Re-homing: Treating Adopted Children Like–No, Worse Than–Dogs

Source: Reuters article "The Child Exchange" Sept. 9, 2013

Source: Reuters article “The Child Exchange” Sept. 9, 2013

Have you heard of re-homing? It’s kind of nice-sounding, usually used for dogs and cats to find new homes.

Recently, though, “re-homing” has been used in the human adoption community, to describe moving an adopted child from one adoptive home to another. There may be good reasons for moving a child. But it should never be done lightly, never without exhausting all other resources (respite, therapy, counseling, etc.). Never via a Yahoo group.

That said, in too many places, post-adoption services (never mind high-quality post-adoption services) may not be available. While there are some parents who give up easily on children, there are many who struggle mightily, financially, physically, emotionally, for long periods of time, trying to find help for their children.

Surely though the transfer of a child shouldn’t  be arranged over the Internet, with no real legal, adoption agency, or government oversight, with children essentially being handed off to strangers in a parking lot. Right?

Read this Reuters/NBC News article: Americans Use The Internet to Abandon Children Adopted From Overseas.

If you ever wondered if the international adoption process needs more oversight–better screening and rigorous training prior to adoption, plus accessible, thorough post-adoption services, plus genuine legal protection for children–this article should convince you.

Send the article on to your state and federal elected officials, asking if they are okay with children being “exchanged” with no oversight, potentially to people who have been convicted of child pornography, to people who will tell a child to dig her own grave, to people who will disappear with the child, ending in who knows what fate.

Insist to our elected officials that (at a minimum) more legal oversight is needed for the safety of children.  Ask them to support increased funding for pre-adopt and post-adopt services.

If you have been moved by the horrific trial for homicide, manslaughter, and assault of the adoptive parents of Hana Alemu and her adopted Ethiopian brother, read the article, and send it on with your comments to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Information on contacting your federal elected officials is here for the House and here for the Senate.

You can also contact the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and the National Council on Adoption, both of which work with adoption agencies and with federal and state governments.

Ask the US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues what public and comprehensive action they will take to protect children, since that’s their job in overseeing international adoptions. Here’s a quote from their web page:  “In this work, we are fully committed to protecting the welfare and interests of children.” That must include an oversight and enforcement role after the children arrive here. 

State Department contact information is available here.

As an adoptive parent of two sons from the US and two daughters from Ethiopia, I am deeply saddened and outraged by the information in the Reuters article–but not surprised. These tragic stories have been happening for far too long, though they haven’t received the attention they deserve.

We don’t want bad things happening to dogs. Surely these tragedies should not ever happen to children.

All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees

The thing is: you’re adoptees.

You were brought to the United States from another country to become the adopted child of US citizens. And now you’re an adult, raised in America.  You speak only English. You went to school here and worked here. You know only your American family and friends.

The State Department website tells adoptive parents:

“It is important to ensure that your adopted child becomes a U.S. citizen. If you postpone documenting or obtaining your child’s citizenship, later he or she may have difficulty getting college scholarships, working legally, voting, and enjoying other rights and privileges.”

But wait: there’s more. Adoptees can be deported.

For all its rhetoric and posturing across the political spectrum about the value of adoption, the US Congress has failed miserably in supporting internationally adopted children.

Let’s review here: A child arrives in the US from Korea, India, Brazil, or another far off place with a different language, culture, food, music, customs, holidays, history. The child is adopted by US citizens. So of course the child automatically becomes a US citizen too, right?

Nope. Certainly not if he or she had the poor timing to be adopted prior to 2000, when the Child Citizenship Act became law. That law, which I (along with many other people) worked on and supported, means that (most) internationally adopted children can automatically become US citizens, if they arrived after February 27, 2001. There is still paperwork involved, of course.

Children arriving on IR-4 visas before or after the CCA must follow a different route, and that’s significant. But citizenship is achievable.

For those thousands and thousands of adoptees who arrived here before the CCA, the process was not so streamlined or automatic. Some parents failed to get their kids US citizenship. Some adoption agencies could have done a better job providing information about the value of citizenship. (And this is still an issue now for those IR-4 visas.)

It was a huge oversight.

An immigration law passed by Congress in 1996 had among its many clauses the possibility of deportation for non-US citizens who commit a felony, including non-violent crimes. There have been adoptees who have committed felonies. I’m not condoning the commission of crimes.

But these adoptees were brought to the US for purposes of adoption by US citizens. They most likely thought they were citizens–seems reasonable. And now, after being raised in America, after serving their sentences, they can be deported to their country of origin–where often they know no one, don’t speak the language, have little chance of getting work, and can never return to the United States.

This has already happened to several adoptees.  One died at 26 after being sent back to Brazil, having been raised in Ohio from the age of 8, after a first time marijuana conviction. The plight of others has prompted petitions. Russell Green was the subject of at least one. The most recent in the news was Kairi Shepherd, and there are many more pending. Many folks, especially adult adoptees, have been working very hard to fix this absurd situation. The Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative has been among the leaders in this movement.

We don’t deport US citizens who have committed crimes, even if we’d like to. Deporting the internationally adopted children of US citizens is an insult to the integrity of adoption and to the reality of adoptive families.

Congress has been (astonishingly? unsurprisingly? shamefully?) slow to rectify this. Consider contacting the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and your Senator and Representative. Ask them to move on legislation that is fair, humane, and overdue: US citizenship for internationally adopted children, regardless of when they arrived.

A nod to Woody Guthrie for the title of this blog  post.

In remembrance of Hana

Update: Unfortunately, the Senate Committee did not act on the bill. Let’s hope that positive change will occur in the next legislative session.


No child should ever be abused. I believe adopted children deserve a special level of protection, since their movement from their biological family and their placement into an adoptive family (if done legally, ethically, and transparently) involves local, state, federal, and sometimes international laws and regulations.

Hana Alemu (aka Hanna Williams), 13 years old, died at the hands of her adoptive parents here in Washington state, in Skagit County, on May 12, 2011. Her obituary said she passed away unexpectedly. The coroner’s report said she died from hypothermia, found naked and dead locked outside her family home on a rainy night when temps were in the 40’s. News reports said she’d been beaten, starved, made to use a toilet outside, and, at the time of death, weighed less than she had at her arrival in the US from Ethiopia in 2008.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Her adoptive parents have yet to go on trial.

To its credit, Washington State is working to ensure that additional measures are in place to prevent such horrors happening again to any adopted child. The Department of Social and Health Services and the Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman issued a report on severe abuse of adopted children; it’s sobering, daunting information about adopted children who were abused in terrible ways. Hana is among them. The children whose abuse (and, in some cases, deaths) prompted this report were from both US and international adoptions.

The report also proposes several important, realistic measures that can strengthen the success of adoptions and the safety of children:

Improved oversight of child-placing agencies, including tracking adoption disruptions and dissolutions (when the adoptive parents end an adoption before or after the adoption has been legally finalized),  as well as developing a list of “red flags” regarding troubled adoptions;

Better assessment of prospective adoptive parents, including enhancement of minimum requirements for home studies; and

Improved training and post-adoption services, including additional support services for adoptive families.

These proposals, which would apply to US and international adoptions, are significant and necessary. Some of the recommendations require relatively small legislative changes, and HB 1675 was introduced in the Washington State House, passing by a vote of 90 to 7. On March 21, the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections held a hearing on the bill.  Several people from the Ethiopian Community Association in Seattle traveled to Olympia to speak in favor of the bill at the hearing, as did I.

Some folks would like to see this bill called “Hana’s Law,” to honor her memory. The ECA folks were there because of deep concern about the safety of Ethiopian children adopted to the United States. I was there as the adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, 6 years old when they came here, 24 years old now. All of our hearts ache for Hana; her death was a tragedy of suffering that never should have happened.

I hope I am wrong in hearing that HB 1675 will not be sent to the Senate floor by the Human Services Committee.  They have only until Wednesday April 3 to move the bill. It is a great opportunity for a state legislature to act publicly and positively on legislation to protect adopted children.

Advocacy in Olympia, Part 1: The Value of the OBC

Adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive parents--rallying together for OBC access 3/21/13. I'm on the far left.

Adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive parents–rallying together for OBC access 3/21/13. I’m on the far left.

Washington State is known to be progressive: gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, more recycling buckets than you can shake a stick at (Yard Waste). So it’s surprising, in some ways, that the debate over allowing adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates (OBC) still swirls.

Around the world, most industrialized nations allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their OBC as a matter of civil rights. (My daughters from Ethiopia arrived here with their OBC.) That’s not the case here in the US. Two states, Alaska and Kansas, have never sealed adoption records, meaning that adopted people have always had the right to obtain their OBC.  New Hampshire, Maine, Alabama, and Oregon currently allow adult adoptees to get their OBC, without restrictions. Most other states allow some sort of access, often fairly complicated, subject to some sort of veto (by the first/birth/biological mother)–and that is unfair.

No legislation exists (or has ever existed) by the federal government or any state government that guarantees privacy to birth parents following an adoptive placement. None.

Adult adoptees are the only group of Americans that are denied the right to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

Whether they choose to exercise that right is highly individual, but there is no doubt in my mind that they should have the option. Adoption is undeniably complex.  Adoptees and birth families should have support and resources available to them, if and when they decide to search. A fundamental right, though, is access to one’s identity.

Last Thursday, I drove from Seattle to Olympia, Washington’s state capitol, about an hour and a half away.  The Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee was holding a hearing on 2 adoption-related bills, and, as an adoptive parent, I testified about both. The OBC legislation generated a lot of interest and testimony, from a few adoptive parents (older than me, even), several adoptees who ranged in age from mid-20’s to 70, and several birth mothers. We (adoptive parents, adoptees, birth mothers) were on the same page, urging legislators to allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. It’s overdue.