GAO Examines Practice of 'Rehoming' Adopted Children

Can’t Take Care of Your Foster Kids? Just Send Them Off to Another Family

Children In Foster Home
Beijing Foster Home Cares For Orphaned Children. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images News

Concerned over media reports of foster parents illegally transferring custody of their adopted children to other people, Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate this heartless and often dangerous practice known as “rehoming.”

As the GAO pointed out in its report to Congress, foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for and protect their adopted children. However, in “rehoming” their children, foster parents use the internet or other unregulated channels to find new homes for their adopted children, often placing them at risk of being harmed by the adults who receive them.

In one incident cited by the GAO, a rehomed child was placed in a home headed by an adult convicted of possessing child pornography. In another case, the original foster parents of two young girls placed them both in the care of family friend. One of the adults in the new home was later found guilty of assaulting one of the girls.

In many cases, foster parents who carry out these “unregulated child custody transfers” do so after finding they cannot deal with the unique emotional and behavioral needs of adopted children, stated the GAO.

According to the states, child welfare and adoption organizations, and adoption agencies interviewed by the GAO, some foster parents consider rehoming their children because of a crisis in the family and a lack of access to support services.

Foreign Foster Children Pose Special Problems

Children adopted internationally can pose special, sometimes insurmountable, challenges to foster parents, often requiring special care or counseling because of a history of institutionalization and trauma, noted the GAO.

Agencies assisting with international adoptions are required by federal regulations to provide foster parents with at 10 hours of pre-adoption training in dealing with the potential special needs of their children. By comparison, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials told the GAO that about half of the states require adoption services to provide at least 27 hours of pre-adoption training to all foster parents.

The HHS officials also told the GAO that mental health services can be especially hard for foster parents to find, particularly therapists specializing in adoption issues. In addition, adoptive parents of special needs children with more critical needs may have a hard time finding and paying for family services like in-home treatment, which can cost thousands of dollars a month.

Any or all of these challenges may lead foster parents to seek unregulated transfers of their adopted children.

How Common is Rehoming?

Because they happen without oversight, and no federal agency tracks unregulated transfers, the prevalence of rehoming adopted children is largely known, noted the GAO.

In its investigation, the GAO found that some foster parents have started using internet forums to look for rehoming opportunities.

“During a 15-month period, GAO identified 23 instances in which a parent posted that they were seeking a new family for their child,” noted the GAO report.

What is Being Done to Stop Rehoming?

In its investigation, the GAO found that at least 15 state governments had at least considered legislation intended to curb rehoming of adopted children. Seven of those states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Virginia, and Wisconsin – had enacted anti-rehoming laws and three of the 15 states – Illinois, New York, and Virginia had made changes to their child welfare programs as of July 2015.

Most of the state legislation makes rehoming or assisting in them or advertising them criminal offenses. Several states also adopted policies improving their post-adoption assistance services.

At the federal government level, the departments of State; Homeland Security; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; HHS; and Justice formed a joint working group on rehoming in October 2013.

In addition, the HHS told the GAO that it intended to increase the minimum number of hours required for foster parents to complete its international pre-adoption training program.