In the News

Looking out for vulnerable international adoptees

Beijing Foster Home Cares For Orphaned Children

A young Chinese cries as she waits for feeding at a foster care centre on April 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. China’s orphanages and foster homes used to be filled with healthy girls, reflecting the country’s one-child policy and its preference for sons. Now the vast majority of orphans are sick or disabled. China says it has 576,000 orphans in its child welfare system though outside groups put the number at closer to a million. The parents who abandon them either cannot afford treatment or feel an inability to cope with raising a child who has special needs. In many cases an unwanted baby is never registered so the parents can skirt the one-child policy if they try for another.

“Rehoming” is a term normally used to describe finding new owners for unwanted pets. But in the darkest corners of the Internet, rehoming is also a code word for families looking to get rid of children adopted internationally.

Desperate families struggling to cope with disastrous adoptions turn to chat rooms in search of new parents willing to take in their often troubled children. It happens off the radar of child welfare authorities and outside the law. There are no home assessments or psychological evaluations of the prospective new families. In some cases, the children are dumped with their new parents after an exchange of emails.

This little-known phenomenon was only recently exposed after an investigation by Reuters. While the Reuters probe uncovered hundreds of potential cases in the U.S. — finding one child a week on average being offered up for rehoming on a single Yahoo chatroom over a five-year period — it also happens in Canada. CBC’s Fifth Estate recently followed the story of a 5-year-old boy adopted from Liberia by a British Columbia couple who abandoned him within a year to a woman in Texas they had never met.

This practice is both horrifying and heartbreaking. It amounts to no less than the trafficking of vulnerable children. In the worst-case scenarios, children were handed over to sexual predators, child pornographers and people whose own progeny had been removed for abuse and neglect. It compounds the damage to the fragile psyches of children who have already started life under tough conditions.

But it also speaks to a larger issue — one that is often taboo: the difficulties some parents who have adopted children internationally face when they return home. Many go into the process unprepared for the sometimes heavy burden of adopting children who may have major developmental or psychological problems, including attachment disorders and violent tendencies. Others are misled about the health and backgrounds of the youngsters they are welcoming into their families. There is also a lack of follow-up services and support to help when things go awry. And of course there is the stigma; adoptive parents may feel they have failed.

For many, international adoptions are happy and successful, but those that go wrong can go very wrong indeed. A series on such tragic outcomes by La Presse cited statistics from France and the U.S. suggesting as many as 10 to 25 per cent of international adoptions end in rupture. It reported on cases of Quebec children being dumped back in their countries of origin as well as others who became wards of the state.

La Presse found 52 cases of Quebec children adopted internationally being given over to the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse, 20 of them until adulthood. But no one is keeping track, not even Quebec’s Secrétariat à l’adoption internationale, which oversees the process of adopting children from abroad.

The U.S. Senate took note of the Reuters investigation and held hearings on closing legal loopholes that allow “rehoming” to happen, while several U.S. states have outlawed aspects of the practice. B.C. child welfare officials were able to bring back the Liberian boy who was taken to Texas and he is finally thriving with a permanent family.

But more needs to be done for vulnerable children adopted into Canada with serious difficulties — and their families.