Adoption is usually an arduous process, in part to ensure that parents are not only able to welcome a child into their home, but are also committed to building a family. That’s why it is hard to believe that some parents who adopt children actually change their minds and want to give them away. Even harder to believe is that, in some cases, it’s perfectly legal to transfer custody of adopted kids to someone else with little to no legal oversight. That’s why the Massachusetts Senate introduced and approved a measure that criminalizes the practice, known as “re-homing.” The House should move swiftly to pass the bill as well.
Re-homing is more common in international adoptions, where parents may feel overwhelmed with troubled children who have a history of emotional trauma or need special care. It is a form of human trafficking that went mostly undetected until a Reuters investigation two years ago exposed the practice, documenting instances of adopted children who ended up in the care of sex offenders. The probe also revealed the existence of many online forums where parents who wanted to dissolve an adoption could find interested families who would take them. Shockingly, the custody transfer would happen outside the US legal system — only involving, in most cases, a simple power-of-attorney document.
The Senate recognized the need for safeguards and passed a bill last week, sponsored by Senators Jennifer Flanagan and Bruce Tarr, the minority leader, to regulate transfers of adopted kids. The proposal criminalizes re-homing, establishing fines for people who bypass the Department of Children and Families and adoption agencies to give away or accept, and in some cases, sell or buy children. It also strengthens requirements for adoption agencies to provide pre- and post-adoption services to parents in order to avoid the disruption or termination of the adoption.
Five states have enacted laws to deal with unregulated transfers of adopted children, according to a September report by the US Government Accountability Office. Massachusetts should join them. Re-homing is a deplorable manifestation of the Internet age, where exchanges of goods and services of all kinds are easily facilitated. When adopted children are proffered as the goods, strict laws are needed to protect them from potential abuse and neglect.