Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

“A sick thing”. “Human trafficking in children”. “A gaping loophole with life threatening outcomes”. These are just few of the ways experts, legislators and judges have named unregulated private transfers of child custody, a practice referred to as re-homing.

Private re-homing occurs when adoptive parents transfer the custody of a child bypassing official channels. In such cases, parental authority is transferred with a simple Power of Attorney to non-family members.

Very often these people are perfect strangers whose parenting abilities have not been screened by child welfare authorities or, worse, have been judged so poor that their biological children have been taken away by child protection services.

According to an investigation published by Reuters in 2013, hundreds of children are victims of re-homing in the USA every year. 70 percent of them are children adopted from abroad.

“Rehoming can be an appropriate change of placement for a child if it is done with court approval and with home study that look at the needs of the child and the child’s best interests,” said Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and current President of the Partnership for Strong Families, in an interview.

However, the problem with private rehoming is that it is not done with that oversight and the necessary background screening on the prospective placement. “This can lead to some pretty horrific consequences for children that are moved under those circumstances,” Pennypacker said.

One such case happened in Arkansas in 2014, when a six-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man who had obtained her custody via a private re-homing procedure. The case received intense scrutiny only last February as the media reported that the adoptive father who gave the little girl away was a state legislator, Justin Harris.

Arkansas has since then passed two laws to prevent this practice, becoming the fifth state to have regulated it. A few other states are slowly discussing bills to this effect, while no federal law regulates it.

In a court decision in the State of New York last December, Judge Edward W. McCarty III defined the practice “unmistakably trafficking in children” and called on the Legislature to amend domestic law to prohibit this “unsavory and unsupervised practice”.

This judgment came to no surprise to Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. “Rehoming sounds like a positive experience that is looking at the best interests of the child, but actually it simply transfers a child to another person without any required review by child welfare, family judges, or other officials. So it could be easily a cover for trafficking in children.”

Other child experts echo the concerns about the risks that unregulated re-homing poses to a child’s wellbeing, although they do not consider re-homing as trafficking because parents do not move children to exploit them, but to get rid of them. “All under the table dealing on children’s matters entails risks of exploitation,” said Michael Moran, INTERPOL Assistant Director, Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, in a phone interview. “Unregulated re-homing creates opportunities for sex offenders. If loopholes exist, sex offenders will use them.”

Reasons that push parents to resort to private re-homing vary from case to case. The most common explanation given by parents engaging in such a practice is that they feel overwhelmed by the behavioral problems of their adopted children. They also claim that the support they receive from child welfare authorities to deal with difficult adoption cases is inadequate. In another case, parents may fear to be charged with child abandonment if they seek to transfer custody to the state. Financial considerations may also play a role because certain states accept taking a child under their custody only on the condition that parents pay for the child’s care until a new adoption takes place.

Some state and federal authorities have acknowledged these problems and are trying to address them. State legislation has been adopted in Arkansas to strengthen post-adoption services and allow parents to give children back to the state’s care if they have exhausted the available resources – although no definition of what these resources are is provided. At the federal level, the US President’s 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.

Whether such initiatives will suffice to prevent rehoming is an open question, though, in particular as the practice remains largely lawless in the USA. So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin – have adopted legislation to prevent re-homing. Five other states – Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and North Carolina – are discussing bills to this effect.

“This kind of regulatory void is enormously concerning,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, we need much tighter regulation and more supervising and support to families.”

HRB Movement: Interview with Keith Meyers

Ladies Kiwi World RPET

I enjoy having the opportunity to show case the innovation and ingenuity of social work students and professionals. It is often assumed that one who seeks formal education in social work does so due to lack of skills and abilities in other areas. When in fact, its just the opposite. The major appeal factor for social work majors is the flexibility and ability to use your skills in many arenas. Social Work is not just a profession, but its the way we see and process the world. This could not be any more evident than when I interviewed Keith Meyers who is one half of HRB Movement.

Located in Wilmington, North Carolina, Keith Meyers and David Pearman created HRB Movement which is a company that sells goods from organic and recycled products. According to the HRB Movement website,

HRB Movement was born from the idea that social progress is a process. Through life experiences we’ve learned that only true and dedicated action can create real change, so in June of 2010 the HRB team set out on a mission. At it’s core, this mission is to cause a mental shift of the masses from the ‘negative’ to the ‘positive’. To do this, we hope to inspire all generations, old and young, with the promotion of sustainable concepts, respect for yourself, respect for those around you, and respect for our World.

I was really impressed as I learned about their outlook on the world, and how these two young men have decided to make their mark on it. Here is my Q&A with co-founder Keith Meyers.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, and what led to your work with the HRB Movement?

Co-Founder Keith Meyers
Co-Founder Keith Meyers

I’m from Maryland but moved down to Wilmington, North Carolina to attend college at UNCW, the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Admittedly, that transition was more about getting close to the beach and warmer weather than it was about getting an education. After my freshman year of college I became a pretty serious student and began my social work studies. The internship requirements of social work really appealed to me, because I’ve never been too fond of classroom limitations.

After my first year of studying social work, I took a year off from school and went to Kenya to volunteer at an orphanage. It was an extremely rewarding experience. I built life-long relationships and really had the chance to do some on-the-ground-floor learning.

When I returned from Kenya a friend of mine from high school and I started HRB Movement. The business officially became incorporated on June 15, 2010. My business partner, David Pearman, was attending the University of Maryland and playing on their division one basketball team, while I was busy in Wilmington studying, interning, and working. During the final two years of college, we didn’t get to really buckle down and focus on the brand that started after we were both out of school. Since I studied social work and David studied geography, we don’t have the most formal business education. We like to think that our business stems from those two subjects, however, because when you combine the two you get creating an impact on the world…

SWH: What is the HRB Movement, and how is it different from other apparel companies?

HRB Movement is a sustainable clothing and apparel company. When I use the word sustainable, I don’t use it lightly as it often is these days. There’s no greenwashing involved with our business. We sell clothing that is manufactured with organic cotton, recycled polyester, bamboo or hemp. The inks used to print our graphics are water-based or soy-based. Even our hang-tags, office paper, and shipping materials are made from recycled materials.

David Pearman
Cofounder David Pearman

While those are the reasons why our products are sustainable, the meaning also carries over to our environmental and social impacts. We’ve made the commitment to plant a tree for every product sold. Some of the retail stores that carry our brand also match us on planting a tree for every product, resulting in two trees being planted for certain products.

Our last planting was 1,670 trees in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina and we have plans to plant a minimum of 15,000 trees in 2014, with plantings already in the works for North Carolina & Jamaica.As we grow as a brand, so will the ways in which we are able to contribute to the efforts of nonprofits. We currently volunteer our time and organize others to volunteer with a variety of non-profits in North Carolina & Maryland.

We’ve worked with international ngo’s in Haiti, Ethiopia & Kenya. Our biggest goal in terms of non-profit involvement is to fund our own projects that will focus on community development through implementing self-sustaining programs. Our goal in contributing to the world is to provide people with the tools to manage their own projects in their own communities because we really don’t want to contribute to cultures of dependence.

SWH: Where do you envision for HRB Movement in the future, and who do you want to appeal to with your products?

To date, we have avoided boxing HRB Movement into any particular industry niche, be it surf, urban, or eco-friendly. Our goal is to fit into all of them while still keeping a focus on positivity and sustainability. We think that organic and recycled products shouldn’t only be affordable to those In the upper-middle and upper classes.

The biggest selling points for clothing are the products look and feel. We’re very committed to producing products that people want to wear because of those aspects. We won’t sacrifice having a shirt that fits fashionably to have a shirt that is sustainably produced. Likewise, we won’t sacrifice having a sustainable product to have one that looks fashionable. Our products have to go both ways, which I think is where a lot of the most sustainable brands have failed thus far.

SWH:  Do you work with nonprofits and others who are looking to incorporate T-Shirts into their marketing strategy, and how does someone locate and purchase HRB Movement products?

We have yet to work to heavily with other non-profits or businesses on t-shirt collaborations. We do, however, have some in the works right now. While we will keep those sort of relationships limited, we are willing to work with other businesses who share similar values of really promoting the good of mankind.

There are various ways that a person can purchase one of our products. We have a easy-to-use and secure online store located at hrbmovement.com and are sold on several other online marketplaces. We are also in retail locations, such as Whole Foods and a variety of local surf shops & shoe boutiques in states including but not limited to, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi & Alabama.

SWH: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

The biggest thing I haven’t included in the other answers is our involvement in the international reggae scene. We are big fans of reggae music, especially from artists in Jamaica. We have some great relationships with artists and studios in both Jamaica & Brazil. In late July or early August we’ll be heading to Jamaica to continue building those relationships and for some non-profit involvement. We are also sponsors of the California Roots the Carolina Sessions annual festival in Wilmington, NC and work with some great bands local to the United States as well.

My last note is to really try to support companies that support you as humans. I don’t mean only buying American-made or only buying sustainable products. I mean do your research on the values of a company. Buy products, no matter where they are produced, that people were paid fair wages to produce. Buy products from companies that are cause-integrated rather than cause-marketed.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of HRB Movement

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