Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the issue of unregulated custody transfers what some in the news media have labeled as “rehoming.” The GAO report, Steps Have Been Taken to Address Unregulated Custody Transfers of Adopted Children was undertaken at the request of Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI).  News reports approximately two years ago tracked the practice of some adoptive parents transferring their adopted child to another home through postings on the internet, and bypassing the state courts and sometimes subjecting the children to abusive or neglect situations.  The news reports documented cases that mainly involved families that had adopted children from international settings.  The term “rehoming” was lifted from a practice that is used to find new homes for pets.

Earlier this year CWLA joined with Voice for Adoption, the Donaldson Institute and the North American Council of Adoptable Children issued a statement of policy that in part asked Congress to direct the GAO report to learn more about this practice. The groups also called for:

Establish a reliable, comprehensive, and flexible federal funding source for post-adoption services

Ensure services offered to adopted children and their families embrace best practices, are trauma-informed, and are provided by professionals who are trained in supporting children and their adoptive families

Invest in research and evaluation to identify and promote the most effective post-adoption services

Address the significant gaps in the service delivery system and state policies which too often present parents with the impossible choice of giving up custody to receive statefunded services for their children

Provide access to post-adoption services regardless of the type of adoption

The GAO report largely reinforced some initial information that outlined the varied child custody practices and laws across the states. The report highlighted and lent support to a point the groups have raised and that is that there is a lack of post adoption services not just for these families but those adopting from the foster care systems.

The GAO could not document the extensiveness of the practice but they were able to outline the varied standards and differences families experience if they choose to adopt internationally as opposed to adopting from foster care which generally requires greater number of training hours for perspective families. The GAO noted, “Children adopted internationally or from foster care may need special care or counseling because of a history of institutionalization and trauma. Some parents, particularly those who adopted internationally, may not be prepared to deal with their adopted child’s complex needs.”

The GAO said that they identified 23 instances in which a parent posted (on the internet) seeking a new family for their child. The report notes that at least 15 states there was legislative and other actions in intended to address these transfers. Seven of the 15 states had enacted legislation and 3 made changes to state child welfare programs.

Many times the state family law practice and goes beyond child welfare laws.  There generally is no federal authority over such family law as the use of durable power of attorney and other tools that guide where parents place a child temporarily.  Much of federal authority or dictates issued through child welfare involves the removal of a child who has been the subject of child maltreatment.

In response to the report HHS indicated that there were “limitations to the federal government’s ability to support post-adoption services.” And they noted. “all adopted children will need some level of support after an adoption is final, the main source of federal support—the Title IV-E Adoption Assistance program—is limited, and is generally available only to families who adopted eligible children from foster care.   The GAO said that consistent with our (GAO) “findings in previous reports, HHS officials said funds from other federal programs that states can use to support services for private adoptions, including international adoptions, are limited.”