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Social media altering the way adoptions happen in US

Online ads help link birth moms, hopeful parents

WASHINGTON — Five months pregnant and unsure what to do about it, Sesa Juliana was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook one night when she stumbled upon a small advertisement. It pictured two smiling men on a sailboat and read: ‘‘Loving gay couple in DC area seeks open adoption of a baby. Contact us if you’d like to place your baby in a home full of joy!’’

It was 2010, and the two men, Brad Letson and Brad Benton of Silver Spring, Md., had been trying to adopt for the better part of a year.

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They had completed their application, home study, and other required checks through a local adoption agency, and they had put together a website, but like many who seek to adopt, they found that being matched with an infant can take years.

Then they saw a couple on a television talk show who had used Facebook to find a child, so they decided to try it themselves. They took out an ad directed at ‘‘friends of friends.’’

To their surprise, they got an answer in six hours.

‘‘The Brads,’’ as their friends call them, were worried at first that it was too good to be true. ‘‘There was excitement, but there was confusion,’’ Benton, 41, said. ‘‘We tried to stay really levelheaded.’’ But after e-mailing and Skyping with Juliana for several months, they got to know each other, and in October 2010, they assisted in the birth of their son, Kyler.

Now 2, the bright-eyed toddler tossed a ball back and forth with Benton on a recent evening at their split-level home.

‘It’s unmonitored, unregulated. We don’t know what they’re doing.’ — Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

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‘‘It used to be adoption was kind of just sitting and waiting,’’ said Letson, 41. ‘‘Now you really need to be proactive.’’

As the Internet and social media infiltrate almost every aspect of life, they have also become a tool for people seeking to find, or offer, children for adoption. No one knows how many adoptions have resulted from online connections, but at a time when adoptions can take years the potential ease of finding a match online is appealing.

‘‘This is a big, growing trend that is unlikely to stop anytime in the future; it’s accelerating and it’s changing families and it’s changing adoption,’’ said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which recently put out a report about the Internet’s effect on adoption.

But it can also open the door for unanticipated complications.

‘‘People are forming families more quickly and more efficiently, but it’s threatening ethical adoption practice as we know it,’’ Pertman said. ‘‘It’s unmonitored, unregulated. We don’t know what they’re doing. With agencies, it’s going to take two to three years, and there’s counseling for the adoptive family and the birth mother; there’s education. Then you go online and see, ‘Baby! Eight to ten months! Sign up here!’”

In some cases, it is too good to be true. Adoption agencies have come to recognize and warn their clients about scammers — people who repeatedly answer the ads of prospective parents, claiming they are expecting and asking for ‘‘expenses’’ for a pregnancy that might not be real at all.

That hasn’t stopped hopeful would-be parents from putting ads on Craigslist, Facebook, and other sites.

The Brads, who are seeking to adopt a second child using traditional and social media routes, direct birth mothers to contact their adoption agencies, which can help filter out scams.

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