Panel Interview: Questions and Answers with Adoption Experts on the Reuters Rehoming Adoptees Article
Adoption Horror Story: Rehoming Adopted Children
Reuters Article Reveals Rehomed Adoptees
Like the vast majority of adoptive parents, I was shocked and saddened by the Reuters investigation of adopted children who were illegally exchanged and relinquished to new parents, with no help from attorneys, social workers, or anyone else watching out for the safety and well-being of the child. The article written by Megan Twohey, titled, “The Child Exchange.. Inside America’s Underground Market for Adopted Children,” is the result of a five-year study analyzing 5000 posts about “rehoming” from a Yahoo message board.
Where have you heard that term before? Rehoming is usually used to describe when a someone decides they can no longer care for a pet, and they contact someone else to take the pet into their home. I have been writing about adoption for several years now, and have never heard this term. I am familiar with the term of “disruption,” which is used to describe when an adoptive family feels like they can no longer handle their adopted child, and they legally relinquish this child usually to an institution of some kind.
What was so shocking about the story, was the sheer amount of rehomings that took place, and the startling example of “Big Momma” and her husband, who eagerly sought out adopted children for informal custody and a nonlegal adoption. This couple had their biological children taken from them, years earlier, and the sheriff deputy wrote a report that the “parents have severe psychiatric problems as well as violent tendencies.” The first night they brought their child home, this couple forced the child to sleep with them in their bed where they slept naked.
Since this controversy began, I have watched it on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and heard about it on BBC. I have been contacted by people who feel like they have successfully rehomed their adopted child to another family, and also heard several stories on the news about the same thing. These adoptive parents claim that it was their last resort because they felt like they were in danger, and their other children were also in danger. They all reported that their former adopted child is actually thriving in the new environment.
Rehoming Humans: Adoption Gone Wrong
Is this just an adoption issue? Actually it is not. Every state has a “safe haven law,” that decriminalizes the leaving of unharmed infants, usually in police stations, hospitals and firehouses. I remember that several years ago when Nebraska instituted their safe haven law, that they did not put an age limit on the law. In a four-month span, 35 non-infant children, mostly teenagers, were dropped off in Nebraska hospitals. Whether a child is adopted or not, the teen years are difficult for most parents.
Most of the children that were part of this rehoming process were international adoptees. My three children are all from South Korea, and all arrived when they were five months old. I used Holt Children’s Services, because I knew the children would be well cared for and fostered, instead of institutionalized. Even with this advantage, I have written a great deal about the issues that I struggled with, as I sought to understand the impact of adoption on my children. I don’t make any secret about the fact that, when I was in over my head, and could not understand my child’s behavior, I found and used a therapist, who is herself adopted.
What can be done about this alarming phenomenon? I had the privilege of having many contributors to this magazine, three of them experts in the issues that surround adoption. I decided to ask them, to comment on this problem, and give a brief discussion about their reaction and their thoughts for solving the issues uncovered by Reuters.
My three adoption expert panel members have all contributed for Adoption Voices Magazine.
Panel Interview: Q & A with Adoption Experts
What was your initial reaction to this article? Had you ever heard the term “re-homing”?
Sharon: I was horrified but not surprised. So many families adopt without any real preparation or education about the extra ordinary needs of a child who has been traumatized in their early years. Even without abuse, a child who is adopted is at risk emotionally and if later placed or placed into one home after another: placed from an institution: placed cross-culturally or cross- racially; or placed with a family who has never parented before, the stakes go up. The even bigger challenge is that there are not enough post-adoption services or monies to support the families who need them. The services and trained therapists in each community who understand the interplay between trauma, adoption and attachment are few and far between.
Kim: It would be accurate to say I was surprised by the article but not shocked. “Rehoming” is a current term that has taken the place of “disruption” in our current discussions. Technically, it would be “dehoming” first then “rehoming’ if you want to be accurate. Anyway, much of the shock comes from the societal norms we hold dearly in the United States. One cannot think of someone opening their home to a child from another country and then sending that child away to live elsewhere. The West looks at itself as a saving entity in many ways. Always standing for what’s right and just no matter the cost or long term ramifications. That is a scenario playing out in Syria as we speak. Though I can only wonder what the child would be thinking, there would be no reason to have a child “forced” to stay in a family where they are unwanted. That will send a message loud and clear that as the adoptee suspected, they are unwanted and have been all along. Other societies around the world do not adopt children like the western countries have in the past. The internet makes communication with people much easier. One can wonder if “rehoming” were to come to the forefront as a viable possibility, would there be more of it?
Tina: I had not specifically heard of rehoming but learning about an underground network for desperate parents did not surprise me. The Internet has changed how we live and communicate and connect. It’s a vehicle that was not available ten years ago. What I think the Reuter’s expose reveals is that there is a groundswell of adoptive parents, particularly in the international adoptive community, who feel so disenfranchised or isolated or helpless they turn to a Yahoo group as a means of last resort. I’m not defending the parents who have posted their children to “re-home” them, but I can step back and speculate that this was not the first step they’d taken to cope with children they can’t raise, but rather the last.
Is it possible, in your opinion to have a successful rehoming experience?
Sharon: Really, re-homing is done every day from the foster care system into permanent families. There is an expertise developed about how to assess families receiving the children, legal underpinnings, and follow through by a social worker. Frequently, there is treatment provided for the child before a placement is made; a kind of cooling off and re-stabilizing period. International agencies also put out calls for re-homing and it is usually done from agency to agency. The danger in what we have witnessed recently is that it is all done without professional oversight to relieve someone’s pain who feels they have run out of other choices and the children then may suffer.
(Let me also add a definition here. Disruption occurs before an adoption is finalized and a dissolution occurs after the finalization of an adoption. Since most of the children in the report have been adopted internationally, these are all dissolutions, not disruptions.)
Kim: When a disruption occurs, the organization that made the placement would typically take guardianship over the child in order to place the child elsewhere. Depending on which state the child is in it can be a lengthy process. Leaving the child in a “foster care” environment while waiting to be placed in another home is confusing and difficult for the child. Another family is typically the target for the organization to put the child into. Most of the time it is successful and works for the child, the new family and the organization overseeing the process. If another family cannot be located, the child may be placed into a foster home on a longer term basis but can also come under the care of the state they live in. The courts take all of this into consideration and prefer the child to be in a home and family of their own.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing we need to do is a society to solve adoption issues like this?
Sharon: Provide the necessary monies and services both before and after placement of any child. Adoption is hard on all families! Don’t blame these families for running out of skills and resources, support them, teach them. Validate their pain, confusion, shame and anger and get them the tools they desperately need. Provide them Wraparound Services (Available in many communities) to help them parent a child who may be out of control. Educate the families, the professionals, and the community. List phone numbers for services for families who are stressed as we do for people who might be victims of abuse. People are often afraid to call as they feel it could be shaming or they might lose other children in the family; they need reassurance. Create a phone number for children to call when they are mistreated or scared that is posted at schools; a type of ombudsman for children.
Kim: There really is only one thing that should be kept in mind as everyone looks into this concern. What is best for the child? Many times that simple question is lost in the shuffle of legal and moral processes. If we all keep that simple question in mind, the right thing will be done for the child. In many countries around the world, a child in this situation will be taken in by extended family members so that the transition is not so great. A basic and easy process that we in the U.S. haven’t been able to come to grips with in our advanced thinking.
Tina: A lot of people talk about pre-adoption education and post-adoption support, and of course I favor both. As I said in my New York Times piece, a decade ago, we were given no heads up about attachment disorders. Perhaps our advisors didn’t think it applied to adopting an 8-month-old, but it did. Our experience today would be different, no doubt. However, I think there’s another whole missing piece to what’s critically needed, and that is a uniform, mandatory training of early-childhood development professionals. From personal experience, I can tell you that daycare professionals, nursery school teachers, elementary school staff, pediatricians and so many of the people who handle our young children have no idea what they’re seeing when they encounter behaviors exhibited by children who began their lives institutionalized. They are not equipped to handle RAD or FAS; they certainly don’t understand its origins. There may be some exceptions but they’d be far and few between. I can’t tell you how many emails I get weekly from parents of other RAD kids who tell me how they’ve been to a half dozen therapists and they’ve had no luck.
Tina- This question is specific to you as an adoptive parent. You faced many of the same issues that the adoptive parents I heard talk about as they explained their decision to rehome. What made your experience different?
Tina: I remember dark times in the early years. I too had bouts of regret and wondered if I’d ever know any happiness as a parent, and whether my daughter would ever feel bonded. It’s hard to say exactly what made my experience different; I can only say that what we did has worked. My daughter was nearly four when we began working with her. She’d been home for nearly three years. My husband and I made it our life’s work to understand Reactive Attachment Disorder. We spent every waking hour reading, researching, discussing and dissecting what we learned. We worked collaboratively and cooperatively to help our child. We decided jointly that we would endeavor to help Julia on our own, and that if we agreed we were having no progress, we’d seek external help. I’m not saying this will work for every family, but perhaps because of our focus on Julia, perhaps because she is our only child, and perhaps because she exhibited no violent tendencies, we slowly saw progress. Often it was two steps forward, one step backward. But I will say that having a child with an attachment disorder is a life-time issue. And one of the most critical advantages for us is the close and respectful friendship I have with my husband. If my marital relationship was not as solid and productive and safe as it is, I don’t believe we could have been — or could be — as successful as we are with Julia.