Modern Family

Judge: Rehoming Kids Is Trafficking

A judge in New York has banned a couple looking to undo their adoption from trying to ‘rehome’ their two Russian-born children—and other courts could soon follow suit.

12.30.14 10:45 AM ET

Inga Wisner’s heart weighs heavily with guilt and anguish over a recent decision to re-home a boy and a girl she and her husband, Michael, adopted from Africa in 2011.

The New Jersey woman, who also has three biological children, says she made the right decision because her adopted children have now found a more suitable home where they are doing better, and her family is safer.

The adopted children, then 18 months and 2.5 years old, came to the family abused and neglected, Wisner says. From the beginning both youngsters suffered from post-orphanage syndromes: violent rages, lying, and an inability to attach to their new family. Wisner says her adopted son was constantly engraged. Her adopted daughter tried to suffocate a younger biological sibling.

Unlike some adoptive parents who turn to an underground market called private rehoming—where children are given away to others without any consultation or oversight by state child welfare agencies, counselors, courts or lawyers—the Wisners pushed their adoption agency to help them find a more suitable family for their children after psychiatric therapies were unsuccessful. The children found a new family after a home study was done and the adoption was completed in court.

Wisner continues to feel angry toward the agency because she believes she was misled.

“Agencies need to give full disclosure about children’s health and medical issues,” she said. “We had told the agency we would only accept children with minor health issues. They assured us the children were healthy. They told us the children were siblings but they weren’t. There were too many lies.”

In a similar scenario, a Long Island couple—trying to vacate or “undo” the adoption of two Russian children who, they say, suffer from serious mental disorders and are now living in state mental-health facilities—is suing Spence Chapin and Cradle of Hope for fraud. The couple alleges they had been told by their adoption agencies that the children, who were six and eight years old when they came to their home in 2008, were “healthy and socially well-adjusted.” They also allege their children are not in fact siblings, despite having been told they were.

The court papers are sealed, but the couple has made it clear they want to be relieved of their parental responsibilities. However, they have never asked the court about re-homing their children, and their lawyer, Thomas O. Rice, in fact, has assured the judge that rehoming is not their intent. Despite this assurance, the judge in this case has taken the unusual step of issuing a pre-emptive ruling that would prevent the parents going to the black market and rehoming their children.

Judge Edward W. McCarty III has issued a ruling that says if he denies the parents’ request to vacate the adoption and the parents are not relieved of their parental rights, they are prohibited from re-homing the children without court supervision.

In this oblique ruling, he is signaling to the parents that they will not be able to rid themselves of their children if they are unsuccessful in court via private rehoming. They would have to get court approval to re-home their children.

Re-homing in New York, and in most states, is legal through a Power of Attorney from the adoptive parents who want to give away children to new guardians. New guardians do have not parental status.

So why has this judge issued this ruling? Because this case has turned the judge’s attention to the dark side of international adoption, and more specifically to re-homing, which he equates with child trafficking.

“Sometimes a judge learns about something that is so upsetting he feels he has to do something, so I wrote a decision,” said McCarty. “Now it’s a public record. Any lawyer can review it. Maybe it’s time to change section 374, which permits rehoming in the state.”

Even if the parents appeal the ruling, McCarty says he’d be happy to see the case go to a higher court so the issue will continue to make noise.

There are instances in which private rehoming works out fine and is the best solution for the struggling family and the children. Adoptive parents often choose to rehome under the radar because going back to court to relinquish parental rights can be a protracted legal process. Many parents have been defeated in their efforts to get help from child welfare departments. Many say the adopted children are so manipulative that parents are seen as predators by counselors or social workers.

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Adoptive parents, who may or may not have received proper training in the first place, or adequate warnings about their child’s mental health, also complain they have not received support from their adoption agencies. Almost always, a parent who goes to an Internet site to advertise their child for rehoming is desperate and often emotionally and financially depleted.

That said, the Reuters series on re-homing in 2013, profiled the worst-case scenarios of rehoming, bringing the practice to the world’s attention. The news outlet analyzed more than 5,000 posts about rehoming over a five-year period from a Yahoo online message board, which has since been taken down. Everything from the wording parents used to dump their children to the way they were handed off to strangers in parking lots exposed the darkest recesses of human behavior. In some cases children were rehomed with known sexual predators. Most often the children transferred to new homes were between six and 14 years old, but some were as young as 10 months. At least 70 percent of the children were adopted from overseas, including Russia, China, Ethiopia and Ukraine. Failure to bond to their parents was the prominent reason children were being given away.

Last summer, outgoing junior senator Kay Hagan (NC), Chair of the Subcommittee on Children and Families, held a hearing on the need to address child trafficking and private re-homing. “In our own neighborhoods, children are bought and sold online and shuffled around to homes and families that their adoptive parents have never met and who, in some cases, have a history of abuse and neglect. We cannot allow these children to slip through our system unnoticed.”

Lawmakers recognize that internationally adopted children, especially those who are not re-adopted in their home state, fly under the radar. Hagan said it was important for school personnel, health care providers and social workers to recognize the signs of and symptoms of trafficking and rehoming.

In April, Wisconsin became the first state to make it illegal for anyone not licensed by the state to advertise a child older than age one for adoption or any other custody transfer, both in print and online. Parents who want to transfer custody of a child to someone other than a relative must seek permission from a judge. Violators face up to nine months in jail or as much as $10,000 in fines.

Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R), who sponsored the Wisconsin bill, “with no oversight, children could literally be traded from home to home.”

Now Wisconsin is considering making it mandatory for parents who adopt overseas to have their children “re-adopted” in the state. “This puts children into the system,” Kleefisch said. “It will protect them from flying under the radar.”

Similar legislation to what Wisconsin passed has been introduced in Ohio, where a girl adopted from Haiti was passed among four homes in two years. The last family who took her in quickly sent her away after she helped bring to light allegations of sexual abuse of other children in the home. The father, Jean Paul Kruse, was later charged with rape and sexual abuse. The mother, Emily Kruse, was charged with obstructing justice and intimidating a witness.

Last summer, Louisiana also banned non-legal adoption, with offenders facing a penalty of $5,000 and up to five years in prison. Colorado and Florida are considering similar laws.