The world was shocked and moved by the recent story of the “blonde angel.” The story was that a child was found in a Roma camp in Greece whose physical features were so different from her parents, Greek police believed she was a victim of kidnapping. Her parents claimed they were “gifted” the child when she was an infant, when her desperate biological mother (also considered Roma, I think) could not care for her. As we all now know, her adoptive parents were telling the truth. But because of the “gifted” adoption (and the continued desperate situation of her bio mom), little Maria will soon be placed with an official foster family in her “home” country of Bulgaria (her bio mom’s home country).

I was shocked to learn about a similar practice in the United States, where desperate, albeit adoptive, parents give their children away to strangers. These aren’t Roma parents, or others who might be considered “gypsies.” These are people who pass muster to become parents in an international adoption.

“The practice is called ‘private re-homing,’ a term typically used by owners seeking new homes for their pets” (Twohey 09.09.2013).

Apparently, there were numerous “re-homing” forums on Yahoo where adoptive parents could list their children. Yahoo has since shut down these sites, after they received negative media attention. Reuters author Megan Twohey wrote a five part exposé on “re-homing”; the content is dreadful, but well-written. As I said, I was shocked when I learned about this. It seemed impossible that parents could just give their children away to complete strangers. But there is not much legality to stand in their way. Most just sign a notarized letter authorizing the new parents to care for the child.

Let me pause here for a moment and clarify something. I am NOT opposed to parents choosing another home for their children. Sometimes that is the best thing for the child, and the parent. I fostered my nephew for a year and it did wonders for him — and helped my sister find her way to a more stable future. I’ve known of others, too, who have unofficially adopted children — sometimes kin, sometimes not — and created wonderful, loving families. It isn’t the idea that a parent would place their child in another’s home that shocks me. It’s the idea that a parent would post their child on an Internet forum the way I might post a piece of furniture on Craig’s List.

Back to the story…if the “gifted” adoption is discovered by authorities, they can return the child to the original adoptive parents under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. At least that’s what happened with one adoptive mom, Glenna in Wisconsin. Oy. Return the child? Little Maria wasn’t returned to her adoptive parents! Why would these children be returned to a family that didn’t want them?

A family that didn’t want them. I have to really think about that statement. At some point, the parents really did want the child because they had to go through at least some vetting and presumably lots of paperwork to adopt. What happened? The Twohey exposé describes parents who wanted to provide a loving home to a child in need, but ended up feeling overwhelmed by a child whose needs surpassed their emotional or financial capacity.

Take Glenna’s example. While most “re-homing” appears to involve international adoptions, this was not so in Glenna’s case. Her adopted son was from the Wisconsin foster system. When she realized she couldn’t handle one of her adopted children (I don’t know the details about why or when she realized this), she talked with officials about returning him to state custody. They told her if she did that, she could lose her other adopted children, too — that the state may read her inability to care for this one child as a show of no confidence in her ability to care for any child. So Glenna didn’t return him to the state. In her desperation, she turned to the “re-homing” forums, and the child ended up with terrible people. In this case, Wisconsin officials learned Glenna had re-homed her child and intervened. Well, really Wisconsin just threatened Glenna until she took her adoptive son back.

Glenna’s story is telling. Of course, she was wrong…nay criminal…to “gift” her child (to unvetted reprobates) over the Internet. But Glenna did seek help before doing this. And even after this ordeal, her state STILL didn’t offer her any support. Recall Glenna’s son was from the Wisconsin foster system. And yet, there was no support for her and her family in regards to this child, whose needs were more than Glenna could manage on her own. Imagine having a child from an international adoption, where there is no state to talk to in the first place.

Families coping with high needs children are not unique to adoptive families. That became widely apparent in Nebraska five years ago, when a well-intentioned, but poorly written law went into effect. The “safe haven” law was passed to protect infants from unsafe abandonment. Under the law, parents could abandon a child with no repercussions, so long as they gave the child to hospital. The law was intended to protect infants, but did not specify an age for the children covered under the law. Desperate parents abandoned children of all ages before policy makers corrected their oversight.

Look, some people are just bad. Bad people who constantly make bad decisions, and are bad parents. And they don’t deserve kids. But these people aren’t usually looking for help in the form of support. They are are looking for a short cut, or they just don’t care. I don’t think those are the people in these stories. I think the people in these stories, at the very least, started off with good / genuine intentions, but the expression of those intentions changed as they realized the limits on their capacity to care for their children. At least I *think* that. But I really don’t know.

I’m not excusing any of these parents. What they are doing, and what they have done, is awful. But there is a theme here, one of desperation. Maria’s mother was desperate. These “re-homing” parents are desperate. These Nebraska families were desperate. I’ve never been a desperate parent, but I imagine it’s like having a newborn – a baby that doesn’t sleep through the night and interrupts your sleep constantly. Except in this case, the baby is a child that can speak, shout, hit, and throw. And what is being interrupted is not just sleep, but…everything, all the time, and for everyone in the home.

What can be done to help these families stay together? To help these homes remain loving and safe? To help these children grow into responsible and balanced adults? Should we help them? I don’t know the answers. Do you?

Featured image, “Die Adoption” [English translation, “Adoption”] painted by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller in 1849.