4 Children For Sale: Story Behind the Picture

Dawn Davenport


Four young kids sitting on the front porch steps beside a sign that read “4 CHILDREN FOR SALE”. The mother in the background turning away from the camera. Take a look at this picture. Take a really good look. It. Breaks. My. Heart. Just try to imagine what those children were feeling. Try to imagine what that mother was feeling. It is beyond imagining.

A friend who is not connected to the adoption world sent me this picture a couple of weeks ago. He knew nothing of all the talk about adoption dissolutions, disruptions, and “re-homing” that is swirling about in the news, but this picture reminds us that family dysfunction is not limited to this generation or to adoptive families.

Those faces, combined with the faces of the children in the recent “re-homing” story, haunt me. I wanted to know the rest of the story. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out.

The Story Behind the Picture of “4 Children for Sale”

This picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper.

It shows 4 young children: SueEllen (top left), Lana (top right), Milton (bottom left), and Rae (bottom right).

The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, was shielding her eyes from the camera, not sobbing as I first thought, according to the newspaper reports from the time, but then how do we really know. She was 24, married to an unemployed man 16 years older, and pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo. Who’s to judge her true feelings?

After the picture appeared in papers throughout the US, offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in for this family.

What Happened Next

No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard. Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family, and records show he had a criminal record. Lucille went on governmental assistance. A fifth child, David, was born in 1949.

The storyline is not complete, but David was either removed from the home or relinquished in July 1950. He was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape. He was adopted by a loving but strict home and ran away at 16, spent 20 years in the military, and has been a truck driver ever since.

Rae says that she was “sold for $2 [in Aug. 1950] so her mother could have bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children.” Milton was standing nearby crying, so that family took him too. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Rae ran away at 17. Milton was removed from the home due to abuse (unclear at what age) and eventually ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with “schizophrenia and having fits of rage”. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He eventually married, moved to Arizona, and is now divorced.

No one knows what happened to Lana, other than she died of cancer in 1998. SueEllen was adopted, but I’ve not been able to find out any additional information other than she had two sons. She told her children that she was sold by her mother.

Being left behind, abandonment, neglect, all things that lead to lasting effects on a child.

Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions.

What the Kids Have to Say

Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions.

  • SueEllen: Dying of lung disease said, “[My mother] needs to be in hell burning.”
  • Milton: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”
  • David: “[Our mother] got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us. … We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”

The trend of children being abused and abandoned is still an epidemic

There are currently 442,995 children are in foster care with a similar life story as these four children. Make a difference in their story and become a foster parent.

Lest You Think This Doesn’t Happen Now…

There are children just exactly like these four children currently waiting for a family in the US foster care system. They are just as frightened and confused as these kids. Their faces should haunt us as well. Here’s what they look like by the numbers.

  • 442,995 children are in foster care. This number has been rising every year due to the drug crisis in the US.
  • 123,437 children are waiting to be adopted
  • 59,430 children were adopted from foster care in 2017 (last year data is available).
  • The average age of children waiting to be adopted was 7.6 years. The average age of those adopted was 6.3 years.
  • Only 21 percent of children who were adopted were aged 10 and older. About 35 percent of waiting children are older than nine.
  • 51 percent of children were adopted by a foster parent, and 35 percent were adopted by a relative.
  • 93 percent of the children adopted with public agency involvement received adoption assistance benefits (adoption subsidy).

Do their faces haunt you too?

Image Credit: Patrick Makhoul; Sean Hoyer

Image credit for the 4 Children for Sale photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS and Hammond Community.net
Source for foster care data: AFCARS Report

19/12/2018 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 26 Comments

26 Responses to 4 Children For Sale: Story Behind the Picture

  1. Avatar Cynthia Brown says:

    Well, it’s not always this way. My granddaughter was seized by the State of Kentucky. At the time I was in California fighting DCFS to get her older siblings. In 2015 I did adopt her older siblings but Kentucky would not give me my granddaughter even though I am a registered nurse and had worked in pediatrics. I have no criminal history and I’m very financially stable. Kentucky did it for the Federal ASFA money. I moved from California to Kentucky so that the kids would know each other. But, it has not been easy and very sad for all of the children, one adopted to a couple outside of the family by forced adoption and two being raised by me, their grandmother. I know countless grandparents whose grandchildren have been taken across the US and adopted by non family never to be seen again. These grandparents are on an endless search for their grandchildren, many times unsuccessfully before the grandparents die as in the case of Roger Atkinson of Lexington Kentucky. Currently some of the names Of grandparents looking for their grandchildren are Nancy Barton, South Dakota, Teresa Bean, Arkansas, Ron and Heidi McGee, California, Tammy Armstrong, Maryland. Look any or all of them up on FB and you will see the sad sorry across the US of grandparents and children ripped apart. So all is not as it seems. This Federal funding has created incentives for the government to rip kids from their families.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:


      I’m so sorry for all the pain and struggle your family has been through. And I’m so glad that your grandkids have you to step up and speak up for them. If you are looking for resources to support you while you are raising them, we have a lot to offer, such as this: 8 Crucial Tips for Kinship Adoption.

      Those are indeed very sad stories – I’m sure that there are so many more that we are unaware of. We can only hope those children have landed somewhere safely and that they are well-loved and cared for even if it’s not with family.

  2. Avatar Carolyn says:

    The thing with the day care on campus is that for the Hmong students, it was cultural (they’re a nomadic ppl from SE Asia) to marry and reproduce VERY young. (They also obtained brides through kidnapping… talk about culture/law enforcement clash!).

  3. Avatar Mary says:

    Carolyn-your story breaks my heart. Thankfully the teacher made that child/student live up to her responsibility in the aftermath of her neglectful behaviour-IMO she should have had to have spent the night in a jail cell too. Fingers crossed that she did not become pregnant after the class experiment-after proving that she was not fit at that point in her life to be a parent. Birth control should have been made mandatory until she proved her ability to be a good parent-but not with a real baby. Exhibit A of my original point.

  4. Avatar Carolyn says:

    One ghetto district where I used to sub in central California had a day care on campus for students’ children at 3 of the 4 high schools. I guess I should have been happy that moms were still in school…. but no idea what the graduation rate was for the teen moms.

    I remember having one of those baby dolls cry in class when I was subbing =). One student (IDK if it was our district our something I heard about; this was 10 years ago) purposely neglected her doll to “death” and the teacher forced her to call the funeral home/cemetery and plan a funeral.

  5. Avatar Marni Levin says:

    I also agree with Mary. Parental education classes should be given in high school and college. Years ago when I was a high school teacher the students learned about parental responsibility by having to carry a bag of flour (dressed up as a baby) with them at all times for a week. It wasn’t much really but at least a start.

    • Marni, our school system has each 9th grader be responsible for a baby doll that is programed to require feeding and diapering throughout the day and night. I think the program is terrific.

  6. Avatar Barbara H. says:

    OMGoodness, left me in tears. A must read.

  7. Avatar Mary says:

    I just can’t help thinking of the plans my husband and I had for our family in the days BIF (before infertility-said IF was always there, but we didn’t know it yet). Never once did we think about having to prove our worth as parents in the ways that PAP’s do-if we had managed to conceive and give birth to a child of our own, we would have been innocent until proven guilty in terms of our fitness for parenthood-no one would have questioned whether we had what it took until we made a terrible traumatizing mistake that would have harmed our child . But thanks to a physical disability (IF) the tables have been turned-now we are assumed to be unfit and in need of education until we have been scrutinized and examined by authorities who have the power to tell us yes or no. Like I said before, I don’t mind the education and the scrutiny-I don’t want to become a parent until I can be a good one-but I deeply resent the fact that I would not need to be this well prepared if natural conception was possible in our situation. I and everyone else would have been allowed to take my ability to be a parent for granted just because my spouse and I could conceive our own children without assistance of any kind. I miss that innocent outlook and the naivete that came with it, but not too much-I don’t think ANYONE should be allowed to be a parent if they haven’t given it a great deal of critical thought. I do not believe that God/Nature inflicts people with IF because of some premonition that they will be bad or unfit parents-I know of too many IF people that this is untrue about, and I know too many people who are fertile who could have used a class or two to help them to become better parents. If parenthood is really a “job” as some people say, then maybe we should start treating it like a job and making ALL people pass tests and homestudies before they take whatever steps will lead them to parenthood (GOFI, Adoption, ART,etc). This, and only this IMHO will be the way that is truly “in the best interest of all children” because it will give them the parents they truly deserve

  8. Avatar Sissi says:

    wow.. what a story.
    I personally hate being hounded for wanting to adopt a young child though. I am in my twenties and have alittle one and want to keep the birth order intact. I always said that when I’m in my 30s (and my child/ children is/are older) I would love to start adopting older children.
    God knows I’d love to save every child in the world, but I have to stay within my abilities and do what feels right to create a happy home for the children I DO/will have.
    Sorry, the rant is a bit random, it’s just something I’m usually told when I express my wish to adopt.
    But back to he point: It’s a great and heartbreaking article, and I am sending it to some people as we speak. 🙂

  9. Avatar Lisa says:

    I agree with Mary this is a societal issue and not just an adoptive families issue.

  10. Avatar Lisa says:

    All families regardless of makeup could do with training. There might be different types of issues of greater importance to cover based on child and families needs but I see this more as everyone needs help and not because one group didn’t or does poorly we shouldn’t have to either. Its not always presented the best way to APs though or it could be we are sensitive to the topic so could easily be offended regardless of presentation. But it definately adds value. And ten hours training before your kids come home is certainly easier and faster then after you come home and tired and caring for them and time isn’t that eay to get anymore. The time to read and absorb along with getting information on available resources is before you need it which would again be true for any family. Looking back I was offended but grateful for what we got and we could have done more.

  11. Avatar Lisa says:

    I can see the anger about bio families not having to be educated and more and more restrictions or requirements piled on APs. It is offensive and hurtful and implies that those who did not birth their children are somehow lacking in ability to love or care for them or insufficient in some way. I completely get that anger and have felt it. Now with that aside and viewing education through a non-emotional lense and just looking at adoption in general and childrens needs was it beneficial to be forced to go through some training and could we have done more than ten hours? Absolutely yes.

  12. Avatar Lisa says:

    I agree with Tao on not forgetting children on either side of the equation.

  13. Avatar Mary says:

    How would better pre-adoption counselling help the dissolution of this or any other BIOLOGICAL families? How would making pre-adoptive parents jump through more hoops make biological parents like this -the ones who sold their children in the first place-become the parents that their children deserved? I have no problem with making education mandatory for people who are trying to become parents through adoption-I think the more education the better if it makes you a better parent in the long run, but it irks me a little that bio parents are not made to meet the same standards before they even CONCEIVE a child or even THINK about conceiving a child. I don’t mind pushing for more pre adoption education ,but I wish that this push would be extended to those who create their families through natural, non assisted conception as well (aka the old fashioned way). Perhaps if ALL adults who aspired to be parents were made to meet these lofty standards before they brought a child into this world or into their family, many of the problems that face our children today (neglect, abuse, abandonment, etc) would be eradicated. The cry for things to happen “for the best interest of the child (ren)” as valid as it is, rings hollow when I read stories like this where people like this are given a free pass into parenthood just because they were physically able to do so, and then their bad behaviours are excused and blame is allowed to be shifted to sources outside of themselves. Sorry to vent, but I’m getting a little tired of the double standard that is thrown at AP’s and PAP’s. Not all AP’s and PAP’s are bad and unfit for parenthood, and not all bio parents are saints and automatically fit for the job.

  14. Avatar TAO says:


    I don’t disagree – I just don’t want this to be swept under the rug and forgotten when the next story hits the headlines. Need to keep pushing for better pre-adoption education especially those who will parent known wounded children – do you think a 10 hour on-line education is sufficient (?), or, perhaps saying no you don’t have what it takes, and more specific local services post adoption. It never hurts for a process improvement review to happen. Even 1% is still a lot of children every year.

    I just keep thinking of Hana and how the system utterly failed her – something failed in the process and I know she wasn’t re-homed.

  15. Asiyah, sorry about that. On the other hand, it also speaks to the resiliency of humans. The children we know about all survived.

  16. Beth, yes, and that we must have strong options, such as legal adoption, available to step in when families, all families including bio and adoptive, fall apart.

  17. Avatar Beth says:

    Heartbreaking. Another reminder that we live in a broken world.

  18. Keep in mind, this picture is of a bio family, not an adoptive family.

  19. Avatar TAO says:

    Excellent post. People in adoption need to be open to all the different stories, and see the long-term effects of current actions on the children who are at the heart of the action.

    Regardless of whether the underground rehoming happens “rarely” – each of those stories are about real human beings. I would also challenge everyone who uses the term “rare” to define “rare” and assign a number or percent that is an acceptable number of collateral human casualties vs. when it becomes a necessity to force change instead of forgetting about it and moving on to the next headline.

    • TAO, the hard part with adoption dissolutions is that we don’t have a great way of tracking the number. Best guess based on the show (see my blog summary-https://creatingafamily.org/blog/the-danger-in-guessing-on-adoption-dissolutions/) is around 1% of adoption fail. That is all adoptions, and we know that adoptions of children from abuse and neglect fail more often. Wounded children are hard to parent.

  20. Avatar Karla Marie Williams says:

    No words…..

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