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
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 27, 2019
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