South Carolina has recently taken hopeful steps toward ensuring the safety of foster children, as a result of a class-action lawsuit won by 11 young plaintiffs. Such measures include placing more children in foster homes rather than institutions and giving them better medical care.
However, inconsistencies remain where state laws should be protecting children.
It has come to light over the past few years that more and more parents who are unable or unwilling to continue caring for their adopted children turn to the Internet to find them new homes.
This means that some parents place their children in another person’s care with little or no oversight from the state, so without background checks or living-standard verification for new caretakers.
Such unregulated custody transfers, also known as “re-homing,” allows them to bypass strict and expensive legal adoption procedures.
Since re-homing is unregulated, it is difficult to determine how many children have been placed under non-adoptive parents’ care. Or what happened to them as a result.
According to a 2013 investigation by Reuters news service, the U.S. government estimates a 10 to 25 percent failure rate for domestic adoptions alone.
The same investigation found that 70 percent of online “advertisements” attempting to attract new guardians were for foreign-born children, suggesting a higher rate of failure for that particular group.
While the practice of re-homing is already questionable for ethical and child development reasons, multiple incidents cited by Reuters demonstrate how lack of regulation in this area can be devastating.
In one instance, careless re-homing allowed a woman to repeatedly obtain children across the country, even after her own infant had been taken by South Carolina authorities because of her record of child neglect and further allegations of abuse.
She was finally convicted in another state last year of kidnapping and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity.
Child-protection systems, such as the Interstate Compact on the Protection of Children, have proven inadequate to police these activities.
Carla Damron, executive director of the S. C. chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says that lack of protection heightens the risk of human trafficking.
“Sadly, domestic trafficking is not uncommon in South Carolina — we have to raise awareness to keep kids safe,” she said. “A child advertised as being available for ‘re-homing’ would have great appeal to traffickers.”
It should be noted that 60 percent of trafficked children recovered by a nationwide FBI crackdown in 2013, as part of the Innocence Lost initiative, were at some point involved with the child welfare system.
Last September, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that several states have already implemented laws restricting re-homing practices by criminalizing unregulated care transfers. However, it also concluded that many adoptive and foster parents agree to “re-home” problem children when they can’t find the post-adoption services that they need when struggling with those children.
Laws regarding this problem must be clarified and strengthened.
State Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, sponsored a bill during last year’s session, aiming to regulate the re-homing process. Its provisions would have given families better access to support after an adoption and required that any transfers in care be approved by a family court. Unfortunately, the bill failed to advance.
Prohibiting the placement of an adopted child in another person’s care without permission of the court would help get unregulated transfers under control. Rep. Horne will not be returning to Columbia next year, but her measure should be revived as the session begins.
In the meantime, Internet transactions involving adopted children warrant intensified oversight by law enforcement.