The internet has a million and one uses. One of them unfortunately is a practice called “human re-homing.” The term, borrowed from an unseemly custom familiar to some pet owners, is a means of “unloading” problem children adopted from overseas using the web as a transfer medium. The practice is often illegal, mediated by no government agency, and dismayingly widespread, involving some 1,000 child exchanges a year.
Reuters, in an expose of the nation’s underground market for adopted children, focuses on the plight one particular child and the mala fides of the couple who acquired her. The child, named Quita, now a young adult, was originally adopted from Liberia by a Wisconsin couple named Todd and Melissa Puchalla.
In the two years she spent with them, Quita turned out to be more than the Puchallas could handle, and so in September 2008, they put up for “re-adoption” at one of a number of online bulletin boards. Within two days, they heard back from an Illinois couple named Nicole and Calvin Eason, who said they had seen Quita’s picture and felt they could give her a loving home despite warnings in the listing that she had been diagnosed with severe health and behavioral problems.
“People that are around me think I am awesome with kids,” Eason wrote to Melissa Puchalla in one of several email exchanges. Megan Twohey of Reuters describes the physical transfer, which happened a few weeks later:
[O]n Oct. 4, 2008, the Puchallas drove six hours from their Wisconsin home to Westville, Illinois. The handoff took place at the Country Aire Mobile Home Park, where the Easons lived in a trailer.
No attorneys or child welfare officials came with them. The Puchallas simply signed a notarized statement declaring these virtual strangers to be Quita’s guardians. The visit lasted just a few hours. It was the first and the last time the couples would meet.
The Puchallas never vetted the Easons, who on first blush “seemed wonderful.” If they had, they would have discovered that the couple had lost custody years earlier of both their biological children. A sheriff’s deputy who had taken part in the removal of the Easons’ second child, a newborn baby boy, wrote in a police report:
The home environment was deplorable for an infant, trash, clothes, stale food and stagnant water… Parents have severe psychiatric problems as well with violent tendencies.”
On Quita’s first night with the Easons, her new guardians told her to join them in their bed, Quita says, looking back. Nicole slept naked, she says.
Initially, Melissa Puchalla attempted to check up on Quita but notes that within a few days, the Easons stopped responding to her calls. When she phoned the school that Quita was supposed to attend, an administrator told her that the teen had never shown up. Quita wasn’t at the trailer park where the Easons had lived, either. All authorities found when they visitrf the site was a pile of trash, a pair of mattresses, and two puppies chained in the yard.
When she arrived in the United States, Quita, now 21, says, she “was happy … coming to a nicer place, a safer place. It didn’t turn out that way. It turned into a nightmare.”
Her story is one of many of children victimized by a system that is supposed to provide them with a better life. Most of them, Twohey writes, range in age from 6 to 14 and hail from countries such as Russia and China.
After learning the bitter reality unmasked by the Reuters investigation, web sponsors of the bulletin boards began shutting them down for terms-of-service agreement violations. One such forum on Facebook, Way Stations of Love, remains active. Twohey reports that Facebook spokeswoman claims that the page shows “that the Internet is a reflection of society, and people are using it for all kinds of communications and to tackle all sorts of problems, including very complicated issues such as this one.”