Can we talk about adoption marketing and baby trafficking? Because both are on the rise in America, and that should be of concern to us all.

As one frustrated stranger shared online: “I’ve been asking about different adoption consultants because I just lost (six figures) being scammed. In 3 years, I’ve gotten scammed 3 times, with 3 different matches. The (facilitator) talked a good game but they were no better than an advertising agency.” After a nearly $20k investment, this poster is still childless, and has yet to consider using a licensed agency. (Now imagine how much more vulnerable any pregnant female could be, approaching adoption without reliable resources and with no idea where to turn for help?)

Curiously, it seems Craigslist is cracking down on some of its more unsavory adoption pitches, even as Google Ads is getting worse? Rehoming of children is still going on every day via the internet, despite occasional legislative efforts to curtail it. Facebook has abandoned its demand that real names be used, enabling adopters to now launch pitch pages entitled “SoAndSo Adopt” as if that were their actual identification. (Really? Would you trust the judgement of anyone who would hand their baby over to an unnamed stranger online?)

When Adoptions Took a Cultural Backslide

It used to be that arranging adoptions was a confidential process that could only be undertaken by trained social workers and required counseling for all participants. Several decades ago, though, a controversial NY adoption attorney began placing adoption ads to find pregnant women, hoping to cut out the agencies. Others followed suit, despite legal prohibitions against lawyers brokering adoption matches.

Private adoption became a Thing, although many states (like Texas) still restrict lawyers from adoption matching. California became the first state to allow anyone to hang out a shingle offering their services as an “adoption facilitator,” although most states (Texas included) do still require licensed agencies or attorneys to provide the actual adoption placement services.

Texas passed a law in 1997 that was intended to restrict adoption advertising to licensed adoption agencies. That was more back when it was still widely known that licensed adoption agencies offered the safest route to an ethical adoption. Private adoptions (facilitated solely through attorneys) lack even basic counseling and casework services. Adoptions brokered through sketchy West Coast adoption facilitators without licensure were proven dangerous because of resulting court cases and lawsuits. The Texas law prohibiting adoption advertising is still on the books, but there’s just one problem: the Texas Attorney General has failed to enforce it.

The Adoption Marketing and Baby Trafficking Boom

In 2012, the highly-revered (and since-shuttered) thinktank Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute took on the subject of internet adoption marketing. It published a research project called “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption“, which became a seminal study. That was a step in the right direction.

Then, though, the corrupt international adoption programs shut down. The Hague Treaty further restricted foreign adoptions. Americans who’d been pitching pricey international adoption services reinvented themselves as domestic adoption vendors. Gay adoptions became socially acceptable. Suddenly, the domestic adoption market was flooded with more wannabe adopters than ever before.

The pro-adoption lobby pushed federal Adoption Tax Credit increases to reward more prospective parents for adopting (or trying to.) Entrepreneurs began calling themselves adoption experts– often with no more credentials than having previously adopted, themselves. Facilitators’ fees began rivaling (or even exceeding) the fees charged by licensed adoption programs. (This, despite the fact that they lacked actual licensing, training, and the ability to actually handle any professional adoption services.) Here’s the problem, though: in every ethical adoption, the ends don’t justify the means… the means must also justify the ends.

Put more simply, every adoption must be done right to be right.

Adoption in Texas is becoming the Wild West

Combine this adoption marketing morass with the drop in the national fertility and birth rates, and you get an idea of the scope of the feeding frenzy. Prospective birthparents and potential adoptive parents responding to what look like legitimate adoption agency ads get conned into working with unlicensed adoption facilitators and baby brokers. Hopeful adopters are getting matched with scammers who aren’t even pregnant, introduced to them by “adoption consultants” who aren’t even degreed. Bargain shoppers and DIYers solicit strangers with swollen bellies to ask for babies. Savvy expectant moms can negotiate lucrative (albeit illicit) online deals with hopeful adopters desperate to get a healthy newborn at any cost, not realizing the real cost will be to the child eventually.

The need for parents who place and parents that adopt to undergo training or get legal advice or get counseling has been traded for glossy look books and video profiles and illicit payments that cause children’s future best interests to get lost in the shuffle. Is it any wonder that so many adoptees grow up worried that they may have gotten bought or sold? If the whole adoption was nothing more than a business transaction set up online, where’s proof that they weren’t?

What can you do? Contact your lawmakers to express concern. Remember that friends don’t let friends do dirty adoptions. Support adoptee rights campaigns whenever possible. Share adoption ethics and educational links widely. Report the rehoming of children, and the exploitation of babies. And advocate openly for adoptions done solely through legitimate sources.

Adoption marketing and baby trafficking need strong legislative overview and strict controls if we’re going to save the next generation of adoptees, birthparents and adopters from exploitation, in Texas and beyond.

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