Wisconsin enacted the first law in the country barring parents from privately giving away their adopted children to someone other than a relative last week. While Christian adoption agencies applauded the move, they also called for greater support for parents dealing with difficult adoptive children.
The law, signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday, addresses reports that desperate parents sometimes use underground means, like online groups and social media, to arrange private custody transfers of their adopted children. The law will restrict advertising children online, as well as when and how a parent may transfer custody of a child.
“With virtually no oversight, children could literally be traded from home to home,” said state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, the bill’s Republican sponsor. “In Wisconsin, this is now against the law. Hopefully citizens of the country will follow our lead.”
Last September, Reuters released a five-part investigative series on disrupted adoptions and parents seeking to find new homes for their adopted children through an unregulated process referred to as “re-homing.” They found cases where parents used an online Yahoo group to transfer custody of their children to people who were later found to be abusive or dangerous.
Bethany Christian Services, the nation’s largest adoption agency, supports the Wisconsin legislation. It released a statement in October calling for “greater support from federal and state governments to protect adopted children from the potential atrocities of ‘re-homing.’” But Bethany sees legislation as only one part of the solution to this complex problem.
“I think it is one leg of the stool,” said Kris Faasse, Bethany’s vice president of clinical operations. “But to make it illegal, we have to also be ready to provide additional supports.”
She said some parents reach a state of desperation and don’t know where to turn for help. As foster-to-adoption and international adoption gain momentum, more families are adopting children who have experienced malnutrition, prenatal exposure to substances, abuse, and abandonment.
“These kids are coming with difficult histories,” said Faasse. Counseling and assistance are often expensive, and many families are hesitant to call their adoption agency to confess they are struggling. She emphasizes the role of the church in providing practical care, respite, and support to families who have adopted.
In some cases, Faasse said dissolving an adoption and transitioning a child to a new adoptive family may be necessary and very positive. But it “has to be planned, and has to be done carefully with the interest of the child in mind.”
More states, including Ohio, Colorado, and Florida, are considering legislation similar to Wisconsin’s, according to Reuters.
Disrupted adoptions represent a small fraction of all adoptions, according to Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Reuters identified 183 children in its report out of the 235,000 children adopted since 1999. But he says the situation “demands clear-eyed awareness, frank discussion, and a fierce grip on both honesty and grace.”
“Parents of all sorts—both adoptive and biological—sometimes face major challenges requiring outside help,” Medefind said. “People in this place need both grace and well-informed support. But to hand a child off to a stranger is simply unacceptable, and our laws should unequivocally reflect that.”