Steps Have Been Taken to Address Unregulated Custody Transfers of Adopted Children

The U.S. Government Accountability Office examined the practice of families giving up their adoptive children to another family outside of the child-welfare or court systems in a new report. Also known as a “unregulated child custody transfer” or “rehoming,” the practice has resulted in children being placed in dangerous situations where some have experienced abuse and neglect.

In “Steps Have Been Taken to Address Unregulated Custody Transfers of Adopted Children,” the agency looked at the reasons adoptive families choose the illicit transfers, the frequency of such practices and the actions taken by federal and state agencies to combat these types of transfers.

For the report, the GAO assessed current laws, regulations and proposed legislation. It also interviewed officials from federal agencies, 19 child welfare and adoption organizations, 15 adoption agencies and seven states because of pending legislation related to unregulated transfers. Finally, the GAO also researched online activity on some social media sites to document families who may be contemplating unregulated transfers.

The GAO found that unregulated child custody transfers frequently occur because of a crisis within the adoptive family and because of the problems in accessing support services, especially for intensive mental-health services for children from the foster care system who have a significant exposure to trauma.

The GAO did not uncover definitive information about the prevalence of unregulated transfers due to the lack of oversight of the process and the fact that no federal agency is tasked with keeping statistics on the practice. The GAO documented that many parents use social media sites and online forums to find new homes for their adoptive children, though the GAO was not able to determine if such efforts were legal placements or unregulated transfers.

The GAO identified 15 states that were pursuing legislation or other efforts designed to address unregulated transfers. As of July 2015, seven had passed legislation on the topic, and three had issued changes to the policies of their child-welfare agencies. The most common approaches involved criminializing unregulated transfers and forbidding the advertisement of adopted children for placement in these situations. On the federal level, an interagency working group related to unregulated transfers has been meeting since October 2013, and in May 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo encouraging states to bolster access to post-adoption services and consider their policies to deal with unregulated transfers.

To read the report, click here.

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