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Bill aims to ban unregulated child custody transfers, a process known as ‘re-homing’



Wednesday, February 17, 2016
A couple adopts a teenage girl, but they realize they can’t care for her complex needs. So the parents turn to the internet to find a new caregiver for the minor. After meeting a couple on Facebook, they sign over their custodial rights and a second adoption effectively takes place without any oversight or vetting by child protective agencies, courts or attorneys.

It’s a process known as “re-homing,” and a group of New Hampshire officials is now seeking to ban it in the state.

No one knows exactly how many of these unregulated child custody transfers take place each year. But using vital statistics, the state Division for Children Youth & Families estimates at least nine unregulated custody transfers have taken place in New Hampshire over the last two years.

“I had no idea this was going on, and perhaps you didn’t either,” said state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, prime sponsor on a bill that aims to ban “re-homing” in the state.

The Portsmouth Democrat testified Tuesday on the legislation at a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’re seeing more cases emerging every day,” she said.

The issue has come under national scrutiny since Reuters published an investigation in 2013 that uncovered an underground online network in which parents looked for new homes for children they regretted adopting.

In one case, the news organization found a Wisconsin mother who signed over guardianship of her 16-year-old adopted daughter to an Illinois couple she found on the internet. The new parents had previously lost two biological kids to child welfare authorities, Reuters found.

The term “re-homing” draws its name from the process of passing an unwanted pet to another owner. Officials call it “unregulated child custody transfers.”

No matter the name, the state doesn’t have a policy in place to prevent this specific practice, Fuller Clark said.

Her bill would prohibit unauthorized adoption advertisements and block child custody transfers that don’t use state adoption procedures. DCYF supports the effort and no one testified against the legislation.

“I’ve met with parents who want to return the children they have adopted. It’s very, very difficult. It’s heart wrenching to hear their stories,” DCYF administrator Eileen Mullen told the committee Tuesday. “As an agency, we do what we can to provide quality post-adoption services. Unfortunately, sometimes parents do resort to putting their children on eBay.”

The division oversaw more than 100 adoptions last year. None were reversed, Mullen said.

In each adoption, the division conducts a background check of the family, ensures the home meets certain regulations, and educates the parents, among other safety checks. None of those steps is taken during a “re-homing” case, which doesn’t go through official channels.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found parents who adopt children with severe behavioral needs and have difficultly finding services to help them adjust could lead them to seek unregulated child transfers. At the national level, little is known about the prevalence of the transfers, the report found.

“Because they happen without any oversight, these transfers are difficult to track and no federal agency keeps statistics on their occurrence,” the GAO report said. “GAO’s observations of social media sites found that some parents have been using online forums to seek new homes for their adopted children.”

The issue of “re-homing” is reflective of a broad issue in adoption: that parents don’t get enough support or information about a child before and after adopting, said April Dinwoodie, chief executive of The Donaldson Adoption Institute Inc. in New York.

“Most of the time re-homing is when parents are really, really at their wits end. Most of the time they were set up to fail because they didn’t have all the information about a child’s behavior, or enough pre- or post-adoption services,” Dinwoodie said. “We’re looking a lot at the result of a much bigger problem around how adoption transacts in this country.”