Journalism in the Public Interest


MuckReads Podcast: The Story Behind ‘The Child Exchange’


A children's play area outside the back door of Melissa and Todd Puchalla's Kiel, Wis., home in May 2013. The Puchallas rehomed their adopted daughter Quita, from Liberia, when she was 15 to Nicole and Calvin Eason. (Sara Stathas/Reuters)

Last week, Megan Twohey of Reuters published a major investigation about how American families use Internet message boards to abandon difficult children adopted from other countries. Twohey showed how exasperated families use Yahoo and Facebook groups to find new parents for the children they swore to take care of. And far too often, these children end up in homes where the guardians have not been approved to take care of children, where they can be sexually abused or put in surroundings that are dangerous for their well-being.

ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen sat down with Twohey to get the story behind the story of piecing "The Child Exchange" together. Asked to describe how she got started, Twohey said, "One of the most valuable things I think about this project is I worked with our database team. We basically did a deep dive on one of the Yahoo groups where this - it's called re-homing - activity takes place. And we scraped all 5,000 messages going back five years and built a database where we were able to quantify what was going on. We logged every single offer of a child that was being made over a 5-year period and we found that on average a child was being offered up once a week."

Twohey added, "It's interesting to note too that the term ‘re-homing’ was first used to describe people seeking new owners for their pets. And some of the ads read remarkably similar to the ads that you'd see for people trying to find a new home for their pet. Some of the ads would describe kids as being obedient, eager to please, or talk about them being pretty."

Read the five-part investigation at and you can listen to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

No wonder other countries are blocking U.S. adoptions.  Is there a “bounty” paid by parents to another family if they take the child?  A must read, hope this story gets national attention.

I just received my new edition of Harper’s Magazine and I note an article “Cold War Kids: The international dispute over Russia’s orphans” by Irina Aleksander, which I haven’t read yet.  Only subscribers may read it on line at

The US has permitted adoptive parents to “unadopt” their adopted children, foreign or domestic, for a long time. One of the first cases I handled as a lawyer was fighting an effort to unadopt a now unruly teenager. I was unsuccessful.The court permitted it, and even fought with me about providing representation for the child in the termination proceeding. Although the case was overturned on appeal, the emotional damage to the child was done. For all the hoopla about children, unborn or born, the US remains hypocritically uncommitted to the best interests of children (see congressional response to Sandy Hook shooting).

When we were looking to adopt, an agency called us to see if we were interested in an older adopted child who’s mother no longer wanted him.  On one hand the mother was clearly unsuited for parenting and we were outraged.  On the other, the agency was trying to find a legal and good home for the child. 

I wonder what an article about “re-homing” birth children would reveal?

Teens, children of color & adoptive kids are treated badly by a system not truly interested in their well being.

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