Free to a Good Home: Re-Homing Adoptive Children

December 22, 2014

Family law gavelYahoo news published a story in early December about  the “rehoming” of children who had been, or are in the process of being adopted. The article describes the experience of several families who have sought out the assistance of a woman who specializes in rehoming adoptive children. In 2013, Reuters also wrote a series on private rehoming, and the risks and problems associated with the practice The stories are heartbreaking and sometimes tragic. Both stories focus on the lack of regulation in regards to transferring guardianship or custody of the children involved.

If an adoption is terminated prior to finalization, that adoption is said to have been “disrupted.” A termination after adoption has been finalized is known as a dissolution. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintain that only 1-5% of finalized adoptions are dissolved, but disruption rates are higher, from 10-15%. But both the DHHS materials and the Yahoo story note that the exact numbers are imprecise. The numbers don’t include children who have not been placed in public foster care or agencies. So children re-homed privately are not counted in those numbers. The Yahoo story mentions that laws vary widely between jurisdictions, and some states require very little to no involvement by the state to transfer guardianship or custody of children.

Parents seek to re-home their adoptive children most often because they are struggling with physical, emotional or behavioral issues that they feel are beyond their capacity to deal with. Children may be coming from abusive or at the very least, neglectful environments. Particularly in international adoptions, the adoptive parents may be given minimal information about the child.

The problem of unregulated private re-homing has not gone unnoticed however. Increased media attention has heightened awareness of the practice and its dangers. Wisconsin passed a law earlier this year making it illegal for unlicensed individuals to advertise children over one for adoption or custody transfer. Those seeking transfer of custody to someone other than a relative must get judicial consent.

Pull up the Wisconsin law by going into Proposed & Enacted Legislation on WestlawNext, then Wisconsin, and then Enacted Legislation (Session Laws), and running the following query:

advertising children for adoption 

The first result is WI LEGIS 314 (2013-14), 2013-2014 Wisc. Legis. Serv. Act 314 (2013 A.B. 581) (WEST), which created W.S.A. 948.25.

I ran the following plain language query in all state and federal secondary materials:

 Adoption disruption child

We get the following in our result list:

Olga Grosh, A Call of Duty: Preventing Adoption Disruption by Expanding Adoption Providers’ Responsibility to Investigate and Disclose Adoptive Children’s Medical History, 11 Whittier J. Child & Fam. Advoc. 149 (2011)

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, Adoption Disruption and Dissolution, 31 Child. L. Prac. 158 (2012)

Dawn J. Post & Brian Zimmerman, The Revolving Doors of Family Court: Confronting Broken Adoptions, 40 Cap. U. L. Rev. 437 (2012)

I tried an advanced query in case law to see materials discussing adoption and re-homing.

Using the “All of these terms” box, I entered:

adoption re-homing children

We get just two related decisions, involving a situation where adoptive parents of Russian children were seeking to vacate the adoption.

In re Adoption of Child A, 45 Misc. 3d 1017, 994 N.Y.S.2d 832 (Sur. 2014)

The court, rules to not close the proceedings due to public interest, particularly regarding allegations of fraud and “bait and switch” by adoption agencies, and the psychological and mental health of children being offered for adoption from Russia. The court took judicial notice of several items, one of which was the fact that adopted Russian children “are currently being exchanged on the Internet through a process called Re-Homing without the benefit of any court or governmental supervision.” Other items judicially noticed included the fact that Russia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, which guarantees certain rights to adoptive children, and the fact that adopted children have been returned to Russia without American due process.

In re Adoption of Child A & Child C, No. X2014-46725, 2014 WL 7085840, at *1 (N.Y. Sur. Dec. 15, 2014)

The court in this order explores the re-homing question more extensively, due to the concern that if the adoption was not vacated or otherwise dissolved, the parents would attempt to re-home the children privately. The court goes on to describe the practice of re-homing, and its drawbacks. The court describes re-homing as “human trafficking.” The court concludes by describing an intention to enact a local rule forbidding private re-homing, and encourages the Legislature to address the problem, since a local rule would be inadequate. The court then explicitly prohibits the parents involved in the immediate case from re-homing their children should their plea to vacate the adoption be denied.

In secondary sources, I found the following articles:

2 Handling Child Custody, Abuse and Adoption Cases § 14:27 – This article discusses re-homing, and describes Wisconsin’s legislative action this past year as the first such legislation explicitly banning rehoming of children. This article also cites to a DHHS memorandum on the topic of re-homing.

Kathryn Huber, Free to A Good Home: America’s Unregulated Online Market for Adopted Children, 19 Pub. Int. L. Rep. 1 (2013) – This article mentions that some are seeking to strengthen laws, such as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), which governs the transfer of guardianship of children between states.

You can find state versions of the ICPC on WestlawNext, by simply running a plain language search in All States for:

Interstate compact on the placement of children