In response to congressional and public concern about adoption instability, particularly reporting of “rehoming,” a number of the most respected national child welfare organizations issued recommendations to strengthen protections for adopted children, through improved policies to prepare families for adoption and increased and coordinated investments in support services after adoption.
While we know the vast majority of adoptive families are committed to their sons and daughters, and do all they can to help their children thrive and overcome early losses or traumas, a 2013 Reuters’ investigation exposed instances of some parents who transferred custody of their adopted children to strangers through online forums, without any state agency or court approval and oversight.
To address this problem, as well as to ensure stability for all adoptive families, the recommendations urge Congress, federal agencies and states to strengthen existing state abuse and neglect laws, improve preparation of prospective adoptive parent through training and education, and expand availability of post-adoption supports.
- Replace the term “rehoming” with the more accurate “unregulated custody transfer.” “Rehoming” has long been used to refer to pet owners seeking new homes for their animals. Co-opting this term commonly used in connection with pets to describe underground child custody transfers suggests a benign practice and should not be used in the child welfare field as we work to positively impact human lives.
- Examine existing state definitions of child abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment to identify how unregulated custody transfers already fit within current definitions and strengthen safeguards when necessary.
- Examine and strengthen current child abuse reporting channels to specifically capture instances of online child maltreatment activity like unregulated custody transfers. Along with new financial assistance from the federal government to invest and expand training of state mandatory reporters to better detect and report instances of this form of child abuse and neglect.
- Establish minimum training requirements and topics for all adoptions. Increase the amount of hours and the training content quality required under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to align with domestic training curriculums and requirements to ensure families adopting internationally are equally prepared for the potential challenges of adopting children with special needs.
- Establish national minimum uniform home-study standards that apply to both domestic and international adoptions.
- Provide incentives to states to establish public-private partnerships to implement quality community based post-adoption service programs using evidence-informed and promising practices that are shown to be effective in meeting the needs of families to both prevent and respond to crisis. Protect and expand current federal investments in post-adoption services by making the Promoting Safe & Stable Families Program fully mandatory spending. Strengthen and increase funding under the Adoption Opportunities Act to further develop the quality of post-adoption service programs in states.
- Invest in longitudinal research to support the development of evidence-based practices to meet the behavioral, developmental, and psychological health needs of adopted children and youth.
- Develop a database of post-adoption services in each state, including adoption competent mental health providers, and provide a clearinghouse for such information on websites offered by the federal Children’s Bureau and U.S. Department of State.
- Prohibit requirements that adoptive parents (without findings of maltreatment) must relinquish custody of their children to access state-funded mental health services or short-term therapeutic residential treatment. Convene a joint meeting between HHS, CMS, and states, to examine state-by-state policy implications for this population, with the intended goal of developing better coordination of funding and services (which may be available but accessible to adoptive families) and providing technical assistance, training, and strategies to address the needs of these families.
The national organizations making these recommendations include: the Center for Adoption Support and Education, Child Welfare League of America, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Donaldson Adoption Institute, North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Voice for Adoption.