- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

When her adopted father drove away from Addy Steinhoff’s new home, all she could do was call out, “Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad!”

But he had already said the most stunning words to her: “I’m not your dad anymore.”

A congressman who is eager to stop such “rehoming” of children recently welcomed Ms. Steinhoff, 19, to Capitol Hill to tell her story.

She said she had been adopted at age 11 from her native Ethiopia by a family in Ohio. But a few years later, that family used the Internet to find a new family in Wisconsin to take custody of her.

One day they dropped her off with the Wisconsin family, saying she would be visiting them for a while. Then came the day when the Ohio parents delivered Addy’s possessions to her — and confirmed that they were leaving her for good.

“I felt so much pain,” said Ms. Steinhoff, who now uses the last name of her Wisconsin family.

“All children deserve a safe, loving home, and yet innocent children are being traded on the Internet with no oversight and little concern for their best interests,” said Rep. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, who is the lead sponsor of the Protecting Adopted Children Act.

The bill provides pre- and post-adoptive counseling as well as funds treatments for adopted children, peer-to-peer mentoring for adoptive parents and a 24-hour emergency hotline.

Mr. Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, hosted a June 24 briefing on adoption disruption and the practice of rehoming.

Belaynesh Hehn and Samuel Hehn, both Ethiopian-born and part of a large adoptive family in the Seattle area, told their stories too.

Ms. Hehn, 22, was adopted with her older brother Abebe and sister Mimi. But when difficulties arose in the home, she said, she was dropped off at a homeless shelter when she was 15. She then bounced between houses, shelters and her older sister’s home until stabilizing and entering beauty school. Abebe, who has been involved with the criminal justice system, still lives and sleeps on the streets, she said.

Samuel Hehn, who was adopted from a different Ethiopian family, said he was eventually placed in an apartment — but only until he turned 18, when he would be “cut off” by the adoptive parents.

Samuel Hehn said he was particularly distressed because he has no paperwork showing he is in the United States legally. He said the Hehns told him different things: that they would give it to him on his 18th birthday, that it was lost in the house, that they did give it to him, Mr. Hehn said. He added that, unless he had a lawyer, he had little confidence anyone would believe his story.

The Hehn children were profiled in a documentary film by award-winning journalist Dan Rather. School librarian Rich Hehn and wife, teacher Julia Hehn, have been lauded for raising around 30 children, including many Ethiopian adoptees. They declined to speak with Mr. Rather for his film, “Unwanted in America: The Shameful Side of International Adoption.”

Some 6,441 foreign-born children entered the U.S. in 2014, according to the State Department’s intercountry adoption office. China is the biggest sending country, with 2,040 children. Ethiopia is the second-largest, sending 716 children to U.S. homes.

Since rehoming is an underground practice, no one knows how many children or families have been involved in it. However, the Governmental Accountability Office is preparing a study on the practice for release later this year.

States such as Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have passed laws to crack down on the rehoming practice. Arkansas, for instance, now requires a court order to transfer custody of adopted children to anyone who is not a close relative. The law is aimed at stopping families from using simple legal documents to transfer guardianship of their children — especially to strangers.

Some 261 children were advertised as “available” on Internet websites and chat rooms and a now-closed Yahoo bulletin board, a 2013 Reuters investigation estimated. Seventy percent of those children had been adopted from countries like Russia and Ethiopia, Reuters said in its five-part series “The Child Exchange.”

In May Reuters reported that an Arizona couple it interviewed had been arrested and charged with kidnapping two minors and transporting one across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity.

Adoptive families should be much more prepared to get involved with a child’s home culture, said Tefera Alemayehu, who founded Network of Family Service Professionals in the District to serve Ethiopian and other African families.

Some families, for instance, have insisted their adopted children eat American food like pizza, but won’t let them cook or eat Ethiopian food, he said.

The federal government could do more to ensure that adoption agencies properly prepare prospective families, Susan Soon-Keum Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt International Children’s Services in Oregon, told the Capitol Hill briefing.

One adoption agency, for instance, only required 10 hours of training for parents, said Ms. Cox. Holt — which pioneered international adoptions and is active in nine countries, including Ethiopia — requires 40 hours of training.

If all adoption agencies had to provide 40 hours of training, it would prevent prospective parents from “shopping around” for the most lenient agency, said Ms. Cox.

Child welfare expert Maureen Flatley noted that property transfers and pet ownership are all subject to state laws and regulations. “We owe it to the kids to have same standards as cars, boats and dogs,” she told the briefing.

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