Kids for Sale? A Dangerous, New Alternative to Working Within the Child Custody System

ABA Journal picked up on a fascinatingly disturbing new trend some parents are taking advantage of when their foreign adoptions aren’t working out: put them up for sale.

Adopting a child requires, at minimum, court approval and legal paperwork.

Abandoning a child, biological or adopted, can result in civil liability or even criminal charges.

Traditionally, a child who proves too much for a family to handle might be sent to live with relatives or placed in a boarding school, entirely at the discretion of his or her family. But the Internet now offers another option, and it can be disastrous, reports Reuters.

With no government oversight or approval, parents simply offer a troublesome child in an online ad for placement with strangers. Providing them with a power of attorney rather than formal custody of the child allows the new adults in his or her life to enroll the child in school and apply for government benefits without scrutiny from authorities, the article says.

And perhaps the most eye-opening quote from the article:

“I would have given her away to a serial killer, I was so desperate,” wrote one mother in a 2012 post about her 12-year-old daughter.

See Reuters for the entire series on this new phenomenon, called “private re-homing.” Over a 5-year period, 261 children were advertised on Yahoo alone. Thankfully, Yahoo took notice of the practice and shut it down. At least 70% of the kids were foreign-born and the vast majority were identified as having special needs.

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The reason it appears most families are interested in buying? The price. Families can now “purchase” a child for free and forego the typical price tag that can range into the tens of thousands. Hopefully legislators take notice of this problem and make this practice a thing of the past. The first step (if the Reuters story is accurate): it should take a lot more to gain temporary custody over a child than to sign a form power of attorney.

Texas Foster Care System Facing Reform

From Patricia Kilday Hart at the Houston Chronicle:

In a 107-page opinion citing deficiencies in the Texas foster care system, a Corpus Christi federal judge this week paved the way forward for a classaction challenge to the state’s system of caring for abused and neglected children.

Judge Janis Jack, of the U.S. Southern District, certified a class of children in state care whose attorneys hope to prove have been harmed by the state’s policies and practices for managing children who have been taken into custody from abusive or neglectful families.

It is the second time Jack has made such a ruling in the case. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case tightening rules for class-action lawsuits, vacated a similar ruling in 2011. On Tuesday, Jack said the plaintiffs met the new standards for classaction lawsuits, and the lawsuit can proceed.

“This decision has life-changing significance for the vulnerable children in Texas foster care, and for the law,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The judge has laid out what is necessary to proceed on behalf of all children. … She has found that the evidence presented concerning problems in Texas foster care is sufficient for us to proceed as a class action.”

Spokesmen for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the attorney general’s office had no comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit on behalf of some 12,000 children in permanent foster care in Texas claims the state has violated their constitutional rights by not providing adequate oversight, specifically because it fails to employ sufficient caseworkers to ensure their safety and well-being.

In a written statement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said they will prove that “the state fails to monitor children’s safety, putting them in understaffed group homes and unlicensed homes of relatives who are not given the same training or support as foster parents or inappropriately placing them in congregate care when they could be properly served in a more familylike setting. … These deficiencies lead to damaging consequences, including high rates of maltreatment, frequent and repeated moves between placements, and unnecessary separation of children from their siblings and communities.”

In her ruling, Jack wrote, “There is ample evidence that caseworkers are overburdened, that this might pose risks to the children in the PMC, and that … state officials had actual or constructive knowledge of these risks and have not acted to cap or otherwise limit caseloads.”

The judge also cited the turnover rate for Department of Family and Protective Services employees, which she said had “ranged from 23.6% in fiscal year 2009, to a staggering 34.1% in fiscal year 2007. In fiscal year 2012, the latest data presented to the Court, DFPS caseworkers had a turnover rate of just over 24%.”

Jack said the turnover guarantees poor results for foster children, citing the case of one girl who has had 12 different caseworkers assigned to her.

Further, she said, she found a link between caseworkers’ workloads and the safety of children in foster case. “Caseworkers are, in effect, these children’s fire alarms. They are the first and best mechanism to ensure the class members’ safety, i.e., to ensure that the child is not suffering any harm or abuses. A case worker that is so overburdened that she cannot visit the children she is responsible for to keep apprised of their well-being, or if she cannot build enough of a rapport to do so effectively, cannot fulfill this function.”

Her ruling cites stories of children who have spent years bouncing between multiple foster homes, including an 11-year-old boy from Houston who was taken from his drug-addicted mother in 2007 and lived in four foster homes, including one in which he suffered sexual abuse. He also spent time in psychiatric hospitals before his adoption in late 2012.

In another, a San Antonio boy taken from his mother in 2009 has endured multiple placements, including hospitals and emergency shelters where he was overmedicated. He now is in a residential treatment facility some 300 miles away from San Antonio, according to the lawsuit.

This is a groundbreaking opinion. It is a giant first step in protecting the foster care children of Texas for Judge Jack to certify the plaintiffs as a class. Tennessee was able to completely reform their system after a settlement was reached in a similar case and hopefully Texas will be able to do the same. ChildrensRights.org is a nationwide non-profit that is pushing for reformation of the foster care system in several states. Learn more about ChildrensRights.org and what they are doing to help. Read the opinion here.

Photo courtesy of ChildrensRights.org.

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

photo courtesy of: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-iRsHfg1ysDs/Tib08lZl16I/AAAAAAAAAHI/WmFjnHI5R5g/s1600/gun+violence+alg_stop_sign.jpg

Man Wanted in Custody Case Returning to Oklahoma, www.abcnews.com

The father of a Cherokee Indian girl mired in an adoption dispute was ordered to leave an Iowa National Guard base and return to Oklahoma, an Iowa Guard spokesman said Sunday.

Brown, who is Cherokee, is charged with custodial interference involving his 3-year-old daughter, Veronica. A South Carolina couple has been trying to adopt Veronica since her birth in 2009; they raised her for two years.

The issue has been clouded by the Indian Child Welfare Act, which prompted a court in 2011 to favor the girl living with her father. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt Veronica.

The girl’s biological mother, Chrissy Maldonado, is not Indian and supports the adoption. She has filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional.

More recently, a South Carolina judge finalized the couple’s adoption and approved a plan to reintroduce Veronica to the couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco. Brown didn’t show up for the first scheduled gathering Aug. 4, prompting the charge.

Several American Indian groups are also pursuing a federal civil rights case, saying a hearing should be held to determine if it is in Veronica’s best interest to be transferred to South Carolina.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton has called the move to charge Brown “morally reprehensible” and “legally questionable.”

The attorneys for Veronica’s adoptive parents and her birth mother argued in a joint statement Sunday morning that not only is Brown committing a felony, but anyone who hides the child from law enforcement or stands in the way of the court order to turn her over — including the Cherokee Nation — also should be considered lawbreakers.

In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

More than 18,000 young people were killed or injured by a gun in 2010, according to a new report released by the Children’s Defense Fund, “Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

According to the report, approximately 2,700 young people, up to 19 years old, lost their lives in 2010 to gun violence, the equivalent of one death every three hours and fifteen minutes, averaging 51 deaths every week.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that gun violence was the second leading cause of death for young people, only automobile accidents claimed the lives of more children and teens. The report’s authors also found that African-American youths were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than killed in a traffic accident.

Despite representing just 15 percent of all children and teens, the report said black youths made up 45 percent of all young people killed by firearms in 2010. Not only are African-American youths 4.7 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than white young people, black children and teens were approximately 17 times more likely to be the victims of a firearm-related homicide than white youths.

Older teens represent an overwhelming majority of firearm-death victims. Researchers said nearly nine out of 10 firearm-related injuries or deaths among young people in 2010 occurred among youths ages 15-19, according to the authors of the report. Black males in their mid- to late-teens were found to be the most at-risk group overall, and individuals in the demographic were 30 times more likely to be the victims of gun-related homicides than white males in the same age range.

In 2010, nearly three times as many young people in the U.S. were wounded by firearms than the number of U.S. soldiers injured in Afghanistan during the same year. Since 1963, the report stated, more than 160,000 young people have been killed by firearms in the United States — triple the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

“We also need policies that support consumer product safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun safety laws,” she concluded. “We can — and must — raise our individual and collective voices and demand our political leaders do better right now to protect children, not guns.”

DoD Responds to Child Abuse Crisis, www.navytimes.com

Faced with an epidemic of child abuse across the four services, the Defense Department is establishing a child abuse working group, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

“The Department is in the process of establishing a Prevention and Coordinated Community Response to Child Abuse, Neglect and Domestic Abuse Working Group,” said DoD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

The working group is part of the Pentagon’s effort to strengthen “awareness and prevention efforts to protect children and apply resources to prevent incidents of child abuse, neglect and domestic abuse,” he said.

DoD is under pressure from two powerful members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have pressed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for child abuse statistics and a plan to reverse the trend.

The senators’ inquiry was sparked by an Army Times investigation that found 29,552 cases of child abuse in the Army alone between 2003 and 2012. The abuse led to the death of 118 Army children; 1,400 of the cases included sexual assault.

The number of Army cases has spiked 28 percent between 2008 and 2011. The Air Force is also reporting a 25 percent increase in cases of child abuse and assault between 2008 and 2012.

In all services except the Marine Corps, the number of cases has continued to climb. The Marine Corps cases dropped by 5 percent between 2011 and 2012 and have dropped significantly in fiscal 2013. But the number of Marine child abuse deaths has risen.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 5,755 cases in the Air Force, 267 of them sexual, resulting in 16 deaths.

The Marine Corps figures for 2011 and 2012 showed 1,591 cases, 47 of them sexual, with six deaths. There have been four deaths this year.

The Navy reported 3,336 cases between 2009 and 2012, with a decline in 2012. But figures for the first half of 2013 show the number of cases climbing again. Among Navy families, 42 children were killed between 2008 and 2012.