Sunday, September 15, 2013
Not-Quite-Forever Families: The Reuters Investigation Into "Re-homing" of Adopted Children (Part I)
There is a remarkable report at www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/about. This document describes an investigation into the ways some American adoptive parents seek informally or privately to disrupt the adoptions and place the children in others’ homes, permanently—a process they call “re-homing”.
The Reuters report is remarkable in more than one way. As an investigation of adoption disruption, it moves beyond the limits of anecdotes and looks at one of a number of Internet bulletin boards that carry ads offering adoptees to new families. It provides an interactive graphic that allows the reader to examine over 200 such ads and to see at a glance how many boys and how many girls were “offered”, how many children had special needs, whether they were adopted from the U.S. or from abroad, and what their birthplaces were. (There are a number of other interesting questions to be asked about these ads, and I hope to be able to provide some information about these in the near future, as well as to suggest some conclusions that might be drawn from the information collected by the Reuters investigators.)
The Reuters report is also remarkable in terms of one of the responses it’s received. At http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/nation/july-dec13/adoption_09-11.html, Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a leading U.S. adoption advocate, stated that he had never heard of this practice! (This reminds me of the advice to Alice that she should be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast.)
Perhaps Mr. Pertman was not paying attention when this issue came up in the past, but others of us had noticed it. For example, the USA Today reporter Wendy Koch described in 2006 the situation of the Schmitz family in Tennessee, a “megafamily” with 11 adopted children, many with special needs, whose mistreatment of the children led authorities to discover that most of the “adoptions” were informal. The children came from different states, which were paying for their care, and at least one child’s origins were not known (www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-01-18-swapping-children_x.htm). In a recent comment on the Reuters story, a member of the megafamily, now grown up, told how she was made to dig a large hole and told that it would be her grave. She had been re-homed to the Schmitzes after her original adoptive family decided to disrupt her adoption, but no legal formalities or investigations occurred (http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/09/20389254-adopted-girl-says-mother-forced-her-to-dig-her-own-grave?lite).
There are many anecdotes in circulation about adoptive families who “handed off” unwanted children to others at highway rest stops or in fast food restaurants. I can give more details of one case where I provided some testimony, but naturally I will conceal names and places. This story involves a couple in a Southern state who went to Russia seeking to adopt about seven years ago. They wanted to adopt a boy, and had decided on a specific boy who was about 8 years old at the time, but were then informed that if they took the boy, they must also take his 5-year-old sister, whom I’ll call Irina. The adopting couple agreed to do this (and, by the way, there was a similar situation in the adoption of Maxim Kuzmin, the Russian 3-year-old who died in Texas last winter.) They took both children home and cared for them for a couple of years, but in fact they did not like Irina and complained that she did not attach to them and they could not bond with her (what people mean by these terms is an issue that needs much discussion with respect to the Reuters report). They sought the help of two social workers who identified themselves as attachment therapists and who stated in court that they had received training paid for by the state. One of their recommendations was that Irina spend time in respite care, in the home of another family, leaving the adoptive parents and brother to relax on their own.
After several intervals of respite care, Irina’s adopters decided that they did not want her to return. They communicated their decision to the social workers, who told Irina that she was to stay at the respite home; the adoptive parents did not see her even to say goodbye. The respite family was licensed to do foster care, and after a while they agreed to adopt Irina. In the state where they lived, it was possible to do this by direct consent, with a notarized statement from the original adoptive parents, and because the respite family was licensed for foster care I would guess that a home study was waived. In any case, Irina stayed with the respite/adoptive family and did well in school for a couple of years, but at about age 10 she ran away. She was soon brought back by a sheriff’s deputy. After her second attempt to leave, the deputy who brought her home made an excuse to come into the house. He noticed some unusual things, for example that there were very few furnishings in Irina’s room and that there was an alarm on her bedroom door, and he reported these matters. A prosecutor who was aware of some of the unorthodox and potentially harmful parenting methods associated with Attachment Therapy began an investigation.
However, the respite/adoptive parents knew how to move quickly to get Irina out of that jurisdiction. They sent her to a boarding school run by their church in another state-- a school that had been investigated for abusive treatment in the form of physical restraint of children, but had argued successfully that guidelines about restraint and seclusion did not apply to schools. It was, and probably still is, a school where a number of Russian adoptees waited to be 18 without visits to their adoptive homes or even from their adoptive parents.
Perhaps this story will help flesh out some of the statistics of the Reuters report. But those statistics, and some further analysis, are worth looking at, and we’ll come back to them.