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ULC Committee on Unregulated Custody Transfers

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NCFA is celebrating 40 years of advocating for children, birth families, and adoptive families. We continue to see adoption practice evolve, including new or expanded opportunities for families and children to come together through adoption.  Unfortunately, we have also seen increasing vulnerabilities, with well-intentioned, and not-so-well-intentioned adoption facilitators putting children at risk.  In addition, some parents have found themselves in a desperate or vulnerable place when they are no longer able to care for a child, whether their biological child or a child they may have previously adopted.  Some of these parents have sought a second adoption placement or turned to unregulated facilitators, desperately looking for a new family for their children.  This practice of unregulated transfers of child custody often hits the news when a tragedy results.  Many states have been grappling with the best way to address the needs of the parents and children, leading to varying, sometimes conflicting state laws.  It is clear that there is a need for more consistent safeguards in matching children with families.

Beginning in 2018, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (ULC) started researching and evaluating the best way to protect the safety of the children needing homes, while recognizing and protecting the rights of the parents who are seeking new homes for their children.  Since January 2019, the ULC has devoted hundreds of hours of concentrated attention to protecting these vulnerable children. The Unregulated Transfer of Adopted Children Committee, individual drafting attorneys and many other observers, have been comparing states’ laws, federal laws and regulations, and current practices around the country. Our focus has been first on the safety needs of children who have been adopted or who are in the process of being adopted.  This ULC Committee brought together adoption experts, government staff, and other interested individuals and groups to consider a way to protect children in the adoption process and ensure the states are addressing the protections in a more uniform way.

Man wearing blue shirt, woman wearing brown sweater

NCFA’s president, Chuck Johnson, and I have been involved as active observers with the ULC Unregulated Transfer of Adopted Children Drafting Committee since the spring of 2019.  This process has been time-consuming, laborious, and intense, requiring in-depth study and analysis.  I have worked on many legislative initiatives, including drafting committees.  The ULC process takes legislative drafting to a new level, going word-by-word and line-by-line, examining every nuance, trying to avoid confusion or unintended consequences.  The drafting committee has spent many months and meetings, gaining insight and input from any person or group who might be helpful in informing the committee’s work, making large and small revisions at every drafting meeting. The process has been in-depth and well-considered.

As of February 1, 2020, the draft is still very much a work-in-progress and I anticipate several more rounds of edits. This project began with the goal of addressing only international adoptions and disruptions that occurred after an international adoption. The scope of the project has expanded twice. The current version anticipates that most adoptions involving a permanent custody transfer, other than with relatives and possibly close family friends, will require the relinquishing parents to work with a person or agency licensed to place children (as defined in the parent’s state) or to obtain a court order, prior to transferring a child to another family. The current draft also places some limits on publicly advertising for children if the advertising would lead to a prohibited transfer of the child.

This project is complex, as practices vary in each state. There are also diverse ideas about the best way to protect children while also protecting parents’ rights to make decisions for their children. The lack of safety for children who are being transferred to non-relative care will remain the primary focus, however.

NCFA is interested in compelling thoughts and constructive comments which could be shared as part of the drafting process.  The working drafts are published on the ULC website.

Please share your input with us at

Heidi Cox, J.D.
NCFA Board Chair
Executive Vice President & General Counsel, The Gladney Center for Adoption