For those of you who might have missed it, the Reuters news agency recently released a chillingly disturbing five-part report on Americans using the Internet to abandon children adopted from overseas. The report, entitled “The Child Exchange,” provides a horrifying glimpse at adoptive parents using Internet forums to “re-home” their adopted children without the benefit of home assessments or background investigations. With no regulation around this, there are serious concerns for the safety and well-being of these children. Having dedicated nearly four decades of my life to serving vulnerable children through social work and now as the president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, this is heartbreaking. In any case where the adoption does not remain intact, it is tragic for both the child and the family. However, in this case, these children are placed – once again – in a state of extraordinary vulnerability. Placing a vulnerable child in a “classified” ad on the Internet, places them in serious danger of predatory behavior and potential trafficking.
Adopting a child is a life-altering decision. Even with the most intricate preparation, it is possible to have a “disruption” or “dissolution” of an adoption occur. These children are in desperate need of a family that will love them forever. It is critical to carefully prepare families. That is why Bethany requires families adopting internationally to have at least 30 hours of intense pre-placement education. While the Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation of Respect of Inter-Country Adoption requires only 10 hours, our commitment to protecting vulnerable children demands that we expect more when placing them with families dedicated to providing a loving and nurturing environment.
I caution those of you who have not read the report that the content will offend and anger you. It is appalling to know that this could happen to children in the United States without oversight. However, at this time, there is little to no government oversight for such forums, chat rooms and other online avenues giving child predators carte blanche. Additionally, regulations preventing adoptive couples from releasing custody of children they have adopted are seemingly non-existent – in many cases children can be sent to another family under a simple power of attorney. It is my hope that this report forces our government to take appropriate action to shut down such heinous sites, while simultaneously initiating laws preventing the swapping of a child from one family to the next without properly vetting the prospective adoptive family and protecting the children involved.
At Bethany, we counsel every prospective adoptive couple to work with a reputable agency rather than trying to adopt independently. This counsel is given because after providing adoption and post-adoption services for nearly 70 years we are all too familiar with the potential pitfalls that can occur during and after placement. For couples working with Bethany to adopt a child internationally, we require at least four post placement/post adoption visits, which is more than most countries require from agencies. Typically, one of these visits is done within 48 hours of the family arriving home. While they may still be jet-lagged, our purpose is to start to establish right off the bat that we are a support and an ally for the journey of parenting – making sure adoptive couples don’t feel isolated when trying to assimilate a child from another culture to their new home.
Adoptive families often need support long after the adoption is finalized and it is crucial that they have access to such support so that they never feel as if abandoning their child with a strange and potentially dangerous couple is an alternative. Bethany and other reputable organizations specializing in adoption are not there to take over for parents. Rather, we are there to come alongside them to help develop strategies and identify possible resources to meet the needs of their children.
I strongly encourage you to read the entire report and urge you to contact your local, state and federal legislators to demand they devote their attention to this unseemly situation. We must not stop until children are no longer being exchanged between couples without appropriate measures being implemented to ensure the protection of these children.