Babies For Cash: Unlicensed “Adoption Agencies” Illegally Facilitate Black Market Adoptions Across the U.S.

Breaking: Unlicensed and unregulated “black market” adoptions sweep the nation as internet search engines like Google promote hundreds of illegal ads offering “babies for cash.”

“These ads have moved to a different level,” said Charlotte Duncan, a licensed child-placing agency administrator and maternity counselor. “The most recent ads… frankly state that they are not licensed. The [unlicensed adoption agencies] openly declare in their ads that they are rich and will give ‘cash’ to the woman with a child who will place their child with them.”

Unless through a licensed child-placing agency, offering mothers financial compensation to place their babies for adoption is illegal and a violation of Texas penal code. Licensed agencies are heavily regulated and audited annually, and thus can repay mothers for living and pregnancy-related expenses deemed “reasonable.”

“[These regulations] are to make sure a mother is not being paid to place her baby for adoption,” said Duncan, Adoption Information & Counseling Services, Inc. (AdopTexas). AdopTexas is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

“Yet this is happening right in our faces on the internet, day and night.”

The following is an excerpt from Texas Penal Code, Title 6, Chapter 25. 

Thus far, the U.S. has detrimental oversight regarding the purchase and sale of children. This matter is regulated on a state level, and various states have differing penal codes in place to protect youth during adoption. No federal law exists prohibiting the sale of children unless they are being sold for the purpose of sex.

This is shocking.

By addressing the sale of children and babies on the state level, rather than the federal, the U.S. has taken a reactionary approach to shielding children. This is to say that children undergoing adoption will be protected from sexual abuse if this intent for purchase can be proven. Yet other than blatant sex-trafficking, this nation’s children are left powerless and vulnerable.

Tabling legality, why are licensed adoption agencies necessary? Entertain this scenario: a young mother is vulnerable, afraid, and believes she should place her baby for adoption. Elsewhere in the state, a family desperately wants a baby. Why is it unethical to bypass adoption laws and advertise without an agency?

The answer lies in the uncertainty of the entire process.

“Are we sure this baby will not be sold to someone else for other purposes by the person paying the mom?” said Duncan.

“The baby has no protection… they have no oversight and no guarantees as to where the child will ultimately end up. Does paying the mom the most considerable sum of money for her baby make this family the best for this child?”

Expecting mothers placing their babies for adoption are also left without protection when the process is unregulated. An adopting family might offer a mother the fee that would have otherwise gone to adoption agencies, leaving the mother, unknowingly, without guarantees.

In a Time article published in 2021, one woman recalls her traumatic experience with the “murky,” unlicensed private-adoption industry.

“Shyanne Klupp was 20 years old and homeless when she met her boyfriend in 2009. Within weeks, the two had married, and within months, she was pregnant. ‘I was so excited,’ says Klupp. Soon, however, she learned that her new husband was facing serious jail time, and she reluctantly agreed to start looking into how to place their expected child for adoption. The couple called one of the first results that Google spat out: Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC).”

During her pregnancy, ANLC asked Klupp to write down her essential purchases for reimbursement: gas money, food, blankets and so on.

“She remembers thinking, ‘I’m not trying to sell my baby.’ But ANLC, she says, pointed out that the prospective adoptive parents were rich. ‘That’s not enough,’ Klupp recalls her counselor telling her. ‘You can ask for more.’ So, the couple added maternity clothes, a new set of tires, and money for her husband’s prison commissary account,” Klupp says.

“Then, in January 2010, she signed the initial legal paperwork for adoption, with the option to revoke.”

In the U.S., an expectant mother has the right to change her mind about placing her baby for adoption any time before birth. After birth, mothers can also change their mind for a period of time that varies state by state.

In Texas, a mother can change her decision about an adoption up until she signs the relinquishment paperwork, which usually happens 48 to 72 hours after the child is born. Once those documents are signed, she can no longer change her mind.

“Klupp says she had recurring doubts about her decision. But when she called her ANLC counselor to ask whether keeping the child was an option, ‘they made me feel like, if I backed out, then the adoptive parents were going to come after me for all the money that they had spent.’ That would have been thousands of dollars. In shock, Klupp says, she “hung up and never broached the subject again.”

Klupp feared the prospect of legal action if she backed out of the adoption. She wasn’t aware that an attorney, whose services were paid for by the adoptive parents, represented her, Time wrote.

“‘I will never forget the way my heart sank,’ says Klupp. ‘You have to buy your own baby back almost.’ Seeing no viable alternative, she ended up placing her son and hasn’t seen him since he left the hospital 11 years ago.”

“Often, unlicensed adoption organizations are facilitators, attorneys, or individuals who decide they want to make money by creating a platform to recruit families and pregnant women for adoption,” said Duncan.

“They secure payment from clients to post their profiles, videos, pictures and contact information on the web. The bigger facilitators, such as Adoption Network out of California, advertise specifically to attract women to place their babies for adoption,” said Duncan.

“They will connect potential adoptive families with resources in the corresponding state to handle the home study, contact the pregnant woman, and handle legal paperwork and supervision. They are not licensed in any state that I have been able to identify.”

Some licensed adoption agencies receive a significant amount of monetary support from donations, while other agencies operate solely by the fees they’re paid by adoptive families. These agencies must follow specific guidelines regarding the amount they can charge, and for what purposes.

All adoption agencies meet pregnant women in vulnerable situations, including women who have lost their jobs, have been kicked out of their homes, or have been left by their partners, Duncan said.

“Licensed adoption agencies support them throughout their pregnancies, and then at least 50-75% of them choose to keep their baby or place their baby with someone else after having received this support,” Duncan said.

The Texas Minimum Standards for Child Placing Agencies prohibits seeking repayment from expectant mothers who do not go through with an adoption. When a mother backs out of an adoption, licensed agencies absorb the financial loss.

When no adoption placements are made, agencies run out of money to continue to facilitate future adoptions unless applications for grants or requests for donations are granted. However, these grants and donations eventually stop coming if no placements occur.

Licensed adoption specialists point to search engines like Google, which promotes unlicensed adoption ads, for a nationwide decline in the adoption rates at licensed agencies.

“Licensed agencies have worked hard to be ethical, place the babies’ interests first, and follow the laws and standards set out by the state of Texas,” Duncan said in an official complaint to Attorney General Ken Paxton (TX).

“Licensed agencies are legally and ethically unable to compete with individuals advertising on Google and willing to pay large sums of money to a placing mom. Due to licensing scrutiny, as a Texas licensed adoption agency, we must maintain thorough records on all expenses paid to birth mothers reviewed every year by licensing.

“These expenses paid must be considered reasonable for the area of Texas where the mom lives and include corresponding receipts. We are also required to submit our financial statements annually to the State of Texas.”

Additionally, competing on Google for keywords has gotten too expensive for many smaller agencies.

“The competition is so great for keywords on Google now that this agency will soon not be able to afford to advertise,” Duncan said. “Other licensed agencies have already been driven off the internet because of these prices and the lack of money to buy backlinks so they can show up on organic searches.”

“By allowing all of these ‘rich’ individuals to buy the exact keywords as licensed agencies, they are essentially running us out of business. The internet is where most pregnant women decide whom they will work with.”

AdopTexas has seen two placements through its agency within the last two years. Typically, this facility hosts four to eight annually.

“There has been no new pregnant mother intake since July of 2021. This led me to go on to the search engines and see what was happening on the internet. I was shocked when I saw the ads populating with specific keywords… there were more facilitators and links from unlicensed sources than licensed agencies,” Duncan said.

“Google’s practice of allowing illegal advertising in Texas will eventually shut down this agency… and many other Texas licensed agencies. These laws and standards we follow are in place to protect the children relinquished by their parents from being exposed to abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

“Criminal acts of this number and magnitude and covered by state laws will have to be addressed through the Texas attorney general’s office. This complaint has been filed and is now in the hands of the attorney general’s staff,” Duncan said.

“I pray that no child is harmed before this illegal activity is brought under control.”

Furthermore, “black market” adoptions affect the reputation of the entire adoption industry. The public eye does not distinguish between licensed and unlicensed adoptions. When an adoption scandal occurs, such as child abuse in an adoptive home, or an adoptive family being scammed by a birth mother, it reflects poorly on adoption in total.

In fact, many expectant mothers who are contemplating adoption cannot discern between licensed and unlicensed agencies. In a vulnerable and confused state, women often get pulled into illegal adoptions with the belief that Google advertisements indicate legitimacy.

The public is broadly unaware of what the actual adoption process looks like. Films depict adoption as a childless couple rescuing an unwanted baby, but in reality, the number of families looking to adopt dramatically outweighs the number of babies available.

At any given time, an average of 1 million U.S. families are trying to adopt an infant, said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption. Some turn to international adoption to build their families, but many countries have decreased the number of babies they send to the U.S. Families may also adopt through the U.S. foster-care system, but this process may take years.

Thus, wealthier families seeking adoption turn to the private-adoption sector.

“Problems with private adoption appear to be widespread. Interviews with dozens of current and former adoption professionals, birth parents, adoptive parents and reform advocates, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents, reveal issues ranging from commission schemes and illegal gag clauses to Craigslistesque ads for babies and lower rates for parents willing to adopt babies of any race,” a 2021 Time article reported.

“No one centrally tracks private adoptions in the U.S., but best estimates, from the Donaldson Adoption Institute (2006) and the National Council for Adoption (2014), respectively, peg the number of annual nonrelative infant adoptions at roughly 13,000 to 18,000. Public agencies are involved in approximately 1,000 of those, suggesting that the vast majority of domestic infant adoptions involve the private sector—and the market forces that drive it.”

“It’s a fundamental problem of supply and demand,” says Celeste Liversidge, an adoption attorney in California, who would like to see reforms to the current system.

The private-adoption system in the U.S. is largely unregulated, unlawful, and profitable. Some reports show that prospective parents are charged more than $25,000 in fees, excluding legal costs for finalizing the adoption, birth-mother expenses, and other add-ons (i.e., gender and race specification).

“The money’s the problem,” says Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation and president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. “Any time you put dollar signs and human beings in the same sentence, you have a recipe for disaster.”

Critics maintain that lack of federal oversight on domestic private adoption created the perfect breeding ground for turning adoption into a lucrative business model.

Most relevant private-adoption laws, ranging from birth-mother financial compensation to how birth parents expressing their consent to an adoption, are made at the state level and thus are inconsistent throughout the country. Texas penal code regarding adoption can be found here.

Licensed adoption workers urge expectant mothers and adoptive parents to arrange their adoptions through licensed agencies.

In Texas, licensed agencies facilitate regular training to prepare adoptive families for parenting an adopted child. The agencies conduct thorough home studies prior to adoption.

After adopting, the adoptive family is supervised for six months to ensure the child is safe and integrating well into their new home and that the adoptive family receives the guidance they need. The birth mother also receives counseling and emotional support throughout the process.

Another crucial role that licensed agencies play in adoption is regulation of the relationship between birth parents and the adoptive family and child, if an open adoption is promised to the birth mother. Without adoption regulations, this agreement may or may not be fulfilled.

Domestic private-adoption laws, while significantly lacking on a federal scale, were created on the state-level for one overarching reason: ensuring the safety and physical and emotional wellbeing of the baby.

Lives this delicate and precious cannot be left in the hands of the greedy and opportunistic, or trusted solely by the emotionally amplified and desperate. Babies are the smallest and purest of our kind, and it is fundamental that we safeguard their adoptions with significant government oversight.

Charlotte Duncan said that she has been unsuccessful in getting Lanier Law Firm to represent her case against Google. The law firm said she would have to file a personal injury lawsuit, and it would be impossible to prove the amount of financial injury Google has caused to her adoption agency.

Duncan sent a written complaint to Senator Ted Cruz and called Senator John Cornyn. Neither officeholder has responded. 

Duncan has filed an official complaint to Attorney General Ken Paxton (TX). Various state penal codes address the sale of children differently, but no federal law exists yet prohibiting the sale of children unless they are being sold for the purpose of sex. 

If you wish to contact the Attorney General’s office regarding this matter, you can refer to Complaint # CGS-316636.

This is a developing story. Check in routinely with KatyChristianMagazine.com for updates.

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Hannah Menslage

Hannah Menslage is the assistant publisher and editor of Katy and Fort Bend Christian Magazines. She also writes a lifestyle column and manages the social media accounts for these publications. Hannah is a journalism/communications student in the Valenti school at the University of Houston. In her free time, Hannah enjoys gardening, cooking and baking, hanging out with her dog and cat, writing and completing fun DIY projects. Contact her with any questions at hannah@katychristianmagazine.com.