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Missouri legislators do little to regulate Internet adoptions.

March 07, 2001
By: Maggie Rotermund
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Although it is a Missouri child that sparked the international debate for Internet adoptions, Missouri government officials are standing on the sidelines.

Legislators and administration officials express either lack of knowledge or interest in the issue.

"There isn't any legislation coming before committee. I'm not opposed to drafting a law on this subject, but it would have to be written very carefully," said Sen. Roseann Bentley, R-Springfield, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a leading sponsor of child-related bills.

"You don't want to stop the sharing of information on the Internet," she said.

The international debate regarding the Internet-based adoption arose after a St. Louis woman allowed her children to find homes with two different families.

The woman, Tranda Wecker from St. Louis, gave birth to Kiara and Keyara Wecker in June of last year. She put her children up for adoption while in the middle of divorce proceedings with their father, Aaron Wecker.

Tranda Wecker chose the Caring Heart Adoption Agency, a California-based agency Wecker found from the Internet.

After the children were placed with a California couple, Wecker invoked a state law to visit the children. Rather than returning the children, she allowed a British family to adopt them.

The British couple, Alan and Judith Kilshaw, paid $12,500 for the girls. Because the children had first been placed for adoption in California, Missouri laws do not apply.

"Baby selling is against the law in this state," said Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia and a member of the House Children Committee.

Columbia lawyer Crepeau concurs. "A statement of expenses must be filed and updated again before the finalization. No money can change hands without being accounted for."

Rep. Larry Crawford, R-Centertown, has introduced legislation to expand the definition of selling children to include anyone under the age of 18.

"The language of Missouri's law is such that it is illegal to sell the transfer of custody of a child, not to sell the child," Crawford said.

Crawford's interest stems from multiple stories in the last three years regarding mothers selling their children. A story from Davies County, in which a mother sold her infant to a family member in order to raise bail money for her incarcerated boyfriend, encouraged Crawford to act.

"These are bizarre circumstances that the law hasn't looked at. The prosecutor and the judge in that case were powerless because the law wasn't designed for circumstances like that," Crawford said. "Hopefully this law will work so that things like this don't happen again."

The British couple filed for legal adoption in Arkansas, rather than in Missouri, bypassing not only Missouri's stiffer restrictions, but also the babies' father -- Aaron Wecker, a resident of Arnold in eastern Missouri just outside St. Louis. Wecker transferred her children to the British couple in Arkansas after getting them from the California family.

Earlier this year, Aaron Wecker won a St. Louis County court motion for custody. But since the children are now in Britain, the court order cannot be enforced.

Missouri law requires that birth fathers be notified of a potential adoption. Aaron Wecker claims he was not notified of the whereabouts of his children or that the adoption had even taken place.

The confusion surrounding this case raises questions about the Internet and its role in adoptions.

"For the most part, the Internet has been used as another extension for marketing. There are no special laws that apply," said Crepeau.

The Children and Family Services Division in Missouri uses the Internet to advertise hard to place children. Its Web site features photos and short descriptions of the children in the hope of finding adoptive families.

The question plaguing this case involves where true jurisdiction lies. Motions have been filed in California, Arkansas, Missouri and Great Britain. Both the California and British couples want the children, as well as both of their biological parents.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer closed proceedings Feb. 14, because juveniles are involved and to maintain the confidentiality of adoption proceedings.

On March 1, Aaron Wecker dropped his claims of neglect against Tranda Wecker. This move allows the issue of custody to be part of their divorce proceedings, instead of a separate issue.

Wecker also admitted he consented to the adoption, said Bryan Hettenbach, the court-appointed lawyer representing the twins' interest.

Aaron Wecker appeared March 5 on CBS News' "The Early Show" to explain his decision.

"Tranda and I were separated," Wecker said on the program. "We already have a girl that we're raising separated. I thought at the time that was best for the girls, to join a family that are together."

Wecker came one step closer to gaining custody on Tuesday, as Arkansas Probate Judge Mackie Pierce voided the Kilshaw's adoption and requested the British High Court of Justice return the twins to the United States.

"An adoption order is fatally defective where neither...the prospective adoptive parents nor the minors sought to be adopted were residents of the county," Pierce wrote. "If Tranda Wecker engaged in any fraud or deception regarding her residency, this court will not reward this bad conduct."

Senator Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, Chair of the Aging, Families, and Mental Health Committee in the Senate said she has tried to find ways to draft legislation, but the way the Internet is regulated makes it virtually impossible.

"This woman sold her children and she got off scot-free. There are basic laws in place to prevent this. These parents are trying to come off as caring and loving--it just turns my stomach," Sims said. "The way to approach this is through the laws on selling children."