Adoption Subsidies Could Become Hot Topic in Child Welfare

A couple weeks ago, Youth Services Insider reported on a bill that had been introduced in the New York Senate that would make the state the first to seriously regulate the subsidies provided to adoptive families.

An identical bill has been introduced now in the New York Assembly, so we expect that this will get serious attention in the state. Several organizations have already signed on in support of the bill, including Children’s Rights, a national nonprofit that specializes in class action child welfare litigation.

A state organization representing adoptive parents, in an interview with us, expressed concerns for the bill as it reads today. And, YSI has learned, the state’s child welfare agency is pushing back against the bill as well.

New York might be the first state to legislatively take this on, but we see indications that protecting the subsidies could become an issue with more national attention soon.

A few notes to that effect:

Feds Paying Attention

In 2015, the Administration for Children and Families made it clear that the integrity of the subsidies was on its radar. ACF sought public comment on two questions related to subsidies:

Should jurisdictions have authority to suspend adoption assistance payments under any circumstances?

If suspension was to be permitted, what processes should be required in connection with suspension, and what processes should be required for reinstatement?

There were 41 comments submitted; 17 from state agencies, several from county agencies, and several nonprofit advocacy organizations. The overwhelming consensus was that yes, states should have the ability to suspend subsidies.

Missouri Moves

In 2015, Missouri updated its statutes on subsidies, and gave the state’s Department of Social Services power to suspend or terminate when a child is “removed from the physical or legal custody of the parent or parents.”

The statute allows, but does not require, this action, and that is a critical distinction because not every loss of custody stems from abuse and neglect. YSI attended a Congressional briefing on post-adoption services years ago in which a parent related a time when she was forced to relinquish her adopted daughter to foster care because it was the only way to pay for necessary mental health services they had not anticipated.

Providing ongoing support to a family that hopes and intends to reunite with their child is very different than continuing to support abusers, said Richard Heyl de Ortiz, executive director of the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York.

“You have parents trying to do the right thing, keep a family intact, and the teen is encountering issues, decides to run away,” de Ortiz said, in an interview with YSI about the pending New York legislation. “The family is still working toward reunification, still supporting the child. It doesn’t seem logical to penalize them.”

Media Attention in Iowa

Iowa has recently experienced some high-profile deaths, and an escape, of adopted children who suffered horrific abuse. In early June, Lee Rood, who writes the Reader’s Watchdog column for the Des Moines Register, noted that none of the abusive parents will be asked to repay subsidies, and that:

“Neither the state of Iowa nor the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has systems in place to check on recipients of adoption subsidies for fraud or recoup payments when parents commit abuse.”

Disruption Data Coming Soon

As we have reported on at length in the past, we will soon have some clarity in one of the biggest blind spots about outcomes for youth involved in the child welfare system. Per a change in law in 2014, states will soon have to report to the Department of Health and Human Services about how many children entering foster care were previously adopted or in a guardianship arrangement.

If the data suggests a significant number of youth in care were already adopted, YSI believes that will touch off a more intense discussion of post-adoption services and fraud. Subsidies, as a multi-billion dollar federal expenditure, will certainly be a part of such a dialogue.

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