“Re-homing” occurs when desperate adoptive parents unable to care for a child transfer child custody to another individual without the oversight of social workers, lawyers or the courts. While some incidents of re-homing occur with domestically adopted children, the majority are the result of unsuspecting parents who adopted from international agencies that withheld a child’s physical or behavioral issues. These adoptive parents find themselves faced with medical and psychiatric issues they are ill equipped to handle or expenses they cannot afford. In some states these parents are threatened by abandonment charges if they turn over the adopted child to child services.
“Re-homing” is the result of the adoptive parents’ desire to “dissolve” an adoption after the courts have approved and made legal the child’s original adoption. “Re-homing” has led to child physical and sexual abuse as well as cases of children who have gone missing. Only Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas have implemented legislation to address the issue. Maryland legislators are considering a bill that addresses re-homing.
Dissolution statistics are difficult to obtain given privacy laws, yet according to a 2012 report by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, approximately one to five percent of adoptions dissolve. Based on this, up to 350 of the 7,094 international adoptions that took place in the U.S. in 2013 may have resulted in dissolution.
Regardless of the cause or level of parent desperation, re-homing is a disturbing and unregulated practice that opens up children to abuse and exploitation. It also creates new opportunities for child traffickers.
In September 2013, Reuters exposed re-homing with a multi-part investigative report called “The Child Exchange.” Some states immediately sprang into action to address the problem, but 1½ years later only five states now have laws on the books to prohibit the unregulated practice. In those states, bills have been introduced by members of both parties and typically pass with little opposition. However many states have yet to address the issue, and no law exists at the federal level.
Wisconsin was the first state to take action. State Assemblyman Joel Kleefisch (R) introduced a re-homing prevention bill that passed unanimously and without debate. Republican Governor Scott Walker signed it into law in March 2014.
Colorado was next to step up with new legislation. Colorado House Representative Kathleen Conti (R) said the Reuters report “was chilling to read” and inspired her bill that was signed into law in May 2014. The new legislation attempts to prevent unregulated re-homing by forbidding advertising to find or place a child for adoption. Authorized services such as fertility clinics, adoption agencies and adoption attorneys are exempt from the advertising ban.
In Colorado, breaking the law is a class 6 felony, yet Conti assures that they neither “have the will nor the space to incarcerate people who have adopted a child and are at their wit’s end.”
According to Conti, law enforcement distinguishes between overwhelmed parents versus those who aim to exploit children. “Legitimate parents first receive a cease and desist and are provided with information on local services, support groups and are educated on the dangers of re-homing a child,” added Conti.
For the most extreme cases, institutionalization and ultimately state child welfare services are options, but care givers must go through proper legal channels.
“Once you’ve adopted a child, that child is yours just like any biological child,” said Conti. While she understands that some international agencies willfully withhold information about troubled children, “You need to be careful that you know what you are taking on.”
In June 2014, both Louisiana and Florida successfully passed laws addressing adoption re-homing. The bills were proposed by state senators Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (D) and Eleanor Sobel (D) respectively.
Not all attempts at passing laws to curtail re-homing have been successful. In March 2014, Charletta Tavares (D) and Peggy Lehner (R) of Ohio introduced state legislation to prevent re-homing, yet the bill died in committee.
Earlier in 2015, state Sen. Ronald Young (D) of Maryland introduced re-homing legislation to address gaps in child abandonment laws. Offenders would face up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Motivated by Tragedy
In March 2015 re-homing was again thrust into the national consciousness when an Arkansas state legislator signed over custody of a six-year-old daughter he adopted from foster care to a man who sexually assaulted her. The tragedy jolted state politicians into action, and a law making it a felony for parents to transfer custody to anyone other than close relatives without court approval passed on April 6, 2015.
In most cases, laws addressing adoption re-homing have generated bi-partisan support in the states that have taken action. One would think introducing legislation to eliminate re-homing would be low-hanging fruit in the political world. Here’s hoping that more state lawmakers take preemptive measures before a tragedy catapults them to action.