California Bill would Outlaw “Rehoming” of Adopted Children

California may soon enact legislation to protect children from being moved from one adoptive family to another without legal oversight. The practice, known as “rehoming,” has been found to expose adopted children to abuse and has highlighted loopholes in the U.S.’ child welfare system.

Introduced last February, California Senate Bill 1040 amends the state’s family and penal codes to provide pre- and post-adoption services to families, and to make what is called an “unregulated custody transfer” a criminal offense punishable with up to one year of prison and/or a fine of $1,000.

It also criminalizes the act of advertising children for unregulated transfer and requires the state Department of Social Services to convene a working group to address the lack of services available to families with internationally adopted children.

Bill author Jerry Hill (D–San Mateo) said he introduced the legislation “to help curb this harmful practice and make sure there are services available to these families so re-homing isn’t what these families think of doing to their children”.

The bill covers children under 14 years of age, but Hill said he is working to increase the age limit to include all minors.

Unregulated transfers occur when legal parents transfer the custody of a child to non-family members while purposely bypassing child welfare authorities. In some cases, children privately re-homed have been sexually abused in the new family.

This practice mainly affects adopted children. Though exact data is unavailable – something the federal government is working to change – hundreds of children every year could be victims of rehoming. Studies estimate that 1 to 5 percent of adoptions in the U.S. dissolve, some of which can potentially result in cases of rehoming. Between 2008 and 2012, 635,000 adoptions (domestic and international) were finalized in the United States.

According to a Reuters investigation published in 2013, 70 percent of rehomed children have been adopted from abroad. With 1,820 intercountry adoptions finalized since 2012, California is the second top receiving state after Texas.

In a report published last September, the U.S. Government Accountability Office underscored that parents resort to unregulated transfers mainly because they face difficulties in accessing the post-adoption services they need “to cope with or avoid reaching a crisis point in their adoption.” Fears of stigma and of criminal or financial repercussions also play a role.

As was pointed out in the Reuters investigation, rehoming parents often advertise their children online. One such platform is provided by CHASK, a Christian organization whose aim is to “point birth moms with special needs children to possible adoptive families.” CHASK representatives declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

Child experts, lawmakers and judges have raised concerns about the dangers that unregulated transfers pose to the safety of children. “Adoptive parents should not be taking matters into their own hands and rehoming children into families that have not been properly vetted,” said James Langevin (D-R.I.) in an interview. Langevin is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and introduced two bills to curb rehoming in 2013 and 2015.

According to Langevin, unregulated transfers expose children “to undue stress and trauma and, in some cases, abuse or mistreatment. The only long-term solution will be to prevent families from choosing to re-home a child in the first place.”

Rehoming has also become a matter of increased international scrutiny for the U.S. Last February, in its latest report on the optional protocol to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which covers the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, the U.S. government dedicated two paragraphs to this issue. Though the information was scant, this marked the first time the issue was included  in such a report.

“The U.S. government is deeply concerned by any activity that bypasses legal protections for children and places them at risk,” said Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the U.S. Special Advisor on Children’s issues. “We remain committed to ensuring that protective services and reliable safeguards for the well-being of all children are in place.”

An inter-agency working group convened in 2013 by the U.S. Office of Children’s Issues continues meeting regularly to develop a coordinated, preventive response to unregulated transfers. According to Jacobs, agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are working together “to close loopholes that may exist” in order to help inter country adoption families in crisis. “Outreach and education can ‘pull back the veil’ on this issue so that families who are struggling feel comfortable asking for help,” Jacobs said.

Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine and Wisconsin have adopted legislation to curb re-homing. Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and Ohio are discussing bills to this effect.

“Clearly, California having its own laws to protect these vulnerable children is essential,” Hill said. He also hopes that Congress too will take “a serious look at this issue and act.”

The bill is now under review to assess its financial impacts to the state and could be approved by the end of August.

Stefano Montanari is a freelance journalist based in Europe.

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  1. ‘Rehoming’ (euphemism) adopted children should be stopped. Full stop. Nobody who is adopting a traumatised child should enter into that relationship with any idea other than one where they are taking irrevocable responsibility for that child, young person or young adult. If they can’t commit to that 100%, they shouldn’t adopt.

  2. Thank you!

    Now, please make a sibling visitation rights law. Our two boys aren’t allowed to visit their younger siblings who were adopted by a different family. We would have loved to have adopted all of them but she constructed lies about our children to have them removed from her home, then told the judge she’d let them visit at least once a month. They got to see one another a total of three times before she adopted their siblings a year later and they’ve not seen them even once since she finalized the adoption.

    It is devastating to these children, who have already had so much taken from them.

  3. Why? I think the state does a better job at abusing children than anyone else. 100% guarantee abuse rate in foster homes. This is like calling the kettle black or something.

    • You are so wrong. We’ve had over 20 children in our home before adopting our three boys. Their parents signed over rights directly to us because they saw how well the kids were doing with us and knew we’d continue to let them have a relationship with their bio-families.

      Some children are abused in their foster homes but not 100%, certainly. We’ve heard stories from our foster children of bad homes but not all of their former foster homes were bad ones. Most were good ones. Some of our foster kids have talked about some foster homes being verbally or physically abusive.

      We’ve had children who were locked in basements for the first half of their lives and denied an education or even human contact, locked in closets, tied to beds, given to adult men as prostitutes at age 11 or younger, and worse. This was all by BIO-families. So, there does need to be a program to protect children from this. It is not perfect but it is necessary.

      The most abusive foster families we’ve heard of have been the conservative Christian families. They force the children to attend their church, to renounce their family’s beliefs and to follow the foster family’s beliefs. Sometimes they refuse them privileges that the other kids receive if they attend church, pray, and “believe”, like dessert, computer privileges, play time, and other desirable activities. It is really sick what they do to them, twisting their little minds like that. In the meantime, non-Christian homes like ours are persecuted by the county social workers because of their pre-conceived notions of what members of our religion believes, while we take the kids to their religious services of choice, encourage their beliefs, and support reunification.

      The whole system needs to be revamped but it is still necessary for the protection of badly abused and neglected children.

    • You are dead wrong. Stating 100% tells me you are most likely a parent that abused their child and got them removed.Raising foster children with extreme behavior problems (your product) is the hardest job for almost no money at the end of it.

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