Megan Twohey has published a harrowing five-part report on the practice of “private rehoming,” in which adoptive parents use social media to give away their troublesome kids to strangers:
Reuters analyzed 5,029 posts from a five-year period on one Internet message board, a Yahoo group. On average, a child was advertised for re-homing there once a week. Most of the children ranged in age from 6 to 14 and had been adopted from abroad – from countries such as Russia and China, Ethiopia and Ukraine. The youngest was 10 months old.
Many of them were physically or sexually abused by their new parents, and at least one child was placed with a pornographer. Aja Romano is aghast:
The term “rehoming” is a term that’s typically used to weed out pet owners by requiring them to pay a “rehoming fee.” But as Reuters points out, to “rehome” a small child, sometimes all you need is an Internet connection and a transfer of guardianship – the human equivalent of a bill of sale. “We have a 13-month-old adopted son who has special medical needs,” reads a typical notice on the now-defunct Yahoo Group Adoptions From Disruption. “We are very overwhelmed and feel this little guy would do better in a family who had the time and emotional resources to offer him.” Another adoptive family sought a way out of their adoption after having had the child for only 5 days.
But one foster mother and member of the infamous Yahoo group defends rehoming:
Most [adoptive parents] were seeking a formal adoption through the courts and not a cavalier transfer of guardianship. The under- and over-current was always shame. Parents listed dozens and dozens of professional counseling routes and treatments they had exhausted while simultaneously begging not to be judged for their decision.
Now, that one safe place parents could go and talk about the decision to re-home is gone. The problem, however, is not. Adoptive parents in crisis are pushed even further into secrecy and back-alley swaps. Instead, post-adoption services need to be more intensive and widely available. Finding new adoptive parents for children should not be a routine practice but it should be an option and supported by the agencies who facilitated the first.
Katie J.M. Baker underscores the weak oversight:
The government isn’t great at relocating kids; no authority tracks what happens after a child is brought to America, so no one knows how often international adoptions fail, and many states say they don’t track cases in which they take custody of children from failed international adoptions, even though they are required to do so by law. But at least they don’t deliver them instantaneously, Amazon-Prime style, into the arms of abusers.
Meanwhile, philosopher Tom Douglas mulls over the ethics of rehoming:
Reflecting on this sort of case leads me to think that we (or at least I) intuitively hold adoptive parents to higher moral standards than natural parents. When adoptive parents realize that they are not up to parenting, we are more inclined to think ‘you should have thought harder about that earlier’ than in cases where non adoptive parents realize that they are not up to parenting. In other words, we think that parents who adopt must be more confident in their future parenting abilities and commitment than other parents. This, I think, at least partially explains our negative intuitive reactions to ‘re-homing’.
Of course, even if this succeeds in explaining our intuitive reactions, it may fail to justify them. Perhaps there are good arguments for holding adoptive parents to higher standards than others. For example, perhaps the fact that adoptive parents have generally had to ‘outcompete’ other candidate parents in order to complete the adoption places them under a special obligation to make good on the adoption. But I’m not at all sure about this.