Sorry I’ve been absent for a while. It’s been an extremely busy winter applying to graduate school and fellowships. I’m excited to announce that I was admitted to all nine of the universities to which I applied. I was also selected for a two-year, paid research fellowship in child maltreatment. I am thrilled to begin this next chapter of my academic journey and know that I’ll have new insights and experiences to share along the way. Below, I’ve attached one of the papers I wrote during the application process on a concerning issue to me in social work and, in particular, child welfare.
One of the most concerning issues in international adoption is the private rehoming of children. Adoption is seen as a permanent solution for children whose parents are unable to raise them, but this is not always the case. Adoption dissolution is the separation of legal relationship between adoptee and adoptive parent after adoption is finalized. The Children’s Bureau reports between 1-5% of adoptions dissolve. This figure, however, ignores children who do not enter the public child welfare system and are instead privately rehomed online. There is a large network of people looking to rehome their adopted children. Others seek children from dissolved adoptions because the process is free, easy, and unregulated. A few messages online, a notarized power of attorney form, and a transfer of the child from one car to another are all that is required to change the guardianship. A 2013 Reuters investigation suggests that 24,000 international adoptees in the U.S.A. may no longer be with their original adoptive parents. Rehoming of children is a child welfare and safety issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
Society’s promotion of adoption as an altruistic practice leads some people to adopt with the misguided belief that traumas will quickly pass. The lack of mandatory post-adoption support services leaves these families feeling overwhelmed and out of control when their notions are disproved. Some adoptive parents become disillusioned when they receive what they perceive as “damaged goods” and are willing to do anything to release their responsibilities. Since there is no regulation of private rehoming, vetting, or home study, there are no mechanisms to verify that new families are physically and emotionally safe. Additionally, there is no way to know if children receive adequate attention or therapy for additional traumas of being transferred from one family to the next.
Maintenance of this problem is upheld at agency, governmental, and societal levels. No authorities track what happens to internationally adopted children after they come to the United States. The few legal channels that protect children from rehoming are rarely enforced. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children requires parents transferring a child out of state to notify authorities in both states so that prospective parents may be vetted, but most law enforcement agents are unaware of this compact, and there is no universal agreement on how violators should be detected and charged. Another provision to help vulnerable children is a U.S federal law passed in 2000 that requires states and adoption agencies to report to the State Department cases in which they take custody of children from failed international adoptions. Many states, however, lack data management systems to do this.
There has been little research on the practice of rehoming and the outcomes for children who have been rehomed because this issue has only recently come to public attention, and the families involved wish to avoid scrutiny. A search for the term “rehoming children” garners as many results on pet rehoming as it does papers related to children. The research that does exist is largely in law journals and supports the position that the unregulated nature of rehoming endangers children who often go on to face repeated physical, sexual, and emotional abuses. Further, these children may have trouble receiving proper education and health care due to the unlawful custody exchange.
Stacey Steinberg, a professor of law at the University of Florida and associate director of the Center on Children and Families, suggests that agencies do not give parents adequate information on their potential placements pre-adoption, and parents feel they have few legal channels for post-adoption struggles. Steinberg’s paper, Where Did All the Social Workers Go? The Need to Prepare Families for Adoption, Assist Post-Adoptive Families in Crisis, and End Re-Homing, is a strong critique of the current adoption system. She sheds light on the history of adoption law, which originally did not have children’s best interest at heart and how it has evolved to meet this goal. Still, there is little oversight once an adoption is finalized. Steinberg highlights the different requirements regarding followup services for domestic and international adoptions, noting that Congress did not include funding for post-adoption services under the Intercountry Adoption Act. She stresses the need for federal and state legislation to curb this issue, though this alone is not enough. There must be preventive measures including pre and post-adoption support.
In an entirely different field, The Role of Media in the Development of U.S. Policy on Disrupted Adoptions of Children by Madeline Engel, a professor of sociology at Lehman College in New York City, criticizes social media for facilitating the unprotected, unregulated custody transfers of adopted children, yet acknowledges the benefits of the internet in terms of creating public consciousness on the dangers of this practice. Engel claims that adoptive parents often turn to the internet because the agencies did not provide adequate training. Unlike hard to access post adoption support services, these online groups for rehoming are easily accessible. After the renowned 2013 Reuters investigation on rehoming sites, Yahoo shut down its largest rehoming group, but Facebook refused to intervene with rehoming pages, and Craigslist maintains rehoming posts as long as there is no mention of money. In 2014, five states created policies on rehoming, with Wisconsin being the first. Its laws are considered a basic standard in such legislation. The Wisconsin law was enacted as a response to the Reuters investigation. The US Government Accounting Office also launched their own investigation two years later, concluding that parents are often underprepared for their children’s needs in cases of trauma and longterm institutionalization. Additionally, even when they are able to locate therapists and professional services knowledgable in childhood trauma and adoption, the treatments are exorbitantly priced, leading many to turn to the internet. Investigative journalism has played an influential role in bringing this issue to light. It is time now for increased public discourse among politicians, adoption professionals, and adoptees on this practice.
In line with suggestions from the current research, social workers need to take an active role in reducing rehoming. There must be stronger pre-adoption screening processes. The notion of parents needing help should be normalized from the initial orientation through post placement. Many adoptive parents who rehomed cited feeling isolated or ashamed for mishandling their children. Agencies need funds to maintain connections with families for at least one year post adoption. Adoptive families should have ready access to affordable mental health services and crisis counseling.
As a future social worker, I see myself advocating for legal and policy changes that affect rehoming. I plan to utilize my clinical skills in individual and family therapy and group facilitation for post-adoption services. I am eager to add to the much needed body of research on the subject. Rehoming is just one issue that shows the need for social workers to formulate creative solutions to complicated problems. The challenge for a more just and equitable society is what drives me to join this dynamic field.
Aune, M. D. (2017). Unregulated Custody Transfers: Why the Practice of Rehoming Should Be Considered a Form of Illegal Adoption and Human Trafficking. Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law, 46(1), 185 – 223.
Engel, M. H. (2018). The Role of Media in the Development of US Policy on Disrupted Adoptions of Children. Sociology Between the Gaps: Forgotten and Neglected Topics, 4(1), 1-11.
McIntyre, S. (2015). A Proposal to Eliminate a Black Market for Children. Case W. Res. L. Rev., 66, 1117-1145.
Steinberg, S. (2016). Where Did All the Social Workers Go? The Need to Prepare Families for Adoption, Assist Post-Adoptive Families in Crisis, and End Re-Homing. Florida Law Review Forum, 67, 280-288.
Testerman, S. M. (2015). A World Wide Web of Unwanted Children: The Practice, the Problem, and the Solution to Private Re-Homing. Florida Law Review Forum, 67, 2103-2147.
Twohay, M. (2013, September 9). Reuters Investigates – The Child Exchange: Inside America’s Underground Market for Adopted Children. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1
United States of America, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2012). Adoption Disruption and Dissolution (pp. 1-11). Washington DC: Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/s_disrup.pdf
1 United States of America, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2012). Adoption Disruption and Dissolution (pp. 1-11). Washington DC: Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/s_disrup.pdf
3 Twohay, M. (2013, September 9). Reuters Investigates – The Child Exchange: Inside America’s Underground Market for Adopted Children. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1
5 Aune, M. D. (2017). Unregulated Custody Transfers: Why the Practice of Rehoming Should Be Considered a Form of Illegal Adoption and Human Trafficking. Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law, 46(1), 185.
6 Testerman, S. M. (2015). A World Wide Web of Unwanted Children: The Practice, the Problem, and the Solution to Private Re-Homing. Fla. L. Rev., 67, 2111.
7 Steinberg, S. (2016). Where Did All the Social Workers Go? The Need to Prepare Families for Adoption, Assist Post-Adoptive Families in Crisis, and End Re-Homing. Florida Law Review Forum, 67, 280.
8 Ibid, 286
9 Ibid, 283
10 Ibid 281
11 Ibid, 283
12 Engel, M. H. (2018). The Role of Media in the Development of US Policy on Disrupted Adoptions of Children. Sociology Between the Gaps: Forgotten and Neglected Topics, 4(1), 4.
13 Ibid, 6.
14 Ibid, 8.
15 Steinberg, S. (2016). Where Did All the Social Workers Go?, 285
16 Testerman, S. M. (2015). A World Wide Web of Unwanted Children, 2114.
17 McIntyre, S. (2015). A Proposal to Eliminate a Black Market for Children. Case W. Res. L. Rev., 66, 1140