US: States moving to ban private re-homing of adopted children

Several states are working on legislation to ban the private transfer of adopted children after reports surfaced of families “re-homing” adopted children through social media, often into the homes of pedophiles and other abusers.

News agencies reported last fall that some parents were transferring custody of their unwanted adopted children to strangers they met on the internet, often with no government oversight. The practice was widely referred to as “re-homing” and Yahoo groups and Facebook pages had even been set up to assist in the practice.

Reuters analyzed messages advertising 261 children on one Yahoo group and found that children were offered for re-homing at a rate of about one per week. About 70% of the children offered were products of international adoption between the ages of six and thirteen.

Many of the adoptive parents listed the children in posts such as these obtained on one Yahoo group by Reuters:

“Born in October of 2000 – this handsome boy, ‘Rick’ was placed from India a year ago and is obedient and eager to please.”

“We are looking to rehome an African American/Caucasian little girl who was adopted at 3 years old in a private adoption.”

Many of the posts contain heartbreaking quotes from adoptive parents such as this one:

“I had wanted to go back for another daughter from China but this one is so difficult and so hard to love that I can tell you with absolute CERTAINTY I will never do it again.”

One post, titled “better fit” needed for small 13 year old, homeschooled Christian girl, stated in part:

“She is very small for her age, somewhat immature (her interests are more like those of an 8 or 9 year old girl–she loves crafts and animals etc), she’s behind in her schooling but mainly that’s because of her victim mentality (school work is too hard, boo hoo hoo) but she’s very sweet and quiet and obedient.”

Yahoo quickly shut down the re-homing group and others like it when these reports came to light. It is unknown how many groups still exist elsewhere on the internet.

Human Trafficking Search says of re-homing:

““Rehoming” describes when adoptive parents find a new home for their adopted child without notifying or consulting the proper authorities. It is a term commonly used by animal shelters and pet owners to advertise a cat or dog up for adoption. Those in the adoption profession euphemistically refer to this as “adopting from disruption.”

Although no money is exchanged between the adoptive parents, rehoming is an underground network used to obtain children illegally without their consent, making it a form of human trafficking.”

They go on to explain:

“Technically, rehoming an adopted child is legal. Much like if a parent of a biological child couldn’t take care of the child, they could legally grant guardianship to another family. Child protective services only steps in if they suspect maltreatment of the child. If the child is foreign-born, the state doesn’t follow up with visits and most countries don’t follow up with the families that adopt their children. The majority of rehoming children is done via the Internet with websites like Yahoo Groups and Facebook. Much like rehoming a pet, the parent will post a photo and information about the child and prospective parents can respond to the message.”

In most states, a lawyer is not required to transfer custody of an internationally adopted child. Both sets of parents simply sign a short document and there is no state involvement at all.

Without government safeguards, some children have been placed in the care of abusers and others who escaped scrutiny. Reuters reported that in one case, a mother gave her nine year-old adopted son to a pedophile in a motel parking lot in Wisconsin within hours of posting an advertisement for the child on a Yahoo group.

NBC also reported on the issue last fall and told the stories of some of these young survivors and what they went through in their re-homing tragedies.

No state or federal laws specifically prohibited re-homing until now. On Wednesday, Wisconsin became the first state to ban the private transfer of adopted children.

The Wisconsin law now makes it illegal for anyone not licensed by the state to advertise a child over age one for adoption or any other custody transfer, both in print and online. Parents who wish to transfer custody of a child to someone other than a relative must seek permission from a judge, with violators facing up to nine months in jail or up to $10,000 in fines.

Ohio, Colorado and Florida also have introduced legislation aimed at protecting children from re-homing.

“Children are not property or used furniture to be advertised to anybody on social media sites without the background checks and protections for their welfare,” said Democratic state Sen. Charleta Tavares, a sponsor of the Ohio bill.

At the federal level, a group of 18 members of Congress is seeking hearings to “identify ways to prevent these dangerous practices.” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called for action in a letter to Obama administration officials, writing that it was “stunning” that “this practice of advertising children, usually over state borders, does not seem to violate any federal laws.”

Americans have adopted approximately 243,000 children from other countries since the late 1990’s. It is unknown how many of these children remained in their adoptive homes, but Reuters points out:

“If the failure rate of international adoptions is similar to the rate at which domestic adoptions fail – estimates by the federal government range from about 10 percent to 25 percent – then more than 24,000 foreign adoptees are no longer with the parents who brought them to America.”

While most adopted children were undoubtedly adopted into loving homes where they were deeply wanted, Reuters also reported on the overwhelming issues some of these parents have encountered. Good Housekeeping also featured the story of one adoptive mother who chose to give up one of her adopted children.

Facebook pages such as Second Chance Adoptions still exist to help parents find new homes for their adopted children, though the page is quick to clarify “this is not a re-homing” on most listings of children.

The International Adoption Center is calling for federal action, saying:

“IAC would like to see states and the federal government pass laws that require parents to report to child welfare officials whenever they sign temporary guardianship papers, and for the child welfare officials to investigate the circumstances. The law would need to include a provision that schools, social workers, health care workers and other mandated reporters notify child welfare officials of these arrangements when they find out about them so as to ensure that children are protected in case child welfare officials were not notified.”

Reuters has also reported on U.S. lawmakers calling for action to curb internet child trading.

Meanwhile, the Child Welfare League of America has started a petition to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid & Speaker Boehner for a federal mandate to end private transfers of custody of adopted children.

Adoption advocacy organizations have also spoken out about the issue. In a joint statement, Voice for Adoption, North American Council on Adoptable Children, Child Welfare League of America and Donaldson Adoption Institute said:

“No child should go through agony like this. We know the vast majority of adoptive families are committed to their sons and daughters, and do all they can to keep their children safe and sound and to help them overcome early losses or traumas. But the practice of parents – of any sort – giving their children away to unapproved, unlicensed strangers is anathema to us and must be prevented and prosecuted.”

You can read the full statement here and find out more on what you can do to help.

The Supporting Adoptive Families Act, proposed by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, also aims to help adoptive children and their families. The act would boost assistance for adoptive families through training, counseling, and parent groups.

For help and support raising adopted children or information on adoption, see: