transfers of government benefits and guardian privileges. With no lawyers or government involvement, and lacking the requirement to file the document anywhere, it's a quick way to transfer a person. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is the only legal safeguard and requires that authorities in both states must be notified and approve when a child is moved to a new family in another state. It is largely unknown and unenforced; all police and authorities interviewed by Reuters had never heard of it. Also, while it is an agreement between all 50 states, laws governing enforcement, level of penalty and specifics are unclear and inconsistent. Generally, as was the case with the Easons, children are most often removed from their new home and returned to the original parents, who had already actively been trying to get rid of their child. Neither party will face criminal charges.
After the release of the series last September, several steps were taken such as urging Facebook to take down re-homing groups and more severely criminalizing the practice. While the legality of re-homing should be discussed, re-homing and the abuses is merely as symptom of a broken adoption system as previously outlined. Re-homing is current the singular terrible answer to the viruses in the current adoption system, but priority should be given towards treating the causes of the problem.
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