Does Utah need stricter adoption laws?

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – During a press conference on Wednesday, it was referenced that adoption regulations in Utah may be laxer than other states.

“That’s something we may be looking at with our legislature in the future — if we may be able to tighten that up,” Assistant Attorney General Dan Strong told reporters.

The topic came up as the Utah Attorney General’s office announced 11 felony charges against Paul D. Petersen.

The AG’s office alleges Petersen ran an illegal adoption scheme where he “recruited, transported, and offered payment to pregnant Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption” in Utah and in other states.

“There’s no words how sad it is for all parties involved and how disgusting someone could be to do something like this,” Maggie Johnson told ABC4 News.

Maggie and her husband Tyler recently went through the process to become adoptive parents.

“As far as Utah law goes, we had to pass a state background check, and a Federal FBI background check and we had to pass a child abuse background screening as well,” Tyler said.

Although they say the process is strict, they admit there’s room for improvement, especially if using a private adoption service.

“It can be a huge way for adoptive families to be scammed, for both moms to be scammed, and it can be scary because there’s not a lot of regulation to it,” said Maggie.

Linda Smith, a professor of law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, adds that there are risk factors that unfortunately make Utah a good place for people to take advantage of others.

“Utah’s laws are very pro-adoption. Unwed fathers have a very difficult time asserting their rights in Utah. In some states, unwed fathers automatically have a right to notice and consent. The speed in which adoption can be ordered, the fact that private agencies can handle adoption and the fact that monies can be paid to the relinquishing parents.”

Smith says she’d like the law to be changed to “eliminate payment from the adoptive parents or the adoption agency to relinquishing parents.”

Investigators pointed out that the adoptive families who fell victim to Petersen’s alleged scam wanted to adopt in good faith and didn’t realize the birth families were being exploited.

The Children Service Society provided the following red flags families seeking to adopt should look out for in the process:

  • Any adoption process that pays a woman to place their child for adoption. Utah law states agencies can only help pay for pregnancy-related costs for an expectant parent.
  • If adoptive families notice that agencies or attorneys are charging them for pregnancy-related costs that are tens of thousands of dollars, ask what that money is going toward and if they have documentation. Check to see if the charges are indeed due to pregnancy-related costs and not ways to encourage birth mothers to place their child for adoption.
  • If an agency or an attorney is unable to explain costs or their fee schedule, this is reason for concern.
  • If a birth parent has flown in from another state and uses Utah Medicaid. They are not residents and this should raise concern.
  • If a birth parent does not have any healthcare benefits or Medicaid to help pay for medical costs. If the adoptive family is having to pay for medical expenses all out of pocket, ask the agency or attorney why this is the case.
  • If there is a circumstance where agencies or attorneys are flying birth parents into the state of Utah specifically for adoption, inquire about what their process is and why the parent is not placing in the state they reside in. In some circumstances, individuals elect to use Utah to place for adoption due to some of the laws that are not as strict as laws in the birth parent’s residing state. One example is that Utah law does not require birth fathers to relinquish rights in order to move forward with an adoption plan. Also if a birth mother is advised not to involve the father, this is a red flag.
  • If an agency or attorney is promising a baby for an adoptive family quickly, it is likely too good to be true.
  • If the adoption cost goes up suddenly at the hospital, this is a red flag.
  • If you find that adoption costs are different amounts for different races, this is reason for concern.

If you have reason to suspect unethical adoption practice you can:

  • Report to Office of Licensing
  • Report this to the attorney’s bar if it is a private adoption
  • File a police report
  • Contact The Division of Child and Family Services

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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