THE BLOG
01/03/2015 10:22 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2015

Preventing Un-Adoption Tragedies

In September 2013 Reuters shocked the world by exposing the dangerous practice of re-homing adopted children. The five-part series called "The Child Exchange" described adoptive parents giving the adopted children that they were unable to handle to total strangers found online. Many of the children were from Russia and were described as presenting a danger to their adoptive families and, in some cases, were given to unsavory people and pedophiles.

Dan Rather's recent two-hour AXS-TV report, "Unwanted Children: the Shameful Side of International Adoption" featured children adopted from India and Ethiopia who were abandoned by adopters, some after just three months, some after seven years. Some had been adopted by a couple who had been lauded for adopting 28 children, many from Ethiopia. They reportedly abused some and abandoned eight.

Rather also interviewed single mother and best-selling author Joyce Maynard. She sees herself now as having been foster mother to the two Ethiopian girls she adopted and promised to love and care for forever.

There are multiple reasons for disrupted international adoptions, primarily from Russia and Ethiopia. First, many adopt internationally because they feel unprepared to deal with the special needs of children coming from foster care.

Orphanages provide bios of children that are often incomplete, inaccurate, and downplay problems. The descriptions are accompanied by photos and the prospective adopters begin to feel love for the child and talk about bringing "their child" home. Adoption agencies say that adopters hear what they want to hear. Adopters say that because of misrepresentations they get "more than they signed up for" and are prepared to deal with.

False expectations certainly seem to have been a major part of the problem for Torry Ann Hansen who sent her 7-year-old Russian adopted son on an airplane alone back to Russia. After having the child in her home just 9 months, the single mother said:

"I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...

"After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."

The reality is that children adopted from institutional care have special needs as a result of being denied a one-on-one caretaker. The older the child, the more difficulty he or she will have forming attachments. They are described as displaying jealousy, odd eating habits, including food hoarding, and some have reportedly hurt animals, started fires and been sexually inappropriate.

Shame or Sympathy?

Following the Reuters and Dan Rather exposés, Lisa Belkin, author and former NY Times correspondent, reported on re-homing from a different perspective. Belkin focused on one mother who adopted two children from Russia. "Giving Away Anatoly" describes years of difficulties she experienced with them and how she placed one and then the other outside the home.

Belkin also wrote about Cyndi Peck who runs the Second Chance Adoption program of Wasatch International Adoptions of Utah. Peck, who sees many disrupted adoptions and unwanted adopted children, some of whom are sent to the Ranch for Kids in Minnesota, says re-homing has been "the dirty little secret of the adoption world for far too long." Her mission is:

"To make the process open, nonjudgmental and safe, rather than confused, shameful and marginally regulated, as it has been for decades....To shame the parents and push it underground when it happens is no help to these families, or these children....all the parents who give up these children are not monsters."

Dan Rather called re-homing deplorable. Peck advocates making re-homing acceptable and regulating it. She has created a niche business called Second Chance Adoptions, a service which screens those willing to take children from failed adoptions for a fee of $2000. "These adoptions are much less expensive than an international adoption, and for [some] families ... the costs are returned to you in IRS tax credits."

Screening second adopters, as Peck does, might well provide a greater safety net than either do-it-yourself re-placements or leaving children who are unwanted with adopters who become so overwhelmed they resort to drastic methods of control and abusive punishments, as has happened to many children adopted from Ethiopia and Russia. Incomprehensible abuses of IA children have included beating, caging, burning, starving, and being left outside in the cold. Nineteen cases of such abuse of Russian adopted children led to their deaths and often resulted in the conviction of their adopters for manslaughter.

Other unwanted IA children have been sent to boarding schools, mental health facilities, or to prison based on their adoptive parents' reports. Some wind up in homeless shelters or living on the streets. One Long Island, NY couple who put their two Russian adopted children in mental facilities has petitioned the court to vacate the adoption. To avert any possibility of the children being placed with others if the petition to vacate fails, Judge Edward W. McCarty III wrote::

"Such re-homing or any other descriptive phrase to classify this trade is unmistakably human trafficking in children, even absent any financial element."

All of this, despite Belkin reporting that experts say children with fetal alcohol syndrome and attachment disorder can be helped, but it takes financial and emotional reserves that not all parents have.

Better Alternatives

Blogs, forums and comments on articles about re-homing reflect adopters who agree with Peck that adopters who give up on the children they committed to care for be understood, not demonized. Others consider re-homing a form of abuse and consider people who reject the children they longed for despicable. Critics point out the trauma inflicted on the rejected children as well as the other children in these families.

Great consideration needs to be given as to whether reducing the stigma of giving up on adopted children would not inadvertently result in encouraging more terminations, turning adoption into a trial and give-back program as if children come with warranties. In addition to the harm done to the rejected children, the accumulated and publicized terminations, abandonments, abuse, and deaths have put restrictions on Ethiopian adoptions, closed adoptions from Russia, and irrevocably harmed American relations with Russia.

For all these reasons, the most important consideration is not how to respond after-the-fact to those who terminate adoptions but to prevent these tragedies. Peck and others recognize that one of the reasons second placements are successful is that the prospective adopters are fully aware of, and understand the ramifications of, accurate background information. Thus one way to greatly reduce terminated adoptions would be to stop permitting adoptions from orphanages with a track record of providing dishonest and incomplete background information for the children they are offering for adoption. Removing children from their homeland and culture based on false pretenses does not help them or their families and fewer IAs might result in more placements for domestic foster children who cannot be reunified with their original families.

The other factor that seems to increase the success of second placements is placing these special needs children in families in which they are the youngest child. Ethical adoptions arranged in the best interest of children, and not for the fees generated or to meet a demand, would incorporate these limitations on IA.

If adoption agencies were regulated and controlled social service agencies, not businesses with bottom lines -- with or without non-profit tax status -- these procedures that improve outcomes in second placements would be implemented in first placements reducing a great deal of failure, heartache for the families, and rejection for the children.