Members of Congress and officials in Russia, Brazil, Guatemala and other nations are calling on U.S. authorities to better monitor what becomes of foreign-born children who are adopted by Americans and brought to the United States.
A Reuters investigation this week showed that some American parents who regret adopting children from abroad turn to the Internet to find new homes for the boys and girls, often with strangers, in a practice known as private re-homing. The children sometimes have serious behavioral problems, and their adoptive parents say they have nowhere else to turn.
Through informal custody transfers, parents can bypass the involvement of child welfare officials. When parents fail to alert authorities of a transfer, it can become impossible for the U.S. government to track the child.
No federal or state laws explicitly address re-homing of adopted children in the United States, and state laws vary on who can advertise children or facilitate transfers of custody.
"The Reuters report is shocking," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It exposes the enormous potential for danger, abuse and exploitation involving these children." Grassley said in a statement that he would explore "possible options for federal action."
Democratic senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, like Grassley, previously have called for adoption-related legislation. Klobuchar said this week she plans to reintroduce a bill to "enhance post-adoption support services for families having difficulty raising their adoptive children." The bill would require the U.S. government to "improve its data collection regarding adoptions - especially those that fail - to better develop the support services."
Reuters analyzed 5,029 posts from a five-year period on one Yahoo message board where parents sought new homes for unwanted children. On average, a child was advertised for re-homing there once a week. Most had been adopted from abroad, from countries such as Russia, Ethiopia, Brazil and China. In response to the findings, Yahoo Inc took down that group and a half dozen others.
In one case reporters found, a man now in prison for trading child pornography took home a child advertised online. He and the woman he was living with at the time picked up the child in a hotel parking lot.
Adoption specialists say such custody transfers pose dangers. "It's so risky for everyone involved, it's nuts," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a non-profit that focuses on adoption research and policy.
Officials in other nations said they are asking the United States to strengthen efforts to account for children brought to America.
A U.S. federal law, passed in 2000, requires states to document cases in which they take custody of children from failed international adoptions. But many states say their computer systems are so antiquated that they are unable to keep track of the cases. The State Department declines to disclose the number of failed international adoptions that are reported by adoption agencies.
Sergey Chumarev, senior counselor for legal matters for the Russian embassy in Washington, said he would press the State Department to better track the outcomes of international adoptions. In the Internet group that Reuters analyzed in detail, participants identified 26 children as Russian natives.
"If the federal agency which is responsible for international adoptions doesn't have a picture of what are the results of these international adoptions, it means there is something that needs to be changed in minds first and then in action," Chumarev said.
Adoption is one of the many sore points in U.S.-Russian relations. In January, Russia begins a ban on adoptions by Americans after long complaining that Russian adoptees weren't being monitored properly and, in some cases, suffering abuse and neglect. Without action by U.S. authorities, Chumarev said Russia is unlikely to lift the ban.
Guatemala also is concerned with what becomes of children brought to America. The Yahoo group had re-homing offers for five Guatemalan children.
"There should be more supervision of this phenomenon" of informal private re-homing, said Rudy Zepeda, spokesman for Guatemala's National Adoption Board. "We can't allow these boys and girls to experience these sorts of situations."
Late last month, Brazil began requiring that all adoptions involving Americans "must go though us, the central federal authority on adoptions, so that we can track the children where possible with visits," said George Lima, head of the Brazilian authority that watches over adoptions. "The United States could solve this problem by creating an institution that tracks the children after they get there," he said.