Don't miss the Reuters investigation on underground child adoptions in the US


I can’t be surprised about this. My wife and I briefly considered adopting and discovered that it is an incredibly difficult process, much more involved than simply having a child of your own. Out of pocket expenses were quoted in the $10k and up range, and more reputable places were talking $40k. And this was only after you had a 6 month trial without kids where some investigator would go over your homelife with a fine tooth comb. Kids are expensive, but they usually don’t have such a huge upfront cost, especially since I have decent health insurance.

The state options were entirely kids that nobody else wanted, almost entirely black and hispanic teenagers that had run away from their previous foster parents and been expelled from school, as well as a smattering of younger kids born addicted to drugs or with severe medical issues.

I am not surprised at all if this has fostered a grey market for people who want to adopt but don’t want to be bogged down in red tape and shelling out megabucks for years before ever seeing a child. There has to be some happy medium between making the situation almost impossible on normal parents and letting scumbags use the adoption system to fill their brothel.


Even in Canada here…we considered adoption and were shocked that the legal costs were upwards of $30,000. There are plenty of kids available (yes, many with huge challenges) but the government makes adoption prohibitively expensive. That $30,000 would be better spent getting these kids the help they need, rather than fees into general revenue.

I can’t have a reasonable conversation about flaws in the adoption system in North America right now because I’m not yet done being totally and utterly disgusted with the people interviewed in this series who adopted kids, then handed them over to total strangers they met on the Internet like once, and now want my fucking sympathy because of how “hard” things were for them. Oh, pobrecito.

Right now, all my energy is going towards deciding which is more despicable: Abandoning a kid after having him in your house for all of five days, or abandoning a kid after raising him for 11 years. It’s a tough call.

This, right here, sums up the whole damn thing for me: An adoptive mother who ditched her damaged child off to strangers that then damaged her even more complaining about needing “consumer” protection laws.

“Clearly, we would have avoided much of this heartache and tragedy if
consumer protection laws pertaining to international adoption had been
in place,” she wrote in testimony submitted to Congress in 1999.

Stephen Pennypacker, a child welfare official in Florida, says
adoptive parents aren’t consumers and their troubled children can’t be
treated like faulty products.

“Children don’t come with a warranty,” says Pennypacker, who wrote a
2011 memo warning state authorities to be on the lookout for Internet
child swaps. “When you adopt a child, that’s your child. You have the
same responsibility to raise that child as I had to raise my
biological children, regardless of what their problems are.”


The one exception I would be tempted to draw to the “Consumer protection laws, WTF?” would be the hypothetical circumstance where a known issue is deliberately concealed in order to move a problem case. (Similar to the… displeasure… one might feel with a doctor who knowlingly concealed a prenatal diagnosis in order to avoid the parents possibly electing for a termination that makes baby jesus cry).


Fair enough. But just the idea of referring to the scenario with a living child adoption as “consumer protection” makes me want to barf a little. (I fully admit that a lot of my rage is running on pregnancy hormones, here, fyi)

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I’m all for child welfare, and not having the state funneling children directly into somebody’s slave pens; but it does seem as though whoever does risk analysis really needs to step back and look at (A) the abjectly low criteria for people who can obtain a child by conventional mammalian means (obviously, some people are medically excluded; but if you aren’t one of them you can be a hell of a basket case before Social Services will remove kiddo). and (B) The less than totally inspiring outcomes of many not-adopted kids.

In a perfect world, one might be able to quash all risk; but it isn’t clear why the standards are so much higher than for biological children (it’s like selling a ‘dietary supplement’ vs. getting FDA approval: in the former case you just do it, and nobody stops you unless it turns out to be crazy addictive and/or lethal often enough that people notice. If you want FDA approval, on the other hand…), or why the less than inspiring conditions of the unadopted aren’t given greater weight.

A lot of the hurdles – and the cost – are artificial. But I’m not completely sure that’s a bad thing. As with paying $200 to adopt a pet, this is likely to be the LEAST of your costs over the duration of the relationship, and trying to screen out some of the folks who don’t understand that and don’t want to make a serious commitment may not be unreasonable.

OK, maybe there needs to be an alternative set of hurdles for those who can establish their trustworthiness other ways. But I’m not sure we ever want it to be as easy as breeding your own… because frankly there are folks who shouldn’t be doing that either. We have to accept that as a basic right of being human and because there’s no alternative that isn’t worse… but when the kids are already embedded in a system, the system does have a responsibility to protect them.

But, yeah, where there are hurdles there will always be people trying to bypass them. And some folks’ need for kids is obscenely strong… though I’d hesitate to place kids with anyone in that category. So there’s going to be a demand for a black/grey market. And I don’t know what can be done about that while meeting our other responsibilities, at least not without taking the whole issue more seriously and putting proper funding behind it.

At least one difference would be that some of these kids may have already been pretty screwed up in their last home and by being in the foster care system, so it is possible that they will react badly to a new environment. On the other hand, suddenly having a difficult child who may have special needs, may reject your attempts to bond with them and may have birth family involved can be very difficult for a parent who might just not be ready for it. In that sense adopting an older child could almost be like transplanting an organ - finding a good match is very important and a lot of work needs to be done before and after the adoption to make sure both the child and the parents can handle it. Some children aren’t ready to fit into the family model that their adoptive parents have planned for them. Some parents find it difficult to bond with their child or are too romantic in their expectations.

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I hope it doesn’t upset anybody if I point out this article documents one horrible story, and outlines 1-2 more. That’s not exactly evidence of a widespread problem. Unless more information comes to light, it’s wrong to assume most extralegal adoptions are examples of horrific abuse. As Jandrese suggested, many or most might be very good families who simply can’t hack the red tape.

Yeah, that was pretty disgusting.

I can sympathize, a little, with somebody who got in way over their head with a child (whether adopted or born to them) with needs they can’t cope with on their own. But it’s your child. If you feel you can’t keep them in your home, for whatever reason, it’s still your responsibility to stay intimately involved in their lives or find some way to give them up in a way that somebody’s responsible for them. And I mean completely responsible, that there’s some kind of government oversight on the transfer. Even where there is an legitimate organization overseeing it, that doesn’t prevent huge $!$@ups (I’ve got a tragic case in my own family that proves that), but doing it person to person on an underground website is just asking for trouble.

If you hand your kid (adopted or not, it’s your kid) to some unaccountable stranger to raise so you can wash your hands of them, without having met them, IMHO you’re guilty of being an accomplice to any abuse against them and should go to jail if anything happens.

My heart breaks for these kids.


In the US, children are chattel. US adoption laws are an extension of that basic concept. In fact, they rely on that basic concept (no other country handles adoption the way the US does). So, unfortunately, “consumer protection” is an accurate representation of the situation.

This is an anecdote from the UK, but I actually know the birth parents in this story. Their children were taken away from them because of the couple’s heroin abuse and criminal activity, then placed together with a couple who had never had children before and hadn’t even lived together before:

He (the author of a report on a Serious Case Review) said the adoption process conducted by Stoke-on-Trent Social Services was ‘‘flawed’’ due to a number of factors such as the couple having never lived together, questions about their commitment due to work pressures and their complete lack of experience around children.
‘‘The adoption panel allowed itself to be sucked into the attractiveness of the fact that these applicants were offering a rare and highly sought after commodity - a willingness to take a sibling group of three,’’ he said.
Following the initial placement in November 1999 there was no re-evaluation of what was in the children’s best interests until they were formally adopted in June.

In another situation (in China, this time), we knew a couple who were fostering a 4 year old disabled girl. We looked after the girl for some time while the couple were away, but when they got back they asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her off their hands, because they didn’t feel they were bonding with the child in the same way that they would with one of their own. The child was eventually returned to the orphanage, and the last I heard was that the couple was trying for a baby. I used to feel the system was too rigid, but now I feel that if anything, it’s not rigid enough, and not in the right way. I think there should be a much greater focus on making adoptive placements work and supporting families after a placement, rather than just testing couples and assuming that they will cope.


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I’ve long wondered if adoption in the past (not as in ‘a decade ago’; but not ‘in the middle kingdom’, say 18th-19th century-ish) simply had a greater insensitivity to lousy outcomes and a greater willingness to treat sound beatings and hard labor as normal child-rearing techniques, or whether (through some combination of pressuring unwed mothers to chose adoption and sheer mortality among parents without serious chronic defects) there were a lot more basically-healthy, if perhaps sad because Dad died in a factory and Mom got diphtheria, orphans to work with and a lot fewer ‘taken away from unbelievably fucked up home situation by social services, born addicted to coke, caseworker suspects laundry-list of issues’ cases to work with.

I’d say “yes” both, and also note that prior to the 1920s or so, many adopted kids weren’t even orphaned – rather parents with more mouths than they could feed would ask their childless neighbours or relatives if they wanted to take one.

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Another thing to consider is that Roe vs. Wade has greatly reduced the number of merely unwanted children born in this country, so the kids that do end up for adoption are more likely to be the ones that came from some fucked up situation that the original parent couldn’t cope with.

I also can’t be completely unsympathetic to parents that want to return the kids after 5 days because they went to the state and got an emotionally damaged teenager who tried to stab them in the first week with the new family and then tried to run away. They only got that child because the State was looking for anybody willing to take one of those kids and get them off of the roster.

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At the bottom of the article, each of the 250-300 icons of children represents an adoptive child whose story was posted on the Adopting-from-Disruption bulletin board. You can click on any of the icons and read what the parents or middlemen had to say. Some of the stories are tragic, and I do have a lot of sympathy for some of the parents and siblings involved (not enough to justify giving your child away to a stranger, but you can imagine some of the people’s desperation). Some of them can see their families breaking apart around them and feel that keeping the child in the home will be destructive for everyone concerned despite their best efforts and intentions. I’m surprised that there isn’t a stronger official support structure in place for this; I’d imagine having problems incorporating kids from messed up homes into a family would be pretty common.

These articles mention repeatedly that if you dump an adoptee straight into the foster care system, you’re liable for his care until his 18. Maybe they should just require adoptive families to post bond for that money. Then if things really go pear shaped, the kid goes into state care straight away.

I agree completely, and there needs to a lot stricter vetting from the home countries. Many of the children adopted from eastern European and former Soviet countries had serious pre-natal/infancy deprivations and have severe emotional and psychological problems are a result. It’s clear the many of the adopters are not only a little self-involved, but completely naive and have no real understanding of what they’re getting into. As irresponsible as the adoptive parents are, it’s clear that the state agencies in the countries these children come from are eager to make these kids “someone else’s problem” with no regard to the consequences.

This story chilled me straight through.

I used to work in social services. I know how appallingly hard it is to get help for your family, and how few resources are left. I understand the fear and the anger and the exhaustion. I understand how it could lead someone to just dump their child, adopted or biological, with a total stranger. I once spent an hour on the phone with someone, pleading with them to just take the kid to a fire station or a hospital, anything but just abandoning him on the side of the road or beating him to death. (I don’t know what ultimately happened to that kid, and it is one of the things that haunts me to this day.)

That said, I think it is incredibly unforgivable to make that choice. This isn’t like divorce or quitting a job - this is a human being’s life that you agreed to be responsible for, a human who needs you for protection and guidance. The story in the final chapter, of this Russian girl who is still trying to reach out to the people she thought would be her parents even though they are clearly monstrous assholes… it just broke my heart.

I hope people walk away from this story thinking not about how we need new laws but how we need social services. We have laws and that’s not preventing this from happening. We need programs to help kids recover from abuse and neglect, we need programs for family support to help people cope with children who have disabilities or mental health issues. There are people desperately reaching out for help that isn’t there or already spread too thin.