Perhaps I'm naïve, but this concept never crossed my mind before. Unfortunately, it does seem to happen, and the courts and legislatures are beginning to do something about it. Here is a recent ABA Journal article that discusses the legal background and framework:
Among pet owners, "re-homing" an unwanted dog or cat is a relatively straightforward process. The owner who seeks an alternative home often places an ad on the Internet, and a private transaction occurs that moves the pet to a new family. But with the rise of foreign adoptions of children and the inability of some parents to handle troubled youths, more and more desperate families are taking that approach with adopted youngsters and re-homing the children with strangers. Often those re-homed children report gruesome tales of physical, sexual or emotional abuse by their new guardians.
The process of re-homing has been largely unregulated—no federal laws prohibit the exchange of unwanted adopted kids. Most states allow private adoptions, but the processes vary widely and oversight is limited. In most cases, re-homing may be executed by a simple power-of-attorney letter or a notarized statement without government authorities or even any lawyers vetting the new parents.I am reminded of the chapter in Anne of Green Gables when Marilla, determined to send Anne back as she and Mathew had requested a boy to help around the farm, discusses Anne's fate:
"It was our own fault," said Marilla resignedly. "We should have come to you ourselves and not left an important message to be passed along by word of mouth in that fashion. Anyhow, the mistake has been made and the only thing to do is to set it right. Can we send the child back to the asylum? I suppose they'll take her back, won't they?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Spencer thoughtfully, "but I don't think it will be necessary to send her back. Mrs. Peter Blewett was up here yesterday, and she was saying to me how much she wished she'd sent by me for a little girl to help her. Mrs. Peter has a large family, you know, and she finds it hard to get help. Anne will be the very girl for you. I call it positively providential."
Marilla did not look as if she thought Providence had much to do with the matter. Here was an unexpectedly good chance to get this unwelcome orphan off her hands, and she did not even feel grateful for it.
She knew Mrs. Peter Blewett only by sight as a small, shrewish-faced woman without an ounce of superfluous flesh on her bones. But she had heard of her. "A terrible worker and driver," Mrs. Peter was said to be; and discharged servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess, and her family of pert, quarrelsome children. Marilla felt a qualm of conscience at the thought of handing Anne over to her tender mercies.
To a large extent, I understand WHY parents might decide to rehome. During our "training" as prospective adoptive parents, we were told about the potential problems that adopted children might have, including severe behavioral issues ranging from attachment disorders to violent behavior (in Green Gables, Marilla is advised that adopted children put strychnine in the well water!). We've seen from the experience of friends who've adopted that the medical files aren't always... um... completely accurate. In short, the well-intentioned parents may find themselves with a situation that is financially and emotionally beyond their capabilities. What to do? Is it not in everybody's interest to give the child ASAP to a family that CAN handle the situation?
This is a difficult question. On the one hand, I can see how "rehoming" might well be the best option for all concerned. On the other - and I realize that this is an easy thing to write - parenting is not like a job where one can just quit because the (shall we say?) terms of employment turn out to be rather different than promised. How is the adoptive parent who finds himself with a "difficult" child any different than the birth parent who finds himself with, for example, a severely handicapped child or a child with very difficult behavioral problems? My wife and I talked about this during the process: "What if ---?" Our decision was that we would take what came just as we would have done had we had a biological child*.
But there are those parents (and I realize that we might have been amongst their number; there but for the Grace of God goes Sherlock Holmes) who don't chose to stick it out. Clearly, there must be a legal framework for rehoming. The child has very likely been abandoned once; it shouldn't happen again. He doesn't deserve to go from bad to worse.
"Kids shouldn't be in want ads like: 'Our dog just had puppies. Want one for free?' " adds [Ann] Haralambie, a former chair of the ABA Family Law Section's Juvenile Law and Needs of Children Committee. "That's precisely where people like the mentally ill and pedophiles go to get children. At best, it's abandonment, and at worst, it's human trafficking."
Ultimately, the burden falls on the prospective parents to decide if they really are prepared to deal with whatever may come. Anne Shirley turned out to be a fine young lady and a joy to the Cuthberts; I think that such is the case with the vast majority of adopted children. But things MAY not go so well, and people do themselves and ESPECIALLY the children a huge injury if they ignore this possibility and, hence, can't deal with it if it comes to pass.**
Haralambie, too, believes that re-homing signals "a much more basic, systemic problem"—the lack of resources to properly screen prospective parents and to inform both the child and the family of what to expect from adoption. "Adoptive parents need to have a real-life reality check and then real good support once those children arrive."Adoption is an on-going learning experience for everybody, from the government agencies to the social workers to the parents to the children. Each year, we learn more about what we've done well and what we need to do better. As hard as it can be to read what some adopted children write about their experiences and viewpoints, we need to hear what EVERYBODY has to say to make the process as fool-proof as we can. After all, we are talking about the lives of children: none of us want to foul up.
(*) Early in the process, I wondered if I could accept - nay, love - an adopted child as I could a biological child. I'm very, very happy to say that, with my daughter, that question has been answered unequivocally in the affirmative.
(**) I highly recommend to the prospective adoptive parent Patty Cogen's Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: I read this before we were matched, and I must say that it was tough sledding as Cogen pulls no punches on what CAN happen.
Patty Cogen. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years. Boston: The Harvard Common Press, 2008.