By Megan Twohey
(Reuters) - A study by a major U.S. adoption research group calls for "targeted laws, policies and practices" to stop adoptive parents from giving their unwanted children to strangers through the Internet.
The report, released by the Donaldson Adoption Institute this week, also says problems exposed by a Reuters investigation in September "should be seen as the tip of an iceberg of unmonitored, unregulated adoption-related activities taking place on the Internet."
Reuters found that desperate parents turn to online groups to offer unwanted adopted children to others. The U.S. government is typically unaware of the arrangements or what becomes of those children.
The practice, called "re-homing," illustrates what can happen when parents are ill-prepared for the needs of their adopted child and don't receive the necessary support, the report says.
Through a survey of 1,500 adoptive parents and adoption professionals in the United States and abroad, researchers from the institute and Tufts University found that international adoption has shifted from mostly infants to a growing number of older children who have disabilities or other kinds of emotional, physical or behavioral problems.
In many cases, parents said they were unaware of those problems at the time of the adoption. Fewer than 25 percent of parents surveyed planned to adopt a child with special needs, but 47 percent wound up doing so, the report says.
Reuters found that many children offered to strangers were adopted from a foreign country and suffer from emotional or behavioral problems that their adoptive parents could not handle. The parents complained they did not receive proper training, could not get help from the U.S. government, and often knew little about the child's history before adopting.
"Probably all the parents who have re-homed a child went into adoption planning to care for the child forever, to do the right thing, but they couldn't do it," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the adoption institute. "When systems are not in place to educate parents, when they're not prepared for problems, this is what happens. We don't have the systems and supports in place for adoptive families."
Titled "A Changing World," the report calls for changes in adoption practices "to prevent the kind of distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like 're-homing.'"
Among the report's recommendations:
* Adoption agencies should increase the quantity and quality of training for adoptive parents.
* Foreign countries should provide more information about their orphans.
* The international adoption system - from government officials to adoptive families - should maintain better records on adopted children, including updates on what becomes of them once they are in the United States, as required by many countries.
The report comes as U.S. lawmakers consider ways to protect children who are adopted overseas and brought to America.
This week, members of Congress called for a hearing on re-homing that would "identify ways to prevent these dangerous practices." Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sought reviews by the Obama administration to identify gaps in training and support for adoptive families, and a "minimum federal standard" to govern custody transfers of unwanted adopted children, among other steps.
At the state level, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois have held hearings on ways to address the practice. The Illinois attorney general is urging Facebook and Yahoo to police online groups where children may be advertised.
The Donaldson Institute is part of a coalition of adoption and child welfare advocates pushing federal policymakers to establish funding for post-adoption services and address what it says are gaps in state assistance for adoptive families.
(Reporting By Megan Twohey)