Adoption 2002: One Size Doesn't Fit All

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Adoption Isn't the Only Answer
 Related Resources
• Adoption & Alternatives
• Adopting Parents Center
• Becoming a Foster Parent
• Foster Children Have Right to Sue for Speedy Adoption
• Parental Rights
 
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Adoption 2002
• Adoption and Safe Families Act 1997
• "DSS Snatched Child Prodigy; Searching for Another 'Adoption Bonus'?"
• The Foster Care Conundrum
"Six years ago, Congress passed a law designed to help kids move quickly out of foster care. It created a deadline for parents: clean up your act or lose your parental rights so your children can be adopted by someone else. Some say the law has helped to speed up adoptions, but critics claim that it is creating a whole new class of orphans, orphans whose parents are still alive." - WBUR Boston & National Public Radio
 


It wasn't a bad idea. As a matter of fact, it was basically a great idea. The goal of Adoption 2002, a program instituted under the Clinton administration and based on provisions of the Adoption & Safe Families Act of 1997, was to reduce barriers to adoption and to double the number of adoptions of children in foster care, from the 1996 number (27,000) to 54,000 in 2002.

Children are spending far too long in foster care following termination of their parents' parental rights before being adopted - the 2000 median being 14 months.
(Source: AFCARS Interim FY 2000 Report, August 2002)

BUT...
  • The program rewarded only adoptive placements with a bonus (or, as others have called it, a bounty) for each adoption over a baseline number, and no bonus for other types of placements (kinship care, guardianship, etc.) that could be equally if not more suited to the child and his/her family, thereby creating an incentive for states to push for adoption - perhaps even in cases where it might not have been best?

    The Adoption 2002 initiative offered a "bonus of $4000 per adoption and $6000 per adoption of a child with special needs over the established baseline."
    (Source: Follow the Money:The Financial Aspects of Adoption)

    A basic premise of the program was that "adoption is generally considered the optimal form of permanence when the biological parents are unable to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing home."
    (Source: Adoption 2002, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

  • The program didn't require a focus on children who had been waiting in the system the longest following termination of their parents' parental rights.

  • The program required no accountability for the stability of these adoptive placements. Are there any numbers that show how many of these adoptions dissolved, and how those numbers compare with adoptions from years not included in the bonus program?


Over the course of the program, a total of $82.7 million has been paid out: In "Follow the Money" (see above for link), Madelyn Freundlich of Children's Rights, Inc. noted the following:
How States are Using Adoptive Incentive Payments
  • Post-adoption services
  • Recruitment of adoptive families
  • Legal services to expedite adoption
  • Contract enhancements for a range of adoption-related services
  • Training for adoption staff and mental health providers
  • Adoption awareness activities
  • Subsidy increases




Notably absent from this list is the hiring of additional staff for our notoriously overburdened and understaffed foster care system - often cited as the reason for a series of serious problems such as abused or killed foster children, "lost" children, inadequate follow-up, and poorly prepared paperwork.

To be fair, Adoption 2002 met its goals in terms of numbers, but as long as money needs to be doled out as a reward to states for timely and appropriate family solutions for our children in foster care, the goal of removing obstacles - to adoption or other placement alternatives - has not been met.

Reducing the time children spend in foster care is universally supported, without question. Going forward, as legislators consider this and other initiatives, this writer hopes we can learn from past oversights so that future programs will give equal weight to all permanency options and require accountability so that our children's lives become as stable, healthy, and loving as possible. One size (adoption) doesn't fit all.

More:
For a complete breakdown of individual state numbers, see the Fostering Results report from the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (in .pdf format).
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