H.R. 2480: Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

Advocates of ‘re-homing’ adoptive children may use the term ‘second-chance adoptions’to frame such circumstances in a positive light, however, there is no denying that unregulated custody transfers place vulnerable children at risk for abuse, neglect, and human trafficking. According to data published by the state department, between 2015 and 2018, there have been over 20,000 minority children adopted internationally into the United States. In 2011, data from the Institute for Family Studies, identified that in the United States, 23% of adopted kindergartners were Hispanic, 17% were Asian, 11% were multiracial, and 9% were African American. In contrast, their data also showed that 77% of these children’s adoptive mothers were white.

Thousands of children have been adopted from countries plagued with violence and political unrest. For example, the state department’s data shows that since 1999, from Guatemala alone, 29,807 children have been adopted. There are no solid statistics on the number of children whose adoptions disrupt, however, according to the Hague Adoption Convention, there were nearly 100 reported cases in 2011. Nevertheless, this number is misleading because unregulated custody transfers are not reported or tracked. A quick search online can swiftly connect you to profiles of children whose adoptive parents are seeking new homes for these at-risk children once they’ve arrived in the United States.

There are no laws in place to protect children adopted internationally whose adoptive families can no longer meet their needs and make private custody transfer arrangements. While one can argue that there may be very good reasons for a child to be placed into a new home, these custody transfers should be regulated to protect children regardless of the circumstances. As a licensed social worker and an adoptive parent, 

I recognize that adoption is a complex issue and there are many factors one must consider. There are some private agencies, such as Wasatch International Adoption, who are following legal and ethical processes for families who wish to make second chance adoption arrangements. They go through the court process and work with families who have approved adoptive home studies. This follows Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) which essentially regulates the legal transport of a child from one state to another and ensures adoption laws and safety regulations in each state are met.

The ICPC process was initially drafted in 1960 and enacted eventually by all states verbatim and receives regular updates to reflect current foster care and adoption laws. In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act was put in place to emphasize the “safety of the child” into every step of a case in public child welfare and provided new guidelines to ensure children had the opportunity to be adopted and were not languishing in foster care. However, ICPC and ASFA, do not have provisions for families who make custody transfers independently for children adopted internationally; there is no tracking of these children, no guarantee that they have correct legal citizenship documents or follow-up regarding their safety.

H.R. 2480, the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act would allow for reporting and guidance on unregulated custody transfers. The language in the bill identifies that often social service agencies and courts are unaware of these unregulated custody transfers, therefore there are no assessments or follow up contacts regarding these children’s safety and well-being. They can virtually disappear without a trace. These children are at high-risk for human trafficking for forced labor or sexual acts.

If implemented, this bill could protect the most vulnerable children in society from being re-homed to adults who may be ill-intentioned, ill-informed, and un-equipped to meet these children’s needs. In order to protect and advocate for vulnerable youth and prevent child trafficking, it is vital that H.R. 2480, the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act is supported by bi-partisan leaders in the senate. Foster and adoptive parents, social workers, and professionals working in the field of child-welfare are implored to support the regulation of custody transfers and contact their representatives to support H.R. 2480. We cannot look the other way while children continue to be brought into the United States for a new start at life and are at-risk to be traded like commodities to other adult.