This is the second of two columns focusing on adoption subsidies. In the first column, I focused on the general need for more scrutiny on recipients of adoption subsidies. In this column I discuss the need to prevent abuse of adopted children who are removed from school.
The recent deaths of two teenage girls in Iowa and the escape of another from an abusive home has resulted in heightened media coverage and proposals for an overhaul of Iowa’s entire child protection system.
Natalie Finn, age 16, Sabrina Ray, age 16, and Malaiya Knapp, age 17, had several things in common. They were all abused by their adoptive parents, who collected subsidies from the State of Iowa. And they were all withdrawn from school on the pretext of being home-schooled.
As a consequence, one of the first lines of defense against child abuse – the observation of school personnel – was absent.
When adoption subsidies are paired with homeschooling, the combination can be lethal, as blogger Sandra Halverson Reicks points out in a recent post. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) has reviewed hundreds of cases of severe or fatal abuse and neglect of home-schooled children. A disproportionate number of these children are adopted or have special needs.
Federally funded adoption subsidies are available to parents who adopt children with special needs from foster care. Each state sets its own definition of special needs, which may include age, ethnic background, sibling group status, medical condition, or disability.
Maximum basic monthly subsidy rates are usually in the range of hundreds of dollars per child, and depending on the state can be in the thousands for children with more intensive needs. Multiply this by the number of children, and adoption subsidies can be a sizeable addition to family income.
As the North American Council for Adoptable Children puts it, “Adoption subsidies make it possible for children with special needs to be adopted by loving families who require additional resources to help them thrive.” We don’t want to return to the days when foster parents could receive subsidies but could not receive equivalent payments if they adopted the children in their care.
But clearly, adoption subsidies provide an opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage of vulnerable children and taxpayers. Foster children are monitored, but adopted children are not, which leaves school personnel as the main safety net for reporting abuse or neglect. By withdrawing their children from school to ostensibly home-school them, abusive adoptive parents can effectively isolate them from the world.
When public funds are provided for the raising of children, there needs to be some oversight. School personnel is required to report all suspected abuse and neglect. These reports are crucial for the safety of children. Many homeschooled children killed by their parents might have been saved if they had been enrolled in school.
Therefore, as Reicks recommends in her blog, parents receiving adoption subsidies should be required to enroll their children in public or private schools.
“When there’s public money involved, there needs to be transparency,” writes Reicks. “It’s not enough for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to become involved after a complaint is filed. One visit does not compare to regular observations from the public or private school system.”
This does not seem too much to ask of adoptive parents, especially if the only alternative would be to require periodic home visits by adoption staff.
One might ask how this requirement would be enforced. The answer is fairly simple. Parents receiving subsidies should be required to sign a document at the beginning of each school year identifying the school the child attends and giving permission for the school to release the child’s attendance records at specified intervals throughout the school year. Continued receipt of the subsidy would be contingent on return of the form by a certain date.
The agency would request attendance records periodically, perhaps after each quarter. A history of frequent absences, or a parent’s refusal or nonresponse to the request, would also trigger an investigation.
What about young people who refuse to go to school? In these cases, clearly something is wrong, and it may well be appropriate for the state to offer assistance to the adoptive parents in dealing with the situation.
All too often, proposals like this one are rejected on the grounds of interfering with the freedom of parents. But no parent is required to receive an adoption subsidy. Those who are receiving taxpayers’ money to care for our most vulnerable children should be willing to allow their wellbeing to be monitored.