Senate re-homing bill targets ‘black market’ for children

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STATE HOUSE — Senators backing a bill that would establish penalties for transferring adopted children into new homes outside of the legal system expect the measure, which they described as a way to protect children from a form of human trafficking, to pass the Senate Thursday.

“What we’re saying, and what I want to get through to people is, you are not going to be a part of a possible abuse of a child in any form,” Sen. Jennifer Flanagan told reporters Wednesday. “You are not going to be able to hand off someone to someone with a checkered past.”

Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester have sponsored a bill taking steps against the practice known as re-homing, in which adoptive families arrange for someone else to take over guardianship of a child without involving government or private adoption agencies.

The Senate had previously planned to debate the bill in October, but postponed it until this month while calling it a critical matter that should be acted on swiftly by both chambers of the Legislature.

Tarr said Wednesday that the bill was delayed so that more work could be done on it, ensuring compliance with the state uniform probate code.

“The last thing we would want is legislation that would result in excessive litigation and frustrate the purpose of the bill,” Tarr said. “That time has been well invested and I can tell you that many of our colleagues have been involved in discussions.”

The bill establishes criminal fines for people, outside of the state Department of Children and Families and authorized adoption agencies, who place ads or accept payment for the placement of children. Anyone accepting payment could also be subject to imprisonment.

The legislation would also task the Department of Early Education and Care with creating an orientation curriculum for adoptive parent applicants and require placement agencies to provide post-adoption services to both parents and children.

Children’s League of Massachusetts Executive Director Erin Bradley said families may seek to re-home a child if they find themselves unable to provide the necessary care, particularly in cases of where children have behavioral problems or act out after experiencing trauma earlier in life.

“Although adoptive families may have the best intentions to help the child, the result of this black market is that all too often, these children can easily end up in the hands of child predators who sexually, physically and mentally abuse them,” Bradley said.

Supporters of the bill say that because re-homing is a clandestine practice, it is difficult to quantify how many children in Massachusetts have been affected by it.

“However, in my mind, and I believe the minds of many of my colleagues, a single occurrence of re-homing is too many,” Flanagan said. “It’s essential that we have penalties in place to ensure that those who do engage in this horrible practice are brought to justice.”

If passed by the Senate, the re-homing bill would then move to the House. Rep. Kay Khan, a supporter of the measure and House chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities said some of members may be unfamiliar with the issue.

“We have a few more colleagues to educate, but we will certainly be out there trying to do that and helping them understand this problem,” the Newton Democrat said.

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service