American parents who adopted children from abroad are advertising them for readoption to strangers on a Facebook group, Channel 4 News finds.
A Channel 4 News investigation finds that unwanted kids are listed on the Facebook group, and other online forums and websites, when their American parents decide that they no longer want them or are unable to care from them.
Hundreds of parents travel from the United States to Ethiopia every year to adopt kids, with 250,000 kids adopted to the US from overseas since 2000.
‘You’ve just got to put it out there’
Andrea Gaines lives in Virginia, US, and has adopted four kids from Ethiopia. Three of them are thriving and happy. But but one of her children Biruk developed behavioural issues that have impacted the whole family.
“He starting talking about wanting to kill himself, really hurting himself, banging himself against walls, he would run up and down the street talking nonsense and babbling … just being uncontrollable.”
Andrea said she exhausted all avenues for seeking psychological help for Biruk, and was worried for the safety of her other children, and so she turned to a Facebook group to find him a new family who could better cope or where he might be happier.
She defended listing him on the site; “Just posting and saying ‘Hey do you want my kids?’ I don’t think that’s appropriate but you know sometimes when you’re desperate and looking for somebody who might be the right person for your child – sometimes you’ve just got to put it out there,” she said.
Two people responded to Andrea’s message and offered Biruk a trial period. Andrea said that she would only hand over a child in the right circumstances.
Part of Andrea’s listing of her child online explained her “desperate search”, and explained his emotional difficulties, but also said “great at soccer and super charming when he’s in a good mood.”
Andrea says that parents in the United States get a lack of support from the authorities and social services and that this played a large role in her choice to turn to Facebook for support and help.
The children are listed on the Facebook group “Adopting through Disruption”, with disruption being the term for the process of dissolving an adoption.
Facebook told Channel 4 News they would remove the group following our investigation.
“Safety is very important to us and we have a clear set of guidelines which outline what is and isnt acceptable on the site. After investigation we have removed the group for breaking our Community Standards,” a spokesperson explained.
Biruk is one of ten children listed on Facebook who were initially adopted to the United States from various countries.
In some states parents can sign over guardianship for a child by signing a piece of paper – a power of attorney document – authorised by a notary.
This is seen as a quicker and easier system than a formal adoption. But in some states this practice, and the practice of advertising a children online, has been made illegal in recent years.
‘I felt like a product’
Matthew Meyer is 22 years old and was born into a poor family in Ethioipa. His parents couldn’t feed him and sent him to an orphanage at the age of six. When he was 10 he was adopted by an American women.
Matthew explains that after being shipped around the country that he was eventually away to a family that she met online.
“I feel like I’m just a product you know when you buy something over the internet – you just just type in – I want this merchandise – it’s like I’m a merhandise … there should be more process than that.”
“After I left home I never felt that love that I felt when I was at home”
After leaving the second family he lived with at the aeg of 17 Matthew now lives in a motel in Orlando, Flordia, with his girlfriend. He says he has had multiple spells in prison. He has hopes to meet his family in Ethiopia again soon.
“I wish I could come over here and then show them that I made it and give back or and make them proud.”
Some adopted orphans who were “rehomed” across the internet have told Channel 4 News of the poor parenting, psychological damage and emotional abuse they sustained from families who didn’t want them or were incapable of caring for them.
‘Easier than adopting a dog’
Addy Steinhof from Wisconsin was given away online by her adopted family, though she ended up in what she says is a more positive situation after being treated badly by the mother of her first adoptive family.
“I remember when they were cooking suppers I wasn’t allowed to come upstairs and eat with them and sit with them at the same table.”
She was rehomed online via an adoption forum, and her parents never explained what was happening.
“They never told me ‘You’re going to this family and we’re not going to be your family.’ They never told me that in person.”
Virginia State Senator Jeff McWaters is campaigning to pass a bill to stop the advertising of children on the internet, while other states have already outlawed the practice. He says children must not be treated as a commodity.
“You can’t sell someone a car without registering that car, changing the registration, turning that over in a legal process to the individual buying the car. We’ve even seen in some states where you can’t give your pet to somebody else without going through some steps and process.”
“If that’s the case with cars and with pets, why shouldn’t it even more so be the case with kids.”