Adoption of High-Needs Children
Legislation Preventing Unregulated Custody Transfers

SALT LAKE CITY – H.B. 199, High Needs Children Adoption Amendments, sponsored by Representative Merrill Nelson, District 68, passed the House and the Senate. The intent of this legislation is to prevent parents who adopt high-needs children and later become overwhelmed with their care, from transferring custody of the adopted child to strangers through internet websites. Such informal transfers of custody often can result in the children being subjected to bondage, sex trafficking or other forms of abuse or neglect. This illegal practice, known as “rehoming,” is prohibited by the bill as an “unregulated custody transfer.”

This legislation requires full disclosure of the history of a high-needs child, available training about the challenging behavior and guidance about where parents can find additional assistance and resources. There will also be a penalty for those who engage in an unregulated custody transfer across state lines. Child Protective Services will have authority to investigate the safety of a child who has been subject to an unregulated custody transfer.

“Investigations of this practice reveal that 18,000 or more children, most of them adopted from foreign countries, have been given away to strangers by way of internet websites,” said Rep. Nelson. “Unfortunately, Utah families have been involved on one side or the other of this rehoming phenomenon.  We must act to protect these children from child predators and others who would harm them.”

The U.S. Department of State invited Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Human Services, Children’s Bureau and the Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children to participate on a committee to help stop to unregulated custody transfers. Attorney General Reyes requested Rep. Nelson to run this legislation.

Attorney General Sean Reyes said, “We applaud the efforts of Rep. Nelson efforts. This bill provides adoptive parents more resources facing challenges with finding another adoptive family through legal processes. H.B. 199 is absolutely necessary to protect children and assist adoptive families. It allows the state to better educate and inform adoptive parents, empowering them to be more informed and prepared. With its passage, this bill will now provide a model for other states, and for that, we are truly grateful to Rep. Nelson for his work to pass this bill.”

This legislation is supported by the Utah Adoption Council and the Division of Child and Family Services.