When children are traded
A few ads offering free children on the Internet:
“Born in October of 2000 — this handsome boy, ‘Rick,’ was placed from India a year ago and is obedient and eager to please.”
“We adopted an 8-year-old girl from China. ... Unfortunately, we are now struggling, having been home for 5 days.”
“Prayerfully seeking a loving and nurturing family for our 14-year-old daughter who has been with us for almost a year. She honestly is almost a model child.”
This is “private re-homing,” something that once meant finding a new home for a dog that barked too much. Now it refers to families recycling their adopted children, often through Internet postings.
There are commonly no courts involved, no lawyers, no social service agencies and no vetting of the new parents. There’s less formality than the transfer of a car.
Private re-homing of adoptive children was explored in a devastating five-part investigative series this fall from Reuters. The reporters found that, on one Yahoo message board, a child was offered for re-homing on average once a week (Yahoo has since closed the board). Most of the children ranged in age from 6 to 14 and had been adopted abroad, but some were American-born.
When one troubled Russian girl was 12 years old, she was re-homed three times within six months and told Reuters that, by the time she was 13, a boy at one of the homes had sex with her — and then urinated on her.
A Chinese girl crippled by polio ended up in a home where a woman with an explosive temper was eventually overseeing 18 children. The girl says that the woman confiscated her leg brace, which she needed to walk. And, according to court records, the woman, as a form of punishment, once ordered her to dig a hole in the backyard — for her own grave.
“You die here and no one will know,” the Chinese girl quoted the woman as saying. “No one will find you.”
The families handing over the children are at wit’s end. They typically adopted children with serious emotional troubles who, they say, brought fear, chaos and sometimes violence to their homes. Parents of one adopted boy said they felt they had to lock him in his room every night for the safety of everyone else.
“I am totally ashamed to say it, but we do truly hate this boy,” one woman in Nebraska wrote about her 11-year-old adoptive son from Guatemala.
Another mother wrote of re-homing her 12-year-old daughter: “I would have given her away to a serial killer, I was so desperate.”
By some accounts, 10 percent to 25 percent of adoptions don’t work out. That could mean 24,000 foreign-born children are no longer with the families that adopted them, Reuters calculates.
When an adopted child is American, he or she can go into the foster care system. With foreign adoptions, it can be harder. State foster care systems are more reluctant to take custody of children from international adoptions, and giving a child to the authorities may entail an investigation for abuse or paying for the child’s care until new parents are found.
For those who take in re-homed children, it amounts to free adoption, saving many thousands of dollars. A dangerous pitfall is that, because there is often no screening to protect the vulnerable children, re-homing can lure pedophiles.
The heart of the Reuters investigation concerns a woman, Nicole Eason, who had lost custody of her own two children after one suffered broken bones and who was the last to see a friend’s baby alive before he drowned in a bathtub. Eason acquired six children through re-homing on the Internet.
Meanwhile, Eason’s former housemate, Randy Winslow, used the screen name “lovethemcute” on one pedophile site on the Internet, Reuters says. Before being arrested and convicted on child pornography charges, Winslow explained his thinking in one chat room: “just have to raise them to think it’s fine and not tell anyone.” He added: “what is done in the family stays in the family.”
Eason contacted an adoptive mother one morning, and Eason and Winslow took custody of her 10-year-old son that same day in a hotel parking lot.
A first step to address this issue would be to make adoption agencies responsible for children they bring to America, including finding new homes when adoptions fail. If we have rules about recycling bottles, we should prevent children from being abandoned and recycled.
The larger point is a more basic failing in America: inadequate child services. Kids don’t get the protection they need from predators, nor the nutrition they need, nor the books and reading programs they need for mental nutrition. The threat to the food stamp program, whose beneficiaries are 45 percent children, is emblematic of this broader problem. Children don’t have votes and are voiceless, so America’s most vulnerable become its most neglected.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.