NC lawmakers work to criminalize controversial adoption practice

RALEIGH, N.C. – Some North Carolina parents are turning to a controversial practice when their dream of adoption turns into a nightmare.

Lawmakers say the practice makes children easy prey for pedophiles, but at least one North Carolina family says the practice is the only thing that can keep their family safe.

“Rehoming” is the act of adoptive parents finding a new place for their child to call home. It’s currently legal in North Carolina and all you need is a simple notarized document to transfer custody of your adoptive child.

Lisa, a North Carolina adoptive parent who did not want to give her last name, and her husband have adopted five children, so they understand the challenges children can face being placed in a new home.

However, they were nowhere near ready for some of the challenges their most recent adoption posed.

They adopted the son, we’ll call Adam, when he was 11 years old. The adoption service told Lisa he had no psychological issues, but early on she says it was clear this was not the case.

“He has caused damage to some of us in the home that could take years to repair,” said Lisa. “His behaviors were significant enough that I’ve had several people tell me I should have pressed charges and put him in jail.”

Lisa says Adam would hear voices that told him to hurt and kill people and he threatened to kill her twice. The first time, he held a large, heavy metal object over her, threatening to drop it on her head. The second time, he held a toy gun to her head saying he was going to kill her.

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Lisa tells CBS North Carolina Adam also touched her inappropriately and he spent a year in treatment at a center for sexually aggressive young people. She says Adam has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), a condition found in children who are unable to form relationships.

Adam is currently staying at a treatment center, but is scheduled to come home soon.

“He cannot come home,” said Lisa. “We cannot take that chance. We have to protect our other kids.”

Lisa says she’s been looking to place her son in a new home, an environment where Adam could progress and an environment she trusts. She believes it’s in her child’s best interest to go to another family who wants to adopt through a private adoption rather than him being relinquished to the state and ending up in foster care.

However, she says lawmakers have proposed a bill that would criminalize what she’s trying to do.

Sen. Tamara Barringer
Sen. Tamara Barringer

Sen. Tamara Barringer (R-Wake) co-wrote Senate Bill 652 after hearing stories of children with severe behavioral problems and parents taking desperate actions.

“There are stories where desperate parents go on the internet, on Facebook, on other chat lines and told their story about how desperate they were,” said Barringer. “This is a perfect opportunity for pedophiles and others who do not have good intentions to take advantage of people in desperate situations.”

Barringer says there are cases where children have been sexually or physically abused in their new home. One of the most popular cases was out of Arkansas, when Justin Harris, a former state representative, and his wife adopted three daughters. They eventually “rehomed” the children to another family, where one of the daughters was raped.

The new North Carolina law would require a court order to transfer custody to anyone who is not a close relative.

“I didn’t know that people would get so desperate as to hand their children off at a rest-stop on I-85 to people they think are good people but they don’t know who they are really,” said Barringer.

A September 2015 report by the United States Government Accountability Office states that not much is known about how often unregulated transfers occur. They are difficult to track and no federal agency keeps statistics on how often they happen, according to the report.

“In addition, activity in several states involved improving post-adoption services, which many officials said was a key need for families who resort to unregulated transfers,” the report states. “However, federal officials and others said addressing service needs can be difficult and time-consuming, and funding for these services is limited.”

Barringer claims the bill would make it easier to get help before and after the adoption. She says the lack of these resources leads to desperation.

“These families, who are doing the good thing of building a family through adoption need to have those kinds of support too,” said Barringer.

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Adoption support is something Lisa says her family has never received, and now she says she’s stuck. An adoption attorney tells her if she allows Adam to come home she could be charged with endangering her other children. The attorney also says it’s possible if she does not let him come home, she could be charged with child abandonment.

“We need an out. We do not need to be punished,” said Lisa. “We have paid a terribly high price loving on these children and hoping for a miracle.”

Lisa hopes the bill can be rewritten to protect families in their situation. She and Senator Barringer have already had productive dialogue that will get families the support they need and make sure children are in the best hands, she says.

“If we can keep that family together, if we can keep that family happy and if we can keep a child out of the hands of a despicable person, it would be a good investment,” said Barringer.

“We’ve got to protect everyone,” said Lisa. “And we need to take that child and put him somewhere where everyone will be safe.”

Lawmakers tell CBS North Carolina they expect the bill to be taken up soon. North Carolina would join five other states that have banned the act of “rehoming.”

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