Adoptive parents trying to pass off vulnerable kids in black market placements known as “re-homing” would face up to 20 years in prison under a state Senate bill aimed at ending the underground practice.
The legislation, which the Senate is poised to take up this week, would add Massachusetts to a list of at least seven states that are addressing unregulated adoptions organized outside regular child-welfare systems and oftentimes in Internet chat rooms.
The disturbing practice was first highlighted in a Reuters report two years ago, which turned Bay State officials on to the shadowy world where tracking its prevalence, and some of the children themselves, has proven difficult, if not impossible.
“We have children who are essentially languishing out there,” said state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s all done underground. We literally have families who are adopting through private agencies, children are coming from outside of our country and then when they find out they have significant mental issues … essentially hand off (their) child to another person without any background checks, without any regard for the laws we have in place.”
Flanagan and advocates say it is difficult to say how common the practice is in Massachusetts. But a federal report released last month found 23 instances over a 15-month period nationwide in which a parent posted on a social media site that they were seeking a new family for their adopted child. Reuters found one board in which new homes were sought for 261 children over a five-year span, according to the report.
The Senate bill would impose prison sentences up to five years for those who accept a child in “re-homing,” up to five years for middlemen who take money to place the child and up to 20 years for the parents who “unlawfully” hand over their child.
It would also require placement agencies to provide some post-adoption services to track children after they’re legally placed with a family.