AUGUSTA, Maine — Later this summer, Maine will become the sixth state to criminalize the transfer of adopted children from one family to another without approval from a court.
LD 1342, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop, an adoptee himself, outlaws the transfer of long-term care and custody of a child younger than 18 years old without a court order. The bill amends Maine’s child abandonment laws and makes unauthorized rehoming punishable as a Class C crime when it involves children 6 years old or younger and a Class D crime for children 7 to 18 years old.
Hickman’s bill received unanimous support in the Legislature on initial enactment and gubernatorial veto override votes earlier this week. The bill was among dozens LePage vetoed in the past several weeks with identical veto letters. The bill will become law 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
“This is the most important bill I’ve introduced so far,” Hickman said. “As an adopted person, it goes to the core of who I am. It feels like the culmination of two decades of work.”
The federal Children’s Bureau estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of adoptions, particularly when they involve older children or children from other countries, result in what as known as “rehoming” of the children later through private custody agreements. These often occur without the extensive background, health and financial screenings most adoptive families are required to go through.
“Such transference of custody amounts to child trafficking as this activity does not require court involvement or the vetting of the potential parents,” Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick, said during testimony in favor of the bill. “It is primarily due to some originally well-meaning parents who adopt children from overseas and who are not prepared to handle the behaviors of a child who has been uprooted from his or her native land, culture and language.”
Lisa Day of Standish and her husband have adopted two children from Ethiopia.
“Educated estimates put the percentage of older child adoptions that end in disruption and rehoming at somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, but there is really no way of knowing the figures because rehoming is typically done without the involvement of any government entity or adoption agency,” Day said to lawmakers earlier this year. “It’s just a matter of transferring the custody via power of attorney.”
The issue is under national scrutiny. Congress has ordered the Government Accountability Office to study the issue and a report is due this fall.
“Rehoming is a benign name for abandonment and child trafficking,” said Maureen Flatley of Essex, Massachusetts, an adoption expert, investigator and activist who among other things collaborate with producers in Australia on a documentary about rehoming, involving two young women living in Maine. “It is fueled and supported by an underground of amateurs with little or no social work training, some of whom are actively seeking to evade law enforcement.”
Other than concerns about how the bill would have overlapped with current law, which were fixed in an amendment, support for Hickman’s concept was strong as the bill moved through the Legislature.
“For all the talk of doing what is in the best interest of the child, children are not always served by the institutions that are supposed to protect them,” Hickman said during an emotional testimony to lawmakers earlier this year. “This legislation will protect children and families from the outrageous indignity called rehoming and send a clear message to adoptees here and all over the nation that Maine people care about the safety and welfare of all our children.”