For some adopted children, their “forever” families are anything but.
Adopted under false pretenses from Ethiopia in 2006, Tarikuwa Lemma was barely acclimated to America when her family “re-homed” her to relatives a few months later.
It was “really humiliating,” she testified to Maine lawmakers Thursday. Re-homing is “not right, not fair, not safe.”
Adam Crapser, a Korean-American adoptee who also was re-homed — in his case, dropped off at a state agency — faces deportation because none of his parents completed his U.S. naturalization papers.
Re-homing is “devastating in so many ways,” Mr. Crapser told The Washington Times in an email. “I know I am one of many, and I’m 40 years old now. My life is only to provide a future and life for my children and wife.”
Media reports have put a spotlight on the legal practice of adoptive parents using personal or Internet networks to transfer custody of their adopted children. At least some of the adoptees’ new homes have turned out to belong to child molesters.
Lawmakers in Maine and several other states, as well as in Congress, are moving to stop the practice.
Details about re-homing are expected to be compiled in a report due this fall from the Government Accountability Office.
In the case of Mr. Crapser, who was born in 1975, re-homing was just part of the abuse and neglect he experienced as an adoptee.
Born in South Korea to a Korean mother and a Western father, Mr. Crapser and his elder sister were abandoned to an orphanage by their mother. In 1979, a Korean adoption agency placed them with a Michigan family, with the help of state adoption officials.
The American family had other children and was very troubled.
“I remember a lot of fighting and yelling,” as well as whippings and the sexual abuse of his sister, Mr. Crapser said. After the family moved to Portland, Oregon, they decided they didn’t want Adam or his sister and relinquished them to an Oregon agency.
Mr. Crapser, now separated from his sister, went through several foster families and a group home before being placed with the Crapser family.
But life got worse: The parents were vindictive and violent in punishing Adam and their other children. Both parents eventually were found guilty of felony criminal mistreatment and child assault. The father also was found guilty of raping a daughter.
What no parent or U.S. adoption official ever did was complete Mr. Crapser’s naturalization papers, which caught the eye of immigration officials. They say that because Mr. Crapser is still a South Korean national — and has a criminal record in the U.S. — he should be sent back to South Korea, despite having lived in the U.S. for nearly four decades.
Mr. Crapser is a victim of re-homing, said Susan Soon-Keum Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt International Children’s Services in Eugene, Oregon.
“He was abandoned to the state of Oregon and it was the state of Oregon that put him into the second adoption that was just so horrible,” Ms. Cox said.
A 2013 expose on re-homing by Reuters news agency estimated that 261 children had been advertised as available for families through a now-closed Yahoo bulletin board. Seventy percent of the children were adopted from foreign countries such as Ethiopia and Russia.
The Reuters series, “The Child Exchange,” found that parents released their adopted children to relatives or strangers with a simple power-of-attorney document, ignoring the federal Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, which governs transfer of child custody across state lines, and state prohibitions against child abandonment and child trafficking.
In Ms. Lemma’s case, she was re-homed without her biological sisters to live with her adoptive mother’s parents.
“Children matter more than cars,” but it was easier to transfer ownership of a child than buy a car, Ms. Lemma said Thursday to Maine lawmakers who are considering a bill to ban re-homing.
According to the Reuters series, re-homed children were sometimes subjected to mistreatment, sexual crimes and abandonment.
In May, an Arizona couple who talked to Reuters about their re-homing activities were formally charged with kidnapping two minors and transporting one across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. That couple — Nicole and Calvin Eason — used different identities to take custody of at least six boys and girls from other families, Reuters reported May 8.
States step up
At least six states have enacted laws to limit or outlaw re-homing, including Arkansas, where at least 10 cases of re-homing have been identified, a state lawmaker said.
One Arkansas case involved one of the state’s lawmakers: state Rep. Justin Harris turned to re-homing in 2013 to deal with two sisters he and his wife adopted.
The Harrises, who have three boys, initially brought three young sisters into their home at their birth mother’s request. At least two of the girls already had been sexually molested, the Arkansas Times reported in March. The Harrises started the formal adoption process in 2012 but soon released one sister to state therapeutic care. They also began keeping one sister apart from the other children in the home for their safety.
When Mrs. Harris suffered a health crisis in the fall of 2013, the Harrises essentially re-homed their two adopted girls, sending them to live with a longtime friend of Mrs. Harris whose husband, Eric Cameron Francis, was a teacher in the child care center the Harrises own.
Francis later was charged with raping the older girl. Now divorced, he has been sentenced to prison, and all three of the girls have been adopted by new families, the Arkansas Times reported.
Arkansas’ legislation, signed into law in April by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, forbids adoptive parents from assigning custody of their children to another household without a court order, unless the people are close relatives. Re-homing under other circumstances is a felony punishable by prison and fines.
Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin also have adopted laws against re-homing, said the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York and North Carolina lawmakers are considering laws against the practice.
No federal law specifically outlaws re-homing, although the issue is on the radar of some members of Congress.
An adoption safety bill by Reps. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, and Robert J. Wittman, Virginia Republican, would make it illegal to “offer to engage or engaging in the transfer of permanent custody or control of a minor in contravention of a required legal procedure.”
Meanwhile, Sens. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, have sponsored a bill focusing on post-adoption services, which many see as a major part of the solution to distress and disruption in adoptive families.
Boston-area child-welfare advocate Maureen Flatley, who has testified on the issue, said she sees three kinds of people who get caught up in re-homing.
Some are “wonderful families who have done everything they can think of” to care for their adopted children but end up struggling to cope with problems and, after getting no help from agencies or states, turn to re-homing in desperation, Ms. Flatley said.
A second group is adoptive parents who take children into their homes for “the wrong reasons” and end up looking for some way to offload them.
“And then you have the stone-cold predators who get kids to take advantage of them, and take them off the grid and you never see them again,” Ms. Flatley said. “All three groups are represented in this problem.”