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Federal Bipartisan Bill Will Protect Adopted Children from Rehoming

In December of 2017, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, a member of the National Working Group on Unregulated Custody Transfer, sent a letter to Congress identifying areas in which state and federal law could be changed to help prevent or eliminate rehoming. Rehoming is an unregulated custody transfer (UCT) practice in which children are given away by adoptive parents to strangers without any form of home study, background checks, or legal transfer of parental rights or responsibilities, often subjecting these children to emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. In the letter, Attorney General Reyes referenced House Bill 199, a bill passed into law during the 2017 Utah State Legislative Session to address UCT, making Utah the first state to criminalize this practice. Yesterday, Congressmen Jim Langevin and Don Bacon introduced legislation to combat UCT. In their press release, they quoted Attorney General Reyes, who helped raise awareness of the issue, leading to the inclusion of  UCT in the federal definition of child abuse and neglect under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The press release in regard to this new legislation is below.


OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN
JIM LANGEVIN

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 27, 2019

 

CONTACT
Stuart Malec
(401) 486-6007

 

Bipartisan Bill Will Protect Adopted Children from Rehoming

Legislation closes loophole in federal law to allow state child welfare agencies to investigate suspected cases of unregulated custody transfers

WASHINGTON – Congressmen Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Don Bacon (R-NE) today introduced legislation to combat unregulated custody transfers (UCT) of adopted children to strangers, a dangerous practice known as “rehoming”. The Safe Home Act would close a loophole in federal law by clearly establishing that UCT is child abuse.  

In 2013, Reuters shined a national spotlight on UCT with a series of investigative reports on parents and guardians seeking to abandon their adopted children by “advertising” them on online forums. These underground transfers occur without background checks, home studies, or any of the oversight that legal adoption mandates. By changing the definition of child abuse to explicitly include UCT, the Safe Home Act provides state child welfare agencies with clear authority to properly investigate these cases.

“Unregulated custody transfers jeopardize the well-being and safety of adopted children,” said Congressman Langevin. “Child protective services need clear guidance to ensure they can protect children subject to re-homing and to hold those who put them at risk accountable. The Safe Home Act will do just that by updating federal law to put an end to this disturbing practice.” 

“The Safe Home Act will provide needed protections for vulnerable children at risk and prevent the rehoming of adopted children,” said Congressman Bacon. “Our kids deserve safety, warmth, and stability and I look forward to working with Congressman Langevin to get this bill passed.”

“I am so grateful our federal partners are taking action on this critical issue,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a member of the National Working Group on Unregulated Custody Transfer. “Utah is proud to have passed the first state law criminalizing UCT, a growing threat to our children. We are honored the bill sponsors Rep. Langevin and Rep. Bacon build on this work to further protect vulnerable children, assist families who adopt and combat human trafficking nationwide.”

“In most states, there are few protections if a family decides to relinquish their adopted child,” said Maureen Flatley, a national child welfare expert who is participating in the upcoming Capitol Hill UCT briefing on Thursday. “With this powerful bill, Congressman Langevin is taking on the dangerous practice of unregulated custody transfer to ensure that children are protected in all fifty states. We owe adopted children vigilance and safety. This legislation ensures that there are clear definitions and that the states have concrete requirements when it comes to protecting kids.”  

The Safe Home Act adds UCT as a form of child abuse and neglect under the definitions found in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Specifically, the definition will allow temporary placement with a trusted relative but foreclose any permanent placement with a stranger. Beyond reducing ambiguity at child protective services agencies, the definitional change will allow states access to additional federal funds to counter the practice. The bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to issue specific guidance related to UCT and to report to Congress on the prevalence of the practice. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office released a report, requested by Langevin, that looked into steps states and child welfare agencies had taken to prevent rehoming. The Safe Home Act draws upon that report and the findings of the National Working Group on UCT.

Langevin and Bacon will host a Capitol Hill briefing with experts and advocates tomorrow, February 28, to further explore policies to prevent UCT.

Unregulated Custody Transfers of Adopted Youth: Understanding and Preventing “Rehoming”
Thursday, February 28, 2019
11 AM – 12 PM  
122 Cannon House Office Building 
Washington, DC 20515

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Utah Attorney General

Attorney General Reyes Testifies in Support of HB199

Proposed law would fight the trafficking of adopted children

SALT LAKE CITY February 16, 2017 – A bill before the Utah legislature would implement safeguards to protect adopted children from “rehoming,” the illegal practice of adoptive parents giving away their adopted children away to strangers without the usual home study or background checks performed to protect children. At the invitation of the US Department of State, the Utah Attorney General’s Office joined national a committee two years ago tasked with addressing the illegal phenomenon and exploring model legislation for other states around the country. The bill, HB 199, was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation.

“Getting the bill out of committee is a positive step in the right direction,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “This bill isn’t designed to be overly punitive towards adoptive parents.  We know the vast majority of adoptive parents have only the most noble of intentions when bringing adopted children into their families. But the reality is that many adopted kids coming from overseas environments have been victims of terrible abuse in war-torn countries or experienced severe trauma from the horrors of torture, famine, abuse or other atrocities.  Some adoptive parents who become overwhelmed by the cultural, emotional and psychological challenges of highly traumatized children, panic and end up desperate.  In too many situations, parents have literally given away their children to strangers like they might with old furniture, beginning with an online communication or transaction.

“This bill provides these adoptive parents more resources to face such challenges or find another adoptive family through legal processes rather than simply giving away, selling or abandoning their adopted child.  Without a law at the federal and state level prohibiting this kind of transfer of custody, thousands of kids will continue to be placed into the hands of human traffickers, pimps, rapists and other predators. In short, this bill is absolutely necessary to protect children and assist adoptive families. It allows the state to better educate and inform adoptive parents going into an adoption, empowering them to be more informed and prepared. And it more effectively keeps children out of the hands of potential abusers and predators.”

The practice of rehoming, facilitated by websites that connect overwhelmed adoptive parents with strangers, was discovered by journalists. The Utah Attorney General’s Office has supported the effort to combat this form of human trafficking along with other members of the State Department committee, including the U.S. Department of Justice; the U.S. Department of Human Services, Children’s Bureau; and the administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. By passing this HB199, the Utah Legislature will close the legal loopholes that have allowed the practice of rehoming to flourish.

Representative Merrill Nelson’s bill, with the support of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, takes a largely non-punitive approach to the problem of rehoming. The bill assures that, before committing to the adoption, prospective adoptive parents get accurate information about the specific child’s history and training about the challenging kinds of behavior adopted children can exhibit. The new law would make clear that sending an adoptive child to live permanently with a stranger outside the legal system is prohibited. Further, Utah Child Protective Services would have the authority to investigate the living situation of a child who has been sent to live with strangers without a legal transfer of custody.

The bill language was developed in cooperation with the Utah Adoption Council, which also voted unanimously to support the bill.

“The Utah Adoption Council supports the efforts of the Attorney General to address the phenomenon of rehoming,” said Larry Jenkins, Standards and Practice Chair at the Utah Adoption Council. “Families with high needs children need to know what options are available to them, and this bill is a model for other states and a giant step forward towards helping these families.”

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