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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Commentary

Shut down Internet adoptions

The Chicago Tribune
Published:

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If you’re desperate for a child or desperate to be rid of one, the Internet is here to help. You can save time, avoid bureaucratic interference and escape the prying eyes of child welfare busybodies. Yes, it’s every bit as awful as it sounds. But it’s true.

Illinois, we are told, has some of the strongest adoption laws in the nation. But those laws “are not enough to stem the horrible practice of ‘re-homing’ adopted children who are in perilous circumstances,” according to state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D- Chicago, who chaired a hearing on Internet adoptions last week.

“Re-homing” is a term that describes transactions — typically arranged through online contacts — between frazzled parents who want to unload kids they regret adopting and strangers who can’t or won’t adopt through legal channels.

The practice was illuminated in September by Reuters reporter Megan Twohey, who spent 18 months investigating this thriving underground market. Most often, these are the children of failed international adoptions. Adoptive parents who can’t deal with their kids’ emotional, behavioral or health problems place them with new families found on Internet message boards. The child in the middle has no advocate.

At their most benign, the child swaps remind us of the adoptions brokered by animal rescue organizations. A rambunctious spaniel who turns out to be too much for one family might live happily ever after with another. That is, in fact, the context in which the word “re-homing” is most often used. As Twohey showed, though, the process for “re-homing” is far less rigorous for children than for pets. Rescue groups typically require an application, a home inspection and a background check. Feigenholtz, who adopted a cat earlier this year, pointed out at last week’s hearing that she had to sign a contract promising not to re-home the animal.

Exchanges that cross state lines are illegal in all 50 states, under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. But violations are typically misdemeanors. State child endangerment laws also would apply to many such cases. But re-homing networks have been operating largely under the radar.

The hearing in Chicago touched on the need for stronger laws, better enforcement of the ones we have, and the scarcity of resources to help struggling adoptive parents before they resort to such measures.

The same day, 18 U.S. lawmakers called for similar hearings in Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, echoed the call in a letter to the heads of the departments of Justice, State, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.

“Finding families for vulnerable children should never be a do-it-yourself process that involves nothing more than placing or responding to an advertisement online,” Wyden wrote.

Awful as it sounds, that’s exactly what is going on. It must be stopped.

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