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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Illegal and Disrupted Adoptions: Impact on Children and Families

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To wrap up the month of June's focus on international adoption, I'd like to discuss illegal international adoptions, as well as what happens when international adoptions are disrupted. It is important to understand the issues these can cause for the field of child welfare in the United States.

Illegal International Adoptions

An international adoption can quickly and sometimes inadvertently become illegal when one or more of the parties involved does not adhere to the country-of-origin's adoption laws or the U.S.'s international adoption laws. This can also occur when adoptions that are supposed to be governed by the Hague Adoption Convention do not follow rules set forth by the Convention.

One of the biggest impacts illegal adoption has is on international adoptees and their potential adoptive families. For example, in 2008 the U.S. suspended its adoption agreement with Vietnam because of its concern over adoption fraud and 'baby-selling.' As a result, many preadoptive families were unable to finalize their adoptions, and the children they wished to adopt are now in limbo in state orphanages. On the other hand, illegal adoptions also negatively impact the birth families, as this article highlights, when birth families are convinced to send their children to the city for a better life, only to find that their children have been sold to families abroad.

Disrupted International Adoptions

One of the most controversial stories in the year 2010 was of the adopted 7-year-old Russian boy put on a plane to Russia by himself by his adoptive mother, with a note saying that the mother did not want him anymore because he was mentally unstable. As a result, Russia halted all adoptions to the U.S. until an agreement regarding international adoptions occurred. The boy was placed in an orphanage in Russia and has been noted to have experience mental trauma as a result. The boy's adoptive mother continues to be his legal guardian, as no official paperwork has been filed relinquishing the adoptive mother's parental rights.

There were approximately 22 disrupted and dissolved international adoptions during the 2010 fiscal year, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of State (see last page). According to the Hague Adoption Convention website, 1 child's adoptive parents gave up their parental rights due to the child's aggressive behavior, and the child is now in foster care. Two more are seeking second adoptive families due to the children's behavior. Another 4 children had their adoptive parents' parental rights terminated and are now 'available for adoption.' Five other children are in family foster care for unknown reasons. Two children were removed from their adoptive families' homes on charges of neglect. Another child actually died from physical abuse. Six more are simply listed as under the state's custody through child welfare services. Only one child was placed in the child welfare system due to the death of his/her adoptive parent.

Policy Implications

As a way to ensure the legality of international adoptions, countries must enact legislation that considers the child being placed for adoption, the preadoptive family, and the birth family. Laws providing for informed consent of the birth families, as well as education on mental health considerations and vetting for preadoptive families, need to be put in place. Countries that are part of the Hague Adoption Convention need to ensure that their international adoptions follow the Convention's guidelines.

As a way to avoid disrupted and dissolved international adoptions, it is important for preadoptive families to receive both pre- and post-adoption support services in order to ensure successful international adoptions. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota submitted a new bill on June 30 to "enhance pre- and post-adoptive support services" (at the time of this post, the bill text was unavailable; see MPR for more information). Should this bill be signed into law, families adopting internationally will have access to funding for adoption support services.


For news articles related to this topic, see the following links:


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