Commentary, 0620 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 3. 32

AuthorBy K. Ray Johnson
PositionVol. 33 3 Pg. 32

Commentary

Vol. 33 No. 3 Pg. 32

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

Speaking for Newborn Adoptees

By K. Ray Johnson

“The commoditization of children is simply evil.” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes so declared at a 2019 press conference announcing criminal charges against Paul Petersen arising from an alleged illegal adoption scheme involving child selling. See State of Utah Attorney General v. Petersen, 3rd District Court for Salt Lake County, Case No. 191910049. In an older unrelated case, the state is also currently prosecuting the owner of the Adoption Center of Choice, Inc. (ACC) for allegedly taking illegal fees from adoptive parents. See State v. Webb, 4th District Court for Utah County, Case No. 171403130. Both defendants are contesting their respective charges. Regardless of the outcome of pending criminal charges, Utah’s adoption industry will still charge for adoptions. Utah will still need laws for separating acceptable fees and legitimate placements from illegal fees and illegal child sales. More than avoiding felony-level harms, Utah needs laws to proactively protect the best interest of the children.

Laws that protect children are found in the Utah Adoption Act (the Act) and Utah Administrative Code R501-7 (the Rules). The Act states that the best interest of the child should be the primary concern in every adoption. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-102. The Rules require licensees to always act in the best interest of a child. Utah Admin. Code R501-7-4(1)(b). Hopefully, this system regularly improves adoption ethics for all agencies. Felony charges should be seen as a last resort for extreme cases.

Utah’s adoption laws are violated in all too many cases. Ethical violations often haunt adoptions prior to placement, and litigation comes stalking after. Amid the impassioned voices of case workers, lawyers, adoption agency administration, birth parents, adoptive parents, and clergy, the silent plea of a newborn, “please look after my best interests,” can be easily drowned out. It is the adults who charge fees, pay fees, write online reviews, rely on each other for referrals, and sign all the paperwork. Members of Utah’s legal community can be the voice these children need by enforcing and enhancing Utah’s adoption ethic Rules.

For the sake of newborn adoptees, this article (I) summarizes recent licensing actions, (II) asks attorneys to report violations, (III) asks judges to review expense affidavit filings, and (IV) asks legislators to close a reprehensible licensing loophole.

RECENT LICENSING ACTIONS

Citing serious ethical violations, Utah’s Office of Licensing (the UOL) has revoked two adoption agency licenses in the last six years.

ACC was cited for numerous violations in 2013. See Adoption Center of Choice, Notice of Agency Action (Utah Dep’t of Licensing Sep. 23, 2013), on file with Author (Notice).[1] In early 2014, ACC’s license was revoked.

Heart and Soul Adoptions, Inc. (H&S) lost its child placing license in 2018. See Heart and Soul Adoptions, Inc., Notice of Agency Action (Utah Dep’t of Licensing Jan. 31, 2018), available at https://hslic.utah.gov/notices-of-agency-action (last visited Mar. 26, 2020). On appeal, the revocation was upheld by Sonia Sweeney, an Administrative Law Judge from the Office of Administrative Hearings. See Heart and Soul Adoptions, Inc., Final Decision and Order (Dep’t of Human Services Office of Administrative Hearings June 18, 2019), on file with author (Order).

If they had a choice, no newborn would opt to be adopted through an unethical company. In about twelve years of operations before its license was revoked, ACC placed more than 1,300 children. In a similar period, H&S placed more than 700 children. These agencies’ worst violations were of Rules intended to protect newborns from (1) being bought, (2) being sold, and (3) being adopted by criminals.

Newborns Should Not Be Bought.

Agencies should not buy children. This is a human rights issue and a criminal matter. It is a third degree felony to induce a person to sell a child. Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-203(2)(a). Child placing agencies are expressly charged to not buy children. See Utah Admin. Code R501-7-3. They must walk a fine line: they may lawfully pay a woman for her adoption related expenses, but they cannot pay her for her child. The Act and Rules require careful documentation of adoption expenses paid. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-140; Utah Admin. Code R501-7-11. As Judge Sweeney explained in her Order, “Without itemization, it is impossible to know what the cash given to the birth mothers was for.” Order at *46. For the adopted children “impossible to know” is unacceptable.

The UOL revoked the licenses of H&S and ACC in part because they both failed to...

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