The Reuters news agency conducted an 18-month investigation into an American underground market targeting children adopted from foreign countries. The lead investigative reporter tracked down a number of couples who gave away their adopted children without any legal oversight and in doing so, exposed them to danger and abuse.
For the last 18 months Reuters reporter Megan Twohey has been investigating the 're-homing' of children who were adopted from foreign countries like China, Russia, Ukraine and Ethiopia, to name a few. Re-homing is an informal way of transferring custody of these children to new families. The transactions occur mostly on Internet message boards.
In the United States, a formal re-adoption process requires approval by the court system and occurs only after social workers check the background and qualifications of the parents under consideration. These underground adoptions avoid any legal oversight by simply transferring custody of a child with a notarized statement on a single piece of paper.
No one knows how prevalent this practice is, but Reuters looked at one popular Yahoo website dedicated to re-homing, and found that in the last five years it happened an average of one child per week.
While every case is different, Twohey said there are some common themes. The couples who give away their adopted children, she said, often are overwhelmed by emotional and behavioral issues that they did not anticipate.
“One, they feel like they often didn’t get proper training before going into these adoptions. Two, they felt like they were sometimes misled," said Twohey. "They weren’t informed about emotional behavioral problems that the children brought with them to the United States.”
Many of the couples who take in re-homed children do provide them with good homes and loving families, but in some cases the children are neglected and abused.
"In the absence of oversight, there are people who can, through re-homing, obtain children who they would never be able to obtain through government-sanctioned adoption and foster care systems, people with criminal backgrounds, predators. Without any government oversight, nobody can really say exactly who's taking these kids," said Twohey.
Since the series was published, Twohey said foreign officials, members of Congress and people in the adoption community are promising to end this informal adoption process.
“Now what exactly those reforms are, and what people are going to propose, and what’s going to happen next remains to be seen. But it is clear from the response this week that there are many, many people here in the United States who are now quite concerned about the issue,” said Twohey.
The Reuters investigative series documented a number of cases of abuse, including one of an adopted 16-year-old child from Liberia. She was sent to live with a couple who, it was later learned, had severe psychiatric problems and violent tendencies. Years earlier child welfare authorities had taken away their biological children. In this case the original adopted parents eventually called authorities after they learned they were lied to and regained custody of the girl.