Rehoming of Adopted Children

Update on November 8, 2015 – Takeaways and Legislative Outcome

Thanks to all who have weighed on this issue. I especially appreciate the comments from adopting parents and adopted children.

A first takeaway from these comments should be: We should treat adopting parents in the same way we treat birth parents – they should not be trusted less or exposed to different punishments. We have no reason to believe that adopting parents are more likely to abuse, neglect or abandon their children than birth parents. Certainly, most abuse of children occurs at the hands of birth parents and the friends and relatives of birth parents.

I’m struck by the very divergent reactions that people have on this issue. I don’t think people have such different feelings about right and wrong – rather, they are visualizing the crime differently. How one feels about the issue of extra-judicial transfer of custody (“rehoming” is just too ugly a word to continue repeating) depends on the narrative one is inclined to tell oneself about what is actually happening. There are no known examples of this in Massachusetts, so we are free to make up stories in our own minds. This is typical in the legislative context – we write laws based on guesses about how they will apply.

For example, an extra-judicial transfer of custody could be from one serial child abuser to another. If one thinks of that as what the law is about, then the penalties should be crushing – turning children into objects to be traded on the internet is obscene and unforgivable.

On the other hand, one can imagine a very different story – one overburdened parent cries out for help on a church Facebook page and a virtuous couple with grown children answers the call to take over the raising of a troubled child. This is also an extra-judicial transfer of custody over the internet and both the receiver and the giver are guilty of a crime. It isn’t OK – we do want to people to work through the authorized channels – but it isn’t a crime we want to crush people for.

Under existing law, permanent placement of children outside proper channels is a crime, but it is a misdemeanor — it is punishable by a imprisonment in a county house of corrections for up to 2.5 years, but not in a state prison. People convicted of the crime will not have a felony on their record with all the consequences that flow from that.

During our debate on the issue last week, we came to the conclusion that it should remain a misdemeanor as a first offense provided the child is not abused or neglected. But if an offender repeats the conduct, or a child is abused or neglected as a result of the placement, then the penalties should escalate stiffly. The bill now goes to the House. It is still a work in progress – the compromise language we used needs additional work: It states a reasonable approach, but probably is not sufficiently clear.

While we tend to focus on punishment, the bill does include provisions for additional support and education of adopting parents and that is most important to assure the success of adoptions.

I’m seeking input on legislation pending before the Senate. What should the penalties be for people who bypass the legal adoption process and permanently place or receive children through online forums?

The question comes up in the context of legislation to address the phenomenon of “rehoming” of adopted children. In 2013, Reuters did an exposé of online forums where adoptive parents wanting to move a child out of their home connect with people wanting to parent a child.  After adoptive parents bring a child home, they may learn that, perhaps as a result of abuse or trauma, the child has behavior issues that they are unable to manage.

In at least a few instances, adoptive parents have turned to online forums to “rehome” the children that they have adopted. The Reuters exposé focused on one particular receiver of rehomed children who had a long history of involvement with social service agencies and affiliation with child sexual abusers. It is possible that most of the people seeking children on these online forums are fit parents, but the exposé certainly established that absent the involvement of social agencies in the adoption process, children are at risk of being placed in unsafe homes.

The informal rehoming of children with strangers may be a rare phenomenon. According to one estimate, there have recently been 125 thousand adoptions per year in the United States. Yet a recent report from the General Accounting Office observed eight forums on two websites for 15 months and only identified 23 posts by people offering to give up children. Reuters estimated that one child per week was advertised on one Yahoo group. Yet, even at a relatively low volume, it is clear that children are at risk.

The legislation before us would strengthen the education and support of adoptive parents and strengthen the response in cases where adoptions appear to breaking down. I certainly support the goals and most of the details of the legislation.

The part of the legislation that I am struggling with is the criminal penalties. The act strengthens existing penalties for unlicensed people who advertise children. I have little difficulty with that language, but the proposed bill goes on to impose felony liability on people who give up or receive a child in response to an advertisement. A person with the best of intentions, but with limited knowledge of our legal system, could commit the crime of receiving a child in need and find themselves being punished for attempting to do good. The person who gives away a child in response to an advertisement seems more likely to deserve condemnation, but we do already have penalties on the books that apply to them. Unless they go through the court adoption process, they legally remain the parents of their natural or adopted children and might be criminally liable for abandonment if they put their child in harm’s way. If they knowingly place their child with a child exploiter, they likely would be guilty of human trafficking.

So, here is the question that I’m looking for public reactions to. Is anyone acting on an ad about offering or placing kids doing something so obviously wrong that it is fair to make them liable as felons? Or should we reserve the felony liability for people who actually abuse children or negligently put children at the mercy of abusers? I’d really appreciate hearing reactions to this.


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

66 replies on “Rehoming of Adopted Children”

  1. I agree that felony penalties are not really appropriate. Maybe community service is more like it in this situation. Sounds more sad than criminal.

  2. I could be wrong, but I thought custody of a minor was a legal process where you file legal papers to either adopt or give up for adoption that get approved by the court? It would begin with a birth cert. and expire when the person becomes the age of majority so there would be a paper trail of custody. So I am flummoxed how this “re-homing” could ever occur. I would think of it as a form of kidmapping without the legal papers. sort of trying to sell a home that does not belong to you.

    1. Quite correct. Until your child is legally adopted by someone else, you are the parent. You have the power, as the parent, to let your child stay with someone else for a while without court approval and that is quite routine. But if you give your child over to the care of another and don’t follow up, that is really abandonment. The person receiving the child would lack the authority to do necessary things like placing the child in school or making medical decisions — unless they followed up and perfected a legal adoption.

  3. I am appalled that anyone would think it is all right to place children based on an ad.

    And yes, I think it should be felonious. It is much too risky and places the child in too much danger.

    And yes, I think that something that places so little thought on the welfare of the child involved is wrong and dangerous and should be illegal.

    For the record I have two adopted younger brothers– we are all in out 50’s and 60’s now.

  4. I don’t think felony penalties are appropriate for those responding to the ad. I do think that we should reserve the felony liability for people who actually abuse children or negligently put children at the mercy of abusers Agreed, it is more of a sad situation then anything else. I would say that if found out after the fact, that the new adoptive parents & child should be subject to monitoring. However, given the current state of that system (or at least the way it is portrayed in the media) I would hesitate to load another burden on already overloaded and underfunded agency.

  5. I was unaware this was even happening. But I think education is a better response for such applicants. I do not think trying to do a good deed by itself should be a crime of any kind. I guess in the age of the internet, smart phones, Aps etc all sorts of stuff goes on previously not thought about. But we should be very wary of adding good deeds involving children as criminal. Just because it may go wrong, or just because it involves children, is insufficient reason to panic and make good deed actions criminal.

  6. This is a very serious issue, stiffest penalty they can think of because it is human trafficking and there should be criminally liable, build some extra jails if you have to…

    1. I don’t think this should be a felony. I believe that the existing laws already in place are enough to prosecute this type of activity. It’s already illegal to abandon a child, or to traffic a child, no matter how you do it, by advertising or other means. Maybe we need better attention paid to adoptive homes, but this won’t help that in any way.

  7. I am opposed to making receiving a child into one’s family a felony. In my opinion, there is a huge gap between the intent of the law and the state’s ability to implement such laws when it comes to family affairs. I strongly feel that parents caught in a nightmare situation need a pressure relief valve, so to speak, that they can resort to if their family life has become untenable and the state bureaucracy is acting way too slowly or inappropriately. In other words, I’m well aware of the risks of adults transferring children out of their home into another home with risks that are not well known. But at the same time, I consider it just as grave a risk for parents who are at their wits end being forced to include a child or children in their home when the situation has turned so bad as to seem impossible. Such desperation may leave parents feeling that only very dire measures can relieve them of the stress (suicide, familicide, infanticide, sale into slavery, etc.)
    We here in the USA have a terrible track record when it comes to the support of parents and families. If anything, imposing felony penalties on families in trouble is likely to cause worse effects than not, in my opinion.

  8. You mention that the proposed legislation would strengthen the education and support of adoptive parents and strengthen the response in cases where adoptions appear to breaking down. The language in this section does not appear strong enough to me. It says that DCF should be contacted but does not say that DCF would, if necessary, find an alternative placement for the child. Only once the directive to DCF has been strengthened, can I consider what penalties the family should face if they seek to “rehome” the child.

    Background: In 1948, my parents initiated the adoption of a Polish girl who was a Holocaust survivor. My brother was then born in 1949, just as the adoption was going through, and I was born in 1950. This was not a successful adoption in that my parents found it too difficult to handle a traumatized teenager along with their two young children. My adopted sister went to live in a group home with a social worker and other children with similar background. She did return to live with our family for two years before going off to college.

  9. Cart before the horse. Government oversight: places foster kids in unsafe homes as a matter of course. Fix that before you tell people who have not done any harm yet what to do. My reaction on principle. Reason being, you can only do the child at risk more harm if DCFS is not fixed before you alter individuals’ attempts to secure the welfare of children.

  10. Are these children officially adopted. If so you surely have legislation that will deal with parents abandoning their children. Anything that seeks to evade official channels for child adoption should be completely illegal as it is basically human trafficking and I have no problem in severe penalties for using those channels and even worse for then seeking to abandon the children.

  11. Children should not be passed over like chattel via the internet to whoever decides on a whim they want a child in their life. All adoptive parents must be vetted for suitability, and the children themselves need to have a say; they need to be able to act on their instincts telling them if an adult who wants to take them is a good fit for them.

    So this unsupervised by any impartial party “rehoming” business (sounds like dog or cat rehoming) should be illegal.

    But in cases where adoption has not worked out well, there must be a way for the adoptive parents to relinquish the child to somebody else (or the state). This should be done in the open, out of the closet so to speak — with the state’s participation and oversight.

    If the internet brings willing and suitable people to an agreement about moving a child from one home to another, it should happen only with the state’s screening, knowledge, and approval. The state also needs to interview the child about the situation.

    To make the process work properly, all adoptive parents must, as a condition of adoption, sign a legally binding obligation that they will not relinquish the child to anyone else without getting the state involved.

    Upon being contacted that an adoption has not worked out, the state can ensure that a new prospective adoptive parent/guardian found on the internet is suitable, and that the child has no objections.

    To make people observe these rules, you have to have stiff penalties for secret “rehomings”, and you have to make informal/unapproved adoptions illegal.

    Just because someone may not realize that they are doing something illegal when they take a child without the state’s approval does not mean that we should not have penalties and a law against it. You want prospective new parents to be sophisticated enough to contact the state, and do such things legally.

  12. I agree that those who try to help children should not suffer felony criminal charges. However, the catch becomes is it their first time or have they done this multiple times? Having ascending penalties such as a pass the first time and stiffer penalties, including felony criminal charges, each succeeding time they are caught could be the answer. This kind of thing is a nightmare to administer but gives the courts some flexibility to punish those who truly deserve it. Thanks for asking.

  13. I believe they should be charged with a felony as well. The fact that they are looking online for children rather than thru a legal adoption sends up red flags. Even if they are sincere about unselfishly wanting a child, what happens if they make the same decision about not wanting the child? They have no recourse but to advertise online. And then what happens to the child. Children MUST be protected and this selling and buying of children is frought with dangers. The adoption agency is shirking their duties in not following up on the progress of the child. There needs to be a path whereby adoptive parents have options other than passing on the child illegally. They are not stuffed animals and should be treated humanely. The only way to stop this is to have harsh punishments on both sides.
    I can’t believe that you are struggling with this. I am extremely disappointed in you.

  14. We have two adopted children. The process of adoption was incredibly involved, and I’m sure it’s gotten more so in the ensuing 20+ years.

    Even for those “with limited knowledge of our legal system”, is it possible that there are adults who don’t know that there’s more to adoption than answering an ad in Craigslist?

    It was also an expensive process. Some people might want to circumvent all of the agencies, attorneys and others who are involved to save money. But those people know that they’re evading the law.

    If someone “adopts” a child outside of normal channels, how does that person get a birth certificate? That’s required for so much these days that they’d wind up living underground in some ways, or finding other ways to get around the laws.

    Should it be a felony? I don’t know, but there should be penalties.

    — hs

  15. I do not think a felony liability should be mandatory for those who respond to online posts seeking homes for unwanted children.

  16. I think that this law is post event punishment rather than pro active prevention. Since you mention that there are forums on line where this kind of activity is known to be discussed, it seems that what is needed is both a little bit watching by authorities and education of the forum participants of the law. The AG’s office would be a good place to put funds to ensure that anybody thinking about this practice is warned about doing something hazardous legally but encourage those families having trouble know where to turn for assistance. Of course a major issue in MA is that the DCF is a mess and needs to be fixed.

  17. Hi Will – I feel strongly that such child selling/trading sites should be illegal and punishable by law.
    Anyone posting such a website should be arrested, the child removed from their custody, and the site shut down by the government. The same punishment should be applied to anyone making use of such a website to obtain a child. I see nothing but bad motives in this practice.
    Anyone claiming to be “unaware” of the illegality, not to mention immorality, of such a practice should be sentenced to reeducation or deported.

  18. I imagine there are people who desperately want children and can give them a good home but cannot pay for an adoption. I believe it would be wrong to class these people as criminals, especially if there are already laws on the books for people who intend harm to these children.

  19. It seems to me that there is existing law to prosecute an individual who purposefully harms a child. I would not favor creating a felony statute that may harm an individual of good intentions. If the purpose of creating the felony is to deter the rehoming of children it may backfire. A person seeking to adopt through the Internet strikes me as ill informed and therefore most likely not to be aware of the felony.

  20. Sure, it might be harsh but when it’s about children’s welfare, legislation needs to be tough, even if it might superficially look “unfair”. I am in favor of this legislation. In this case, I think the benefit of protecting children against trafficking is a bigger and more important goal than that of avoiding potential problems created by people with good intentions who don’t know the law.

    When you engage in hosting children you should first learn the law really well. Ignorance doesn’t cut it for me.

    Also, with all the social media we have available information spreads so quickly I truly doubt someone will remain ignorant about this legislation if it becomes a law.

    I feel we, as a society bend out of shape to protect the well intentioned, innocent but painfully uninformed & ignorant(put mildly) members of our society.

    The stakes are high, so felony sounds fitting. Everybody will learn the law fast.

  21. While I understand your struggle, I have to come down on the side of this law. Children are not commodities to be traded and children who have proven difficult for one family to handle are likely to be difficult for the next. Surely we owe these children a safer and hopefully more humane system for placement.

    1. I would might agree , however these children will be covered once under the control of DCF which needs so much work I think we need to put this issue aside and work on the children under state care first.

  22. Dear Senator,

    Thank you for explaining this legislation and requesting feedback.

    The purpose of this legislation is to protect and keep children safe. Therefore, those offering to accept these children into their homes should be MANDATED, by law, to inform the authorities: the DCF or an authorized private adoption agency, 60 days prior to the child/ren’s move into their home. This period would provide for a study of the home to determine its appropriateness. (This requirement would hopefully separate those with the best intentions from the remainder.)

    If such report is not made, then I think they should be liable as felons.

    For the benefit of the Commonwealth’s children, this law should be well publicized.

    Thank you for this opportunity.

  23. Hi Will,
    We already lock people up at alarming rates.
    We don’t need another reason.

  24. Will, I hate to tell you but the state needs to stay out of this. DCF can not take care of the kids under it’s own care let alone additional adoptions. OK – I know they are children. well you at some point you need it is better to work on the current kids under the state care and once that is under control we maybe we can visit the subject. As for now – I am not sure the State is qualified to care for children let alone make decisions regarding children

  25. We adopted our middle child from the state when he was six months old. He is now 46, with children of his own. Adopting a child is no different than having a non-adopted child. Giving away an adopted child must carry the same penalties as giving a way a child who is not adopted.

  26. I don’t think this happens often enough to make a special law necessary. The law can’t cover every single thing a person might think of to do.

    That said, the current Safe Haven law allows a parent to legally surrender newborn infants up to 7 days old. Why don’t we just expand the age range significantly, to say age 10 years or so. Or maybe we should just get rid of the age range altogether. If someone is in a situation where they simply can’t deal with the child, no matter what the age or the reason, there should be some legal options open to them, for their benefit and the child’s benefit.

  27. As always, thank you for sharing the issues facing the commonwealth with us and asking for feedback

    This is a horrible phenomenon! It is difficult for me to see this as anything different than human trafficking. I don’t think we can “give” children away and we should not be advertising to “get rid of a kid” you no longer want (for whatever reason). The safety and wellbeing of the child is what is important. Rehoming? I don’t know. If someone sells a kid, YES someone goes to jail!

    This is complicated and heartbreaking. Educating the public and bringing more awareness to this issue is a good idea too. DCF has enough to do, the oversight of transfers shouldn’t be added to their workload. I am tired of reading the rotten articles every Sunday in The Globe blaming DCF for every terrible thing that happens to the kids of the commonwealth.

    Nothing is ever easy. Let’s look at all ways that this can backfire resulting in harm to a child.

  28. The harm is not in the advertising. It’s in neglecting or abandoning the child. Charging the parents with a felony does nothing to make them more fit parents, or less desperate, as the case may be.

    Better legislation would enable someone to take action; in the infrequent cases when rehoming is shown, establish a process for the agency to take back the legal authority to make decisions for the child.

  29. “Rehoming” sounds a lot like “regifting”, which is sometimes ok with material possessions but never with human beings. This is human trafficking, no matter what it’s called or how many well-meaning people get mistakenly drawn into it.

  30. The parents giving up their children need help not felony convictions. The parents receiving the children may be stepping up where the state has failed.
    I don’t think they should be judged felons unless they are abusers or traffickers.

    The problem that needs to be addressed is: Where can a parent turn when they are no longer capable of caring for their children?

  31. Interesting and confounding problem! My children adopted a 5-month old son from Ethiopia. The orphanage demands that they send a detailed report and photos every year until that child is 18! I don’t know what the penalty would be if my kids didn’t comply, but my daughter-in-law believes this could jeopardize the success of other adoptive parents.

    Yet we’ve read about horrific cases where the adopted child suffers from problems well beyond the ability of the new parents to cope. Were they misled and at what stage in the process? Could they have “returned” the child to the orphanage? So in desperation, they turn to other possibilities obtained through the Internet. Turning such parents into felons seems like overkill to me. In fact, should such folks be punished at all? They’ve already endured immense disappointment, financial investment, and no good solution that they are aware of. Better than punishment would be for a government monitored “clearing house” to be established where qualified counselors could offer help — psychological assistance, placement alternatives, etc.

    As for the individuals or organizations that offer to “take” these unwanted children, that is a more difficult situation. Could such people/groups need to be licensed? If so, then operating without a license could incur penalties. Remember, one can hold him/herself out as a psychotherapist in this state without a license, I believe, which is dangerous and an abomination, in my view. So, unfortunately, there is precedent for similar behavior by these rehoming agencies or individuals. I think you are on the right track to reserve the most stringent penalties for those who knowingly — or should know — place children in abusive or unsound environments.

    Barbara Cullen, J.D.

  32. Is it true that this phenomenon only ever involves adopted children? Surely there are many instances when birth parents of non-infant children find them overwhelming. Do they ever turn to such online forums to “rehome” their biological children? If this phenomenon exits exclusively for adoptive children, it seems to suggest to us something important that needs to be understood first.

    In any case, I can’t imagine that anyone would advertise a child “for free to good home” on the Internet unless they were at – or beyond – their wit’s end. I suggest considering a compassionate response first before a punitive one.

  33. Dear Will,
    Our reading group (which started in Lex and moved to the Bedford Sr. Center) discussed Aristotle’s thoughts about justice last week. He recognized that fairness (my word) between individuals can be done by rule, but when the rules are made for everyone (laws), a judge is required. So if you itemize the variables to be consider and then refer the question re “returning your adopted kid” to the judge at a Family Court, I think that would work. Best John

  34. Will the challenge your are struggling with is a tough one. I favor giving judges some discretion here as individual circumstances may vary. When laws limit judges flexibility we end up with injustices. At the same time giving judges flexibility means living with the judge’s decision. Not an easy choice but if we are putting the right people behind the bench it is our best option. We don’t want to discourage adoptions. For some children’s it’s their only option for a near normal life.

  35. Hi Will,

    I think we should criminalize the black market for children – those advertising to relinquish children ( adopted or otherwise) and those receiving children through these informal arrangements. The risk to the children is too great for society to turn a blind eye to this practice. It is tremendously naive to assume that those receiving these children necessarily have the child’s best interest at heart. There is an important role for a formal regulatory process for rehousing adoptees. We owe it to these children who have already lost the birth lottery who through no fault of their own end up in very vulnerable family placements.

  36. First, please be sure to listen carefully to voices who have specific experience with adoption: adoptive and biological parents, adopted individuals, adoption agencies. The issues can be more complicated than they seem. I myself am an adoptive parent.

    Also, I suggest that in considering this issue, you be guided by several principles:

    (a) Is this in the best interests of the child – Will this law make a positive difference to vulnerable kids? Keeping in mind that such families often have other children as well, and their needs must not be overlooked either.

    (b) Will this law be effective to deter the undesirable behavior?

    (c) Is this a fair law- are families created by adoption being targeted/treated in a way that biological families are not?

    I suspect the answers may be: (a) no, especially not for other children in these families’ homes; (b) no, and (c) no.

    First– please confirm with professionals in the field, but my understanding is that “rehoming” is seldom done lightly or frivolously. These cases seem to involve desperate family circumstances. For example, what should parents do, who adopt a child who ends up posing a danger to other children in the home, and/or to the adoptive parents? This can absolutely happen, especially when a child has had a traumatic start in life. When it does, what exactly are the options for that family?

    What these families need is help and support, and all too often, they don’t get it from either their agency or the state.

    Criminalization is supposed to be a deterrent to bad behavior. Because I suspect that the large majority of such cases are parents who have exhausted other options, I don’t think this will be an effective as a deterrent. However, criminalization can and will traumatize the entire family, including the other children in that family, who now will have also lost their parents.

    Finally, why focus on adoptive families specifically? Families are families, however formed. The same protective laws should apply to all families. Otherwise, you seem to be singling out families like mine as second class, or not “real” families.

    If the state really wants to protect vulnerable children, it should make resources available for counseling, for respite care, and the like. Desperate families need help, not punishment.

  37. As an adoptive parent who took the somewhat exhaustive MARE pre-adoption program to heart, I have serious issues with children being presented online to strangers, whatever the reason. On the other hand, as a woman for whom Parenting has been a life-long dream, I’m aware of my visceral response to the plight of unwwanted children, and the desire to see as many as possible protected against the very real danger of trafficking.
    I would recommend that we spend the money to divert online traffic to registered, pre-certified families, while making it clear to our well-intentioned citizenry that there are clear paths to Adoptive and Foster parenting.

  38. There is no doubt a high level of desperation for parties receiving or giving up an adopted child. As an adopting parent, I sympathize with good people who find themselves in either situation. I agree with you that child trafficking should be prohibited but why can’t the law allow two parties to find each other through forums and specify a legitimate, legal way to 1)verify the transfer is in the child’s interest and 2)execute it without undue expense and red tape?

  39. I agree with you that this is a tough one. If someone is adopting a child, there should be a solid commitment. Someone trying to innocently help out in a bad situation certainly shouldn’t be termed a felon. On the other hand, there should be some strong language dissuading people from participating in an unsanctioned adoption for everyone’s sake but especially the kids. I know resources are always tight but as with everything education is key so that people realize the risks.

  40. I guess that probably felony liability should not attach to people who offer to take in unwanted adopted children. Probably existing laws govern abuse and negligence sufficiently. But I am wondering about the process by which they were adopted in the first place – was there no agency supervision of the family initially? Is it known whether the initial adoptions are themselves legal – there must be someplace where parents register adoptions – should there not be someplace where potential or actual transfers are also registered and where some form of legal supervision occurs? Does anyone official monitor the transfer sites?

  41. 62 Spring St I feel that we should “reserve the felony liability for people who actually abuse children or negligently put children at the mercy of abusers,” as you say. (Coincidentally, I am re-reading Faulkner’s Light in August, which has a similar type of incident in it. It is quite sad in the book that the abuse is never discovered by anyone. It was a placement by an institution.)

  42. Abandonment AND (attempted)trafficking would be my recommendation, with a minimum of 15 years imprisonment. This would be followed by no contact with any children for the rest of their life.

  43. There should be something available for adoptive parents in legitimately very difficult situations that is somewhere in between keeping and re-homing kids.

    There needs to be criteria for determining whether rehoming is being ht for legitimate reasons.

    There should be an investigation of whether there was misrepresentation of any kind used on either side of the adoption process

    The age of the child should be a factor.

    The health of the child should not be consideration for allowing rehoming.

  44. Why should the penalty of rehoming an adopted child be any different from the rehoming a biological child?

  45. “people who bypass the legal adoption process and permanently place or receive children through online forums.”
    Legal adoption process should be followed and there has to penalties for those who break the law, or politically correct version, to “bypass” the law. Otherwise, why do we even have laws?

    Thank you!

  46. I agree with you regarding the felony issue. I don’t believe it is right to impose the felony charges, unless the person giving or receiving the child can be proven negligent or abusive.

  47. I don’t understand why new criminal penalties are needed.

    It is already a crime for adoptive parents to abandon a child.

    It is already a crime for people “receiving” an abandoned adoptive child to abuse the child.

    Creating new crimes will not make the state any better at helping adoptive parents with children who turn out to have unanticipated special needs.

    Creating new crimes will not make the state any better at dealing with abusive parents, whether adoptive or biological.

  48. Hi Will. It’s hard for me to say because I feel given my work experience I have a biased perspective. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone responding to an ad looking for not just a respite worker, or a babysitter, on au pair for a child, but a home should know that something seriously strange is going on I.e. that the child is being given away,with or without an exchange of money. It sounds very high risk to end up with very inappropriate ‘parents’ even if they weren’t actually physically or sexually abusive, and extremely detrimental to a child to feel “given away” . In Massachusetts we have relatively good services even for most impaired kids if people follow the correct channels (though of course they could always be improved) and adoptive parents are just as responsible for dealing with their kids problems as biological parents are. Not being able to find a qualified therapist is just not believable-every therapist has experience working with adopted kids, though of course there are some more specialized forms of treatment. Having better education and evaluation for a couple before they adopt is what’s really needed. I know when we took In a foster child (one of the girls from Sudan) we were given no information about what to expect on any level-ie about educational, emotional, cultural or even health issues.

  49. I agree with other commenters that imposing new criminal penalties is unnecessary and I worry about the law of unintended consequences, especially where children may ultimately have to deal with those consequences. If there are already laws protecting children from abandonment, this is unnecessary. If adoption agencies need to provide more education and information to adoptive parents, that’s ok (although the implicit bias here about adoptive parents and adopted children makes me crazy). Where are the exposes about parents giving up their birth children to others, and the requirement for education before birth parents can take their children home? They would not be affected by this law, yet I would guess that the number of “re-homed” children of birth parents is at least equal to that of adopted children – it’s just under the radar.

  50. Hi Will,
    What an incredibly enormous issue!
    As you know, I am an adoptive parent of three siblings and its because of this that I feel especially well suited to add my thoughts for your consideration.

    I think that people who are looking to purchase children through online services are knowingly doing wrong. I think a felon is a good punishment although I never really know whether the threat of punishment deters people from doing what they want to do in the first place.

    Every parent, whether they be birth or adoptive, is faced with challenges. When a birth parent finds themselves no longer able to handle a child’s issues they do not give them up to the world for money. Birth parents work through all of the appropriate channels to find assistance and support and solutions. Why then is it okay to go through these steps when families come together through adoption?

    When we were first entering into the adoption process, we quickly moved away from the thought of engaging with international agencies as they all felt like legal human trafficking entities. Paying a lot of money to people for people is just not within my comfort zone and as we have learned many times over, supports a lot of wrong doing. Good doing, too, but not so good all the same. We decided to work directly with MA agencies and, after following all of their rules and training, became proud parents of three wonderful children.

    And it was hard!! I sometimes say that I suffered through every stage of each child’s developmental stages in those first few years as a family. Did I say it was heard?!! At one point I thought that perhaps it was more than I could take until it was explained to me that I had COMMITTED to being a parent and that lives cannot be traded in just because times get tough.

    There are many resources out there for those who are struggling. I was able to find some but in the end I realized it was all on me. I had to figure it out how to parent my children.

    I firmly believe that there needs to be more training for parents on how to be parents. Many of us have come from dysfunctional families and carry into our own lives lessons we learned from these experiences – you are what you know. It takes a village to raise children. One village participant has to be education on how to be a parent.

    How can we reach those parents before they move to a position of rehoming? How can we reduce these feelings of despair – assuming that is the motivation – and how do we remove the ease with which people and buy and sell people? Felony sounds like a good punishment but what about having it carry hundreds of hours of community service work?

    Thanks for the opportunity to think this through.

  51. I agree with other posters that judicial discretion should be a feature of this. Where there are mandatory minimums we see examples of over applied justice.

    That said, and this is purely based on the wording in your question, you say they *might* be criminally liable, and IF they knowingly put their child in the hands of an exploiter, they would *likely*… That seems too vague for the people who would circumvent the process to give up their child. I can see those responding as having some valid claim of ignorance, but there can be little for those who give up a child. I think those actions, when done in this manner, are worthy of concrete penalties.


  52. There are no known examples of this in Massachusetts, so we are free to make up stories in our own minds. This is typical in the legislative context – we write laws based on guesses about how they will apply.

    If there are no known examples of this in Massachusetts, then I do not understand why the Legislature feels the need to pass a law about it.

    Is it an epidemic elsewhere in the country, such that it is reasonable to believe that it is only a matter of time before it becomes an epidemic here as well? Or is it so rare even nationwide that legislative action is merely a symbolic action to make it appear that the Legislature is “doing something about a problem”?

    Government intervention in anything should require, at a bare minimum, objectively demonstrated need, and an objective reason to believe that the intervention will have a positive ROI. I don’t see that here.

      1. Because the only thing that is going to prevent parents from “rehoming” children is to make it a felony to do it more than once?

        I don’t think so.

        Sorry for the snark, but this is truly nanny-state legislating. I heartily disapprove.

          1. Truer words were never spoken. DCF cannot monitor everyone and realistically can intervene effectively only in a fraction of known cases of deprivation and abuse. We cannot expect that outside resources will address child-rearing burdens of family dysregulation and financial instability. We must remember that the decision to conceive or adopt is the choice and responsibility of the parents. The costs are emotionally and monetarily enormous. That should be the point of focus rather than pretending that government oversight can ever regulate and guarantee nurturing.

  53. Greetings:
    As an adopted child who now speak as an adult, I say Thank you Senator Brownsberger for this conversation at this time.

    Suffolk County Resident

  54. I find it difficult to believe that someone would respond to an advertisement from a private party and have no idea that this might not be legal. One such offense could be treated as a misdemeanor,but repetitive acts/violations should be treated as felonious. I don’t believe children should be traded in like a used car if they do not work out well for the adoptive parents.

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