Thursday, November 5, 2015

Senate Creates Child Safety Net

Ends Improper Custody Transfers
In response to growing national media accounts and government reports of children being handed off to strangers through Internet sites such as on Facebook and Yahoo, the Senate today took action today to end the practice by adopting a bill co-sponsored by Senator Jennifer Flanagan and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

“We have a solemn obligation to prevent children from being put in jeopardy by being transferred outside the safeguards and accountability of our well-developed adoption system,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester). “This bill reflects that obligation by creating a serious and appropriate range of penalties for those who would put a child in another’s hands without regard for safety and well-being.”

Re-homing, a word associated with pet owners looking for new homes for their animals, has been used to describe the practice of transferring custody of a child without the knowledge or authorization of a court or licensed adoption agency. Increasingly, children of parents no longer willing or interested in caring for them have been offered up in makeshift undocumented adoptions, sometimes to homes with sex offenders and abusers.

A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report on re-homing found that unregulated exchanges often occur because people were often unable or unwilling to meet adoption agency protocols. Absent agency background checks, children have been placed in dangerous situations.

“By addressing the issue of re-homing , which poses exceptional dangers for one of our most at-risk youth populations, we are building on bipartisan efforts to strengthen protections for children across the Commonwealth,” said Donald Humason (R-Westfield), a member of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “It is also important for us to take steps to ensure that adults interested in adopting can utilize the safest and most capable legal adoption services the Commonwealth can provide to discourage involvement in unregulated practices like re-homing.”

The bill includes criminal penalties for anyone, other than a duly authorized agent licensed placement agency, who places an advertisement to either acquire or receive a child. In addition, placement agencies will be required to provide a prospective parent with all relevant information about a child so that he or she can knowledgeably determine whether to accept the child for adoption.

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus offered several amendments to the bill including a stiffening of penalties for those who would advertise alternative placement of a child for money or those who place or receive a child. First offenders will be subject to fines up to $10,000 and up to 2 and a half years incarceration. Second and subsequent offences will be subject to fines of $50,000 and $100,000 respectively. Other amendments included amendments examined options for mandated reporters to alert authorities of re-homed children, and a measure to create a commission to study barriers to adoption. While reports of re-homing have focused on disrupted adoptions, sponsors of the bill noted that the law, in its current form, does not ban the practice from occurring for biological offspring.

November is National Adoption Month and Senate backers of the bill are hopeful that the House will schedule the bill for a vote prior to the legislative recess November 18.