Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill last week that updates the state’s adoption assistance program, in the hopes of increasing adoptions of high-needs children and supporting families through changes in their life circumstances.
The primary thrust of the bill, Senate Bill 19-178, is to standardize adoption policies and practices across Colorado’s 64 counties, according to advocates.
“Senate Bill 19-178 was a complete overhaul of Colorado’s adoption assistance statute,” said Stephanie Villafuerte, the state’s child protection ombudsman, in an email to The Imprint. “In short, this bill ensures there is equitable access to the adoption assistance program and qualifying children – no matter their zip code – get consistent consideration for subsidies and services.”
The ombudsman’s office released a report in 2017 that detailed the inconsistencies in the ways that adoptions were carried out across the state’s 59 different human services departments. That report was the result of an investigation following a complaint in 2016 that “there is no consistency in the manner in which adoption assistance negotiations occur or the rate of the subsidy offered, if any,” the report reads.
“We have been trying to change state legislation to address this issue for years,” said Deborah Cave, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Adoptive Families in an email. “Colorado has 64 different counties, with … different written adoption assistance policies and negotiation practices; this has made it very difficult for families to become knowledgeable about the critical adoption assistance negotiation process, and the importance/impact of the assistance post-adoption.”
Senate Bill 19-178 clarifies what makes a child eligible for adoption assistance, ensuring that both families and agencies recognize the relevant criteria. Children who are eligible for assistance payments include older youth, sibling groups, racial and ethnic minorities, and those suffering from mental health or physical disability concerns, including kids exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero.
Under the new law, adoption agencies and the state are prohibited from conducting a means test on prospective adoptive families, and have to fully inform families of the differences between the benefits a child might receive in foster care versus when adopted. These include reimbursable services or expenses, information on the federal adoption tax credit, any available mental health services, and what the adoptive family’s rights are during the adoption process, including legal counsel and appeals.
Adoption agencies and county departments will also now be required to identify any services the child may need in the future, and the benefits provided may be reviewed or amended at any time, based on the child’s needs.
Finally, the law stipulates that adoption assistance benefits travel with the family and child, should they leave Colorado, and continue until the youth turns 18. When warranted – like when the child has a significant physical or mental impairment – the family may receive benefits until the youth reaches age 21.
Subsidies may be suspended if the state determines that the family is no longer caring for or supporting the child. Subsidies will also be suspended if the child marries, dies or enters military service.
The state will be responsible for an annual public report that captures subsidy amounts, services provided and the number of dissolved adoptions – meaning cases where the legal relationship between the family and child is severed – involving children eligible for the additional benefits. The first such report would be due by November 1, 2020.
Adoption is already trending upward in the state. In fiscal year 2017, Colorado brought in $1,298,500 in federal adoption incentives, more than it ever had before in a single year. A total of 948 children and youth were adopted that year. Across the country, about 58,000, children exited foster care due to adoption in 2017.