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Education & Outreach


Advertising Children on Social Media: Ethical Concerns in Rehoming

If you have ever spent any time on adoptee Instagram or Tiktok, we guarantee you know our next Activism in Adoption speaker. Kirsta Bowman, who was adopted domestically as an infant, went viral on social media, posting about re-homing in the adoption community. She joins us on June 29th at Noon, CST,  to unpack what re-homing means in the adoption community, and to discuss how these children are advertised to potential adoptive parents, and today we got a little taste of what she will be discussing.

It’s been fantastic to watch the growing communities of adoptees, telling their stories and educating people about adoption on Tiktok and Instagram. I know that, especially on TikTok, people can get contentious in the comments when they don’t share your point of view. How do you manage that?

I think that's partially my personality. I know it's hard for a lot of adopted people to talk so openly about stuff because people are going to be rude to you, but I really just don't care. Also, because I've been in adoption circles enough, in person and online, anything hurtful that someone says to me? They aren’t saying anything new, or that I haven’t ever heard before. They are not original, and are coming from a place of ignorance, whether they are purposely trying to be malicious or not with their hurtful comment. If I think that they are coming from a place of actually wanting to learn, that's one thing, but there are times where people say something so rude that I pin the comment [to the top of the comments section, so everyone can see it], so that everyone can see how adopted people get talked to.

It's stuff like that why more adoptees don't speak up. I was on live last night, talking about how adoptees don't have to be grateful. If an adopted person feels grateful towards their adoption, and feels those positive feelings? Awesome. But when we're expected to feel grateful — when we are expected to have that gratitude — It doesn't allow us to feel the full spectrum of any feelings that we might have surrounding our own adoption, whether they be positive or negative. And someone watching my live asked, what do you mean, you don't have to be grateful, and then after I explained it, they said, oh, I never thought about that. If I feel like someone is going to be nice and wants to learn, I help them, but sometimes people are just being so rude. Like, someone said something to me earlier today: you just need to be grateful someone wanted you at all. Why do you think that's appropriate to say to someone? I think being a teacher and working with children has made me very good at talking to difficult people. I just say, why do you think that's appropriate? Or, it makes me sad that you think that's appropriate. If I’m going to respond to someone being hurtful, I usually start by saying, Hi, friends. Welcome to adoption TikTok. Even though you're being rude, I'm going to be welcoming to you because I still want you to just sit with what I have to say for 60 seconds. Then, even if they disagree with me, I still get a thought into their head that wasn’t there before.

That is a lot of emotional labor you get stuck doing. It’s admirable, that you do the work, but what a burden that must be.

Yeah. But you know, if adopted children have a less shitty time than I did, it's worth it.

I think they will. It can be really hard for adoptive parents to hear that the narratives they believe to be true about adoption do not align with lived adoptee experiences.

I understand that there is a human drive for wanting to feel like you were doing something good. But I think it's really hard for a lot of people to hear anything that challenges their mindset. We only have the experiences we have gone through ourselves and I think it's really hard when someone challenges what you believe. I'm not trying to personally attack them, but they're going to take it that way. I'm not saying they were a bad person because they were infertile and wanted to extend their family. I'm simply trying to say from my own lived experience, I do not consider that a child-centered adoption.

It’s fascinating, watching the narratives in adoption slowly change, in large part because of the work you, and other adoptees, are doing online. When our Activism in Adoption speakers talk about racial mirroring, for example, that’s often the first time some of the attendees have heard that term, and now it is starting to show up in conversations on Adopter Facebook groups.

I tell you, when I went to Greece and just saw everyone with the same exact hair is me, and the same nose! I used to be pretty self-conscious about my nose because it's not super big, but it's larger. I definitely have a Greek nose. I told my cousin who has curly hair, I'm gonna want to feel your hair, just so you know. And he said, okay, thanks for the warning. And then when I felt it, it was like, this is my hair: not only the same curl but the same texture of the actual hair strand. It’s not to the same extent as transracial adoptees, but finding out that I am attached to this whole other culture, halfway across the world, is really mindblowing.

I was adopted from the city of New Orleans and raised in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. Like, my house is in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road, and we had to get our mail to a PO Box: we didn't even get mail delivered on our road. And it messed me up so much, that I was plucked from this great city and just isolated, in a small, small town in the middle of nowhere.

During the summer it became very clear that I wasn't genetically [related to] my parents, because I would get very, very tan. They're both very blond hair, blue eyes. And that was when I would get adoption questions. I just felt so othered, every time I got that question or if it came up in conversation, that I would purposely go out of my way to say, I'm adopted, don't compare me to my mother. With my adoptive mom, one thing that made me really start ranting a lot about the re-homing thing was this: I was never re-homed, or abandoned or anything, but my adoptive mom threatened me with it all the time. And by all the time, probably at least once every few months. That's pretty frequent. Or what she really liked to do was threaten to send me off to military school, or reform school, or make me go live with my aunt and uncle, 20 minutes away. And first of all, it's not like I was a problem child, not that that should matter, anyway. We would get into an argument — standard teenage girl stuff —  and she would just start threatening to send me away somewhere. Like, because I'm not doing exactly what you want, you're threatening to get rid of me.

We ran across your TikTok series about the same time that we were invited to ‘like’ the a Facebook page dedicated to re-homing adopted children, and we could not believe what we were seeing. How did you first hear about this?

These groups are well-known within adoptees communities, because their posts are just ridiculous. And the people behind Second Chance adoptions are one arm of a larger agency called Wasatch International Adoption. They also run an adoption agency called Rad Teen Adoption. Do you know what reactive attachment is?

Well acquainted. [info]

Just the fact that they are calling it RAD Teen: they are describing these children available for adoption by a diagnosis that they have as a result of being traumatized by adoption?

Second Chance Adoptions will send information to anyone who requests it. It does not matter if you have an approved home study or not — literally anyone. I don't know if it's because they've gotten some heat for what they do, but I've noticed that posts from the past year or so are not as horrible as posts from a few years ago. But you know, I don't care. I don't care why they are trying to advertise a child on Facebook. Can you maybe not use the word relisted or the phrase relisted during a slow season, or describe a five-year-old Black child adopted from a country in Africa as muscular but skinny? Black children, and especially Black boys, get adultified enough.

We were surprised to see in these listings, how often one of the only requirements listed for a potential adoptive family were based in what religion they practiced.

it'd be one thing if it was the request of the biological family. I respect if a Jewish mother is [placing her] baby for adoption and wants a Jewish family to raise her child. I'm not religious, but I can respect that, as someone who has a Catholic culture connected to the church, but this is the adoptive parents who are requesting it, and it’s colonialism. It's people who use Christianity as a veil for white supremacy. I don't think many of them even realize the undertones of white supremacy within their actions. And it really sucks because instead of trying to learn, they are going to get defensive.

The amount of times I see a transracial adoptee on TikTok tell someone who wants to adopt you need to listen to [transracial adoptee] voices because you want to adopt a black child, and they get so defensive. I feel like that's just basic decency. Listening to them first feels like basic decency.  I might adopt a black child. I'm not black. I'm willing to listen to those voices, and especially in 2022. It's not like it's the 1990s without social media. It’s so convenient, finding those voices. Come on.

How long have you been looking at re-homing practices?

Two years. I've been posting about it on TikTok, and shared some stuff about it on Instagram stories and I remember I made one post and people are like, that doesn’t happen, blah blah blah, and I said, okay, let me show you some screenshots of these children. Yeah, there's a very famous case of a woman sending back her child that she adopted from Russia, like a seven or six year old back on a plane with a note. That post has half a million views right now. And then I shared the Second Chance Adoptions page, and how they talk about relisting kids during the slow season, and honestly, it’s not like I had to look too hard to find content like this.

People are wanting to talk about this more. I could make that my whole entire page, because there's so many issues with adoption, and things like this are still happening. I understand that there might be times where a child truly is not safe in the home they were adopted into, but you do not find them the right home on Facebook, or social media. People were like, this is the easiest way to find them homes. I'm thinking, I don’t think that we need adoptions to happen as much as they do the United States, especially private infant adoptions, but that's another round.

We know that child welfare also might be deceitful about these children's needs. These families might take on a child [whose needs] they surely can't handle and then the adoption is disrupted. I think some States don't care if these children are adopted and re-adopted, because it saves the State money if they are not in Foster care.

Also there's two re-homing practices. There's an adoption disruption, where an adoption is legally stopped and the child is available for a second legal adoption, and the more sketchy type, which is an unregulated custody transfer of adopted children. This is when guardianship or custody of the child is transferred to someone who is not the adoptive parent or someone from the adoptive family. And in most states, all it takes is a notarized document transferring custody of the child.

I understand, again, that there are times that kids do need a new home for whatever reason, but it should not be on social media, you shouldn't be able to advertise children like this. Displaced children still deserve rights and a sense of privacy. We need a firewall-type system for children who are displaced and in need of a home, because there is absolutely no reason that they should be on Facebook posts like this or have their very personal information shared in a very unregulated way through Facebook groups.

Seeing these kids — the photos used to advertise them are clearly professional photos, likely from a family photo session. They are dressed up, and smiling, and probably looking at one of their adoptive parents when the photo is being taken, and now that photo is being used to advertise to find them a new home, with advertising slogans like, can you resist this adorable boy?

There's very little federal oversight and regulation with adoption. If there's one thing that has less government control than guns, it's probably adoption. The laws really heavily depend on the state. And I don't know if you noticed, but with those Second Chance adoption posts, they will list that [potential adoptive parents] are not eligible if they live in certain states, and that’s because of those state laws.  There is no national database to keep track of legal adoption. Nobody tracks where these kids end up, or with whom.

There are so many horror stories out there, of people just handing their adopted kids over to strangers.

 Kirsta sent us links to a few of these stories, which are heartbreaking. Quita Puchella’s parents handed her over to a new family in a parking lot, the first and last time they ever met her new parents.  Quita’s new legal guardians had a reputation for seeking children on the internet, and both would eventually be sentenced to 40 years in prison for kidnapping and transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity.

It's surprising how quickly a child can disappear and become untraceable.

Last week there was an article about how 70 missing children had been found in Texas, most of them thought to be sex trafficking victims in the Dallas Fort Worth area.

Notice it doesn't say where are these children came from? Seeing that article and being a teacher, and knowing what I know, I'm going to assume that a fair chunk of them were probably in the foster care system at one point, because children who enter the child welfare system are far more likely to try running away. And for each additional placement that increases. Now I mentioned that this happened in Texas because Texas is currently facing a lawsuit at the federal level for violating the constitutional rights of foster care children. And one of the issues is that CPS systems within Texas have been doing a very bad job at keeping track of children that they've sent out of state for care because they don't have the facilities. It’s so frustrating that Texas is like, yay, we found these seventy kids. Okay, well, I'm pretty sure that your government agency policies are the reason why some of them went missing, because you're not keeping track your kids.

To learn more about the practice of re-homing adopted children, the lack of oversight and regulations surrounding the transfer of guardianship, and the implications of advertising these children on social media, join us on June 29th at noon. Tickets are free for the live event but registration is required in advance.  To learn more about Kirsta, visit her on Instagram or TikTok.

Thank you for recognizing the importance of post-placement support: