For the vast majority of adoptive families, adoption is a way to build a family that lasts forever. And most adoptive families are able to cope with unexpected issues that may crop up, such as developmental or medical issues, or problems that a child may have due to past abuse and institutionalization. But there's a dirty little secret that few people have been privy to: adoption disruption. It's like a divorce, except instead of severing ties with your spouse, you're severing ties with the child that you've promised to raise and love.
Why would someone do this? In some cases, it's because the parents are simply unable to manage their child's issues, such as parents who go to a foreign country and discover that a child has severe medical or developmental delays that weren't disclosed. Or parents who struggled for years with their child's issues and were forced to lock up knives, provide 24/7 surveillance, and use alarms to ensure that their child doesn't harm himself or anyone else in the family. In other cases—well, there have been stories of parents who give up after only a few days because they feel the child simply doesn't gel with their family, or because they thought their child's "feet were too big and ears looked funny."
But the scariest part is that this severing of adoption ties is unregulated—as a harrowing adoption disruption series presented by Reuters has detailed. Some adoption agencies will try to help their former clients find a new family for a child. Other adoptive parents end up relinquishing rights to their child and putting him or her in the care of the state, and may pay child support for their child until a new family is found or the child turns 18. Laws require that government authorities get involved if you want to transfer custody of a child across state lines, but there's no formal regulation of it—and so many people simply bypass the paperwork, background checks, and scrutiny that usually surround adoption—the things that would turn up issues like someone's sexual offender status, past child neglect, and other red flags signalling that the potential parents aren't fit to be parents. And as Reuters discovered, there are message boards and websites for people looking to find a new family to "re-home" their unwanted children—and where those who are looking for "free kids," as one board frequenter put it, can exchange a few emails and make arrangements to bring a child home. Yahoo! has already closed down some of them, but others still operate, allowing families to post information about children's problems—and even photographs and names—and seek out someone who will take them.
While some of those willing to adopt a child after a disruption are certainly well equipped and wonderful parents, the lack of oversight enables anyone to "adopt" in this way, with a simple notarized letter handing over guardianship—no lawyers, government authorities, or social workers involved. That is how a convicted child pornographer was able to become guardian to one boy for several months, and how another woman who had her biological children removed from her care due to concerns of neglect and abuse was able to bring more children to her home.
It's clear that something needs to be done to provide better oversight and regulation of adoptions within the country—to allow an "out" for families who are truly unable to parent the children they've brought home but to prevent these children from falling through the cracks and into darker and more dangerous situations. Some states have rules that only allow licensed agencies to offer a child for adoption; the Interstate Compact on the Placement of the Children, the law that requires getting the authorities involved when a child's custody is transferred across state lines, needs more teeth to help ensure that children are placed with qualified families. And the additional adoption education that is now required for parents interested in adopting internationally or through foster care needs to do even more to help parents understand the potential challenges, and be more prepared to handle what comes after they meet their child.
Re-homing needs to be done with the child's best interest in mind—and with plenty of information and support to help more children stay with the family who adopted them in the first place, or make the next home their "forever" place.