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Online Adoption Swaps May Not Be Legal: Report

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Parents wishing to change out their unwanted adopted children for new ones may want to consider the legal -- not to mention moral -- implications before participating in an online adoption swap.

Now 21, Quita Puchalla was traded by her adopted Wisconsin family at 16 to another family in Illinois -- an unofficial swap which placed the teen in the custody of the Easons, a couple who had their own biological children taken away by child welfare authorities years earlier, reports Reuters.

Quita's story is part of a larger network of underground "re-homing" of children across the nation, and many are left wondering: Are online adoption swaps legal?

Quita's Illinois Swap

Quita was adopted by the Puchallas from an orphanage in Liberia before being traded to the Easons in an online adoption swap. She became part of "a loose Internet network where desperate parents seek new homes for kids they regret adopting," reports Reuters.

In most states, a child's legal guardians or birth parents may independently place a child up for adoption without involving the state. These adoptions are referred to as "nonagency" placements.

Some states, including the state that Quita was sent to, Illinois, prevent these sorts of underground adoptions by requiring that all adoptive parents submit a legal petition to the state family court.

Instead of following these legal channels, the Puchallas and other parents are turning to online message boards and bulletin boards, trading children with only a notarized power of attorney document changing hands, reports Reuters.

Interstate Adoption Regulation

Although this practice is illegal under various state laws, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

The ICPC, adopted in the 1970s, ensures a certain baseline legal protection for children being adopted between states, such as ensuring the flow of information between state agencies before finalizing any adoption.

Online adoption swaps, however, are mostly unrecognized and illegal child placements. Since these trades ignore state and ICPC laws regarding the placement of children, they are not legally recognized adoptions.

By using power of attorney over a child, an illegal adopted parent may make critical decisions for a child (e.g., enrolling them in school) and still mask illegal custody from child welfare offices, reports Reuters.

Quita's story was part of an 18-month Reuters investigation entitled "The Child Exchange: Inside America's underground market for adopted children." You can learn more about the series and read all the reports by clicking here.

(Disclosure: Reuters and are owned by the same company.)

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