Tag Archives: foster care

Adoption Subsidies: A Vital Tool for Families Adopting from Foster Care

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/RhtYve.

More than 104,000 children in the United States are waiting in foster care to be adopted by permanent, loving parents. These girls and boys, who are on average 8 years old, typically remain in temporary situations for over three years before being placed with “forever families.”

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 aimed to help waiting children achieve permanency by requiring states to provide subsidies to parents who form families through adoption, thereby removing financial barriers that prevented many of them from doing so. These subsidies, at a median of just $485 a month, help families meet the basic needs of their children, including such critical services as health care, therapy or tutoring to address their sons’ and daughters’ physical, mental, cognitive and developmental challenges.

Adoption assistance helps many families adopting from the child welfare system – the vast majority of whom are foster parents (54%) or relatives (31%) who have very low incomes.Nationally, nearly half (46%) of families adopting from care are at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. State data reveal a similar trend: In Illinois, one study found most (56%) of families had annual incomes under $35,000 (excluding subsidies) and another found almost one-third (30%) had annual incomes under $20,000 (including subsidies).

Many parents report they could not have afforded to adopt without a subsidy. Among adoptive and prospective adoptive parents of foster children in a multi-state study, a big majority (81%) said subsidies were important to their decision to adopt and more than half (58%) said they could not have done so without them. In a study of success factors associated with families’ adoption of children from care, two-thirds (66%) of parents said they needed the subsidy to be able to adopt. The top barrier to foster care adoption cited by African American families is the lack of financial resources to support additional children.

According to economic analyses, subsidies “have a positive and statistically significant effect on adoption rates” and “subsidy policy is the most important determinant of adoptions from foster care that is under the direct control of policymakers.” A Department of Health and Human Services’ evaluation found that “adoption subsidies are perhaps the single most powerful tool by which the child welfare system can encourage adoption and support adoptive families.”

Finally (for now) research shows that adoption yields cost savings versus foster care. One economist found that every dollar invested in adoption of a child from care returns about three dollars in public and private benefits. Another study concluded that the government cost savings for the 50,000 children adopted annually from foster care ranges from $1 billion to $6 billion.

Despite all of this evidence (and more) about the value of adoption subsidies, when states experience budget shortfalls, they often decrease child welfare spending – including by limiting adoption subsidy amounts and/or restricting eligibility. To counter this trend, the Adoption Institute and the North American Council on Adoptable Children have created advocacy materials for parents, professionals and other activists to use at the state level. These resources are available at http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/advocacy/subsidies.php; they include:

  • An Issue Brief, “The Vital Role of Adoption Subsidies: Increasing Permanency and Improving Children’s Lives (While Saving States Money),” that presents research illustrating the critical value of subsidies to parents, states and, most pointedly, to children who need families.
  • Resources with state data (as well as general legislative, budget and child welfare policy sources) to supplement the national information in the Issue Brief. This information is designed to make the most compelling case possible to state legislators and their staffs.

As part of this campaign, the Adoption Institute and NACAC are seeking feedback from adoptive parents and child welfare professionals about the specific need for adoption subsidies in their states and any proposed limits to those subsidies, as well as their experiences educating lawmakers’ offices. To provide input, ask questions or offer suggestions, please visit: http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/advocacy/subsidies.php.

In an era of increased emphasis on evidence-based policy, maintaining adequate adoption subsidies is not only in the best interests of children, it is a sound investment in an effective strategy to saves states money. Modest payment increases of 10 percent could result in nearly 100 additional adoptions from foster care in a state in one year, while reducing these allowances undercuts vulnerable children’s chances of placement in secure families, gaining stability in their lives, and achieving better outcomes and prospects for their futures.

Georgia Deoudes, Policy & Legislation Director

Adam Pertman, Executive Director

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

Adoption in the Media: What Do Pregnant Women, Killers and Crying Babies Have in Common?

August 8, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/RACl6J.

When we don’t fully understand something, we’re prone to make mistakes when dealing with it. This not-very-profound truism popped into my head a few days ago as I was thinking about how to lead into a new commentary – the one you’re reading right now – about the negative repercussions of the secrecy, stigma and shame that permeated adoption for generations and, alas, sometimes still do.

Here are just a few of the examples I was considering as a jumping-off point, and I did not make any of these up: A new reality show called “I’m Having Their Baby,” which films pregnant women as they agonize over the decision of whether to place their newborns for adoption; a headline in a New Jersey newspaper, “Did They Adopt Their Killer?” atop a story about a 26-year-old man accused of murdering the father and grandmother who had brought him up “as their own” for two decades; and an online poster of two infants, the laughing one assuring the crying one, “Dude! I’m joking, you’re not adopted!”

Ah, welcome to the wonderful world of adoption, a place where women are baby-delivery devices for other parents, where men slay the people who raise them because they are not biologically related, and where the very idea of having entered a family in this way is so unnerving that it makes you weep.

It’s tempting to look at all this and conclude that the problem is the media, which too often succumb to the sensational without doing their homework – or caring – about the accuracy or consequences of their seize-the-second hyperbole. So, for example, was the status of that New Jersey family relevant in any way to the murders that were committed, because that’s the implication of the headline, and what’s the message it sends about adoption generally? And, of course, the internet provides a forum for every kind of random notion anyone can conceive, and there are lots out there that are far more toxic than the suggestion that being adopted is an insult; but it’s worth asking what that poster’s impact might be on adopted people (especially children) and, again, what’s the message it sends about adoption generally?

While the media play a significant role in perpetuating misinformed myths and negative stereotypes relating to adoption, however, they obviously did not create those beliefs and I’m confident they rarely transmit them with bad intent. Rather, journalists and television producers and regular folks who post pictures on Facebook primarily reflect the perceived truths of their culture – and the unfortunate fact is that we are still living with the remnants of the bad old days of adoption, when unwed mothers were routinely pressured to give up their babies; it was common not to tell children they were adopted (remember: we keep secrets about things we’re embarrassed about or ashamed of); and adoptive parents were often viewed as having second-best families that might even include “bad blood.”

Combine all those elements with another truism about secrets – that it’s very hard to learn anything about them – and here we are. That is, we’re learning more and more about the realities of the tens of millions of people affected by adoption but, as a culture and as individuals, we retain some of the lingering misconceptions that can undermine their lives.

The title of the new cable show “I’m Having Their Baby” is one of the best examples I’ve seen in a long time, even without getting into its content. I genuinely believe the creators of that program did not mean to transmit any hurtful messages relating to adoption; I’m sure, instead, they saw an opportunity to get strong ratings with episodes chock-full of drama, pathos and empathy, all the while demonstrating just how excruciating the decision to part with one’s child can truly be.

My professional life is all about educating the world about adoption’s realities, including the tough ones, but pregnant women serving as baby carriers for other people? That emphatically should not be among them. Use this title for a show about paid surrogates, not one about women whose options – and, vital to keep in mind, whose preferences – also include parenting the children to whom they give birth.

For the women on screen, is simply participating in something called “I’m Having Their Baby” not-so-subtly letting them know what they’re supposed to do? Will it unwittingly serve as a message to other pregnant women, and to prospective adoptive parents, as well? More broadly, will it communicate to everyone watching that this is what adoption is all about? In 2012, after we’re made so much progress on women’s reproductive rights and on best practices for everyone involved in adoption, am I really still asking these questions?

Adoption is not just about child placement. It is also about family diversity, about equal rights, and about treating everyone involved with respect and dignity. We couldn’t do that very well during an era when we lied to our own children, drove women underground and shamed nearly everyone else involved. Looking back, we can argue – whether it’s a rationalization or a fact – that those practices simply reflected the mores of their time and, besides, there was a lot we didn’t know.

Well, the times have changed, and we know very much more. So now what’s our excuse?

New Realities in the Extended Family: Who is the Woman Celebrating Thanksgiving with Your Next-Door Neighbors?

March 27, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to:  http://huff.to/GV7pqq

Adoption has been around, in one form or another, for a very long time; to get a sense of how long, please see the Bible. As a result of its stigmatized, secretive history during much of the 20th Century, however (so stigmatized and secretive, in fact, that parents often didn’t tell their own children that they were adopted), there is a lack of understanding to this day about the parties to adoption and the nature of their relationships. And the repercussions of this lingering lack of knowledge are considerable – from inaccurate, corrosive stereotypes about the women who place their children for adoption; to uninformed, undermining attitudes about adoptive families; to obsolete laws and policies that treat adopted individuals as second-class citizens; to genuine surprise among most people when they learn about adoption’s current realities.

I hear that surprise regularly in the voices of the teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, journalists and others with whom I routinely interact as head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national research and policy organization. “Are you sure birthmothers don’t want to just forget about the baby they put up for adoption and move on?” Yes, very sure. “I’m sorry that you, as an adoptive parent, couldn’t have any real children.” You should see my kids sometime; they look real. And: “It can’t be true that most states’ laws impede adult adoptees from getting their own medical information, can it?” Shocking maybe, but true as true can be.

All of which brings me to a just-published report from the Adoption Institute, the core of which is a new survey of adoption agencies nationwide and which is entitled “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections.” It shows just how far we have progressed – and how profoundly families have changed – since the stigmatized, shame-filled, clandestine days when it was considered good practice to keep nearly all adoptions of infants in this country “closed,” meaning the children’s new families and their families of origin knew virtually nothing about each other and never had communication of any kind.

Leaping forward to today’s very-different world, here are some highlights of the Institute’s report:

  • Only 5% of agency infant adoptions start out as “closed” and most (55%) are “open,” which means the birth and adoptive families know each other and usually plan ongoing contact. (The remaining 40% are in the middle, with information exchanged through intermediaries.)
  • Equally telling is the finding that 95% of agencies now offer open adoptions; remember, not very long ago in our history, that number was zero.
  • In the vast majority of cases, the expectant mother considering adoption for her baby meets the prospective adoptive parents and chooses her child’s new family.
  • Adoptive parents, like most participants in open adoptions, report positive experiences;  more openness is also associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process.
  • Women who have placed their infants for adoption – and then have continuing contact with their children – report less grief, regret and worry, as well as more peace of mind.
  • The primary beneficiaries of openness are the adopted persons, as children and later in life, because of access to birth relatives, as well as to their own family and medical histories.

So, what does it all mean?

At the ground level, for the adults and children directly involved, it means we’re moving into an era in which the definition of “extended family” is being expanded to something along the lines of an in-law model – except it’s the children, rather than the spouses, who bring their relatives into the new family. It also means the practitioners who place babies for adoption need to better understand the sometimes-challenging road ahead so they can impart their knowledge to the involved parties, who themselves need to learn how best to navigate their complex new relationships. (The Adoption Institute is creating a curriculum for professionals and parents to help them do just that.)

Not all adoptions are “open,” of course, and most contemporary adoptions are not of infants; the majority are of older children from foster care in the U.S. and some involve boys and girls from orphanages abroad. One size does not fit all; no single type of family formation – by adoption or biology or step-parenting or guardianship or fostering – is right for everybody; and, while adoption has improved markedly in many ways in the last several decades, we’ve still got lots of work to do.

Even so, the knowledge we now have tells us that modern infant adoption increasingly involves informed consent, mutual respect and the genuine best interests of children to a degree that simply hadn’t existed before. And it tells us – in the really big picture – that adoption as a social institution continues to do what it has done for a very long time: open our minds and alter our collective views about what constitutes a family, and that’s very good news for the growing gamut of family constellations in our country today.

The woman celebrating Thanksgiving with your next-door neighbors is the mother who brought her son to this earth – and then placed him with his new parents. Don’t be surprised, be delighted.

Are Children’s Issues Only Important in Attack Videos?

January 10, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go tohttp://huff.to/xz5Dxk

Politicians love children. We believe that to be true because they say it all the time (you know, things like “children are our future”). They also showcase their own kids during commercials, campaign with them if they’re old enough, and even kiss babies when they get the chance.

So why, when they make their policy decisions and set their public priorities, do so few of our elected officials offer specific plans — as they routinely do for budget cuts, military spending and an array of other matters — for how they would provide children with better medical care, enhanced educational opportunities or increased prospects for success, for instance by reforming the foster care system so that more boys and girls can stop shuttling from home to home and can, instead, move into permanent, loving families? Children are routinely cited as the beneficiaries of the ideas politicians suggest, whether tax cuts or hikes, increased spending or less of it. But it’s hard to recall a single instance of a candidate advocating a specific programmatic initiative with children at its core.

All this comes to mind because child welfare, specifically relating to international adoption, actually has recently made it onto the political radar screen — although not exactly in the way one would have hoped. Rather than appearing because a candidate finally decided that children’s well-being should be on the list of America’s explicit priorities, the issue arose instead because someone decided it was good fodder for an attack ad.

The YouTube video, released by self-proclaimed supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, labels presidential rival John Huntsman as a “Manchurian Candidate.” It contains one shot of the former Utah governor holding his daughter born in India and another of him with his daughter born in China; disparaging captions accompany each photo, with the cumulative objective of questioning Huntsman’s values.

It’s a revolting piece of work on many levels. Using children as a weapon against their parents for political gain crosses the most basic ethical line. And, as the leader of an adoption research and policy organization, I find it truly unsettling that anyone can suggest that providing a family for a child from another nation is somehow an indicator of the parents’ loyalty to their own.

Huntsman denounced the ad, of course, explaining that his Chinese daughter had been abandoned and his Indian daughter had been “left for dead” (unfortunately implying that adoption is a means of rescuing children rather than a way of forming families — but that’s a commentary for another day), and saying that his two adopted girls are “a daily reminder that there are a lot of kids in this world who don’t have the breaks that you do.”

What Huntsman did not do — and neither did any of the other candidates, nor any of the journalists covering them — is use this vicious video as the jumping off point for a discussion of the children in our own country and in others who “don’t have the breaks that you do.” Most to the point, no one used the occasion to suggest ways to actually do something about it.

Is the message clear yet? Just in case I’ve been too subtle, here’s the point: Children’s concerns, embedded in concrete proposals and programs, should be on the priority list of every candidate in every party of every ideology running for every office, right there alongside national security, improving the economy and other genuinely vital issues. Nearly every politician says it’s already true, so how about if journalists and advocacy groups and Facebook-ers and Twitter-ers and voters in the audience posing questions at debates start demanding chapter and verse?

It’s wonderful that Michele Bachmann provided foster care for 23 teenage girls, but it would have been more wonderful to turn her experience from a talking point on the campaign trail into a conversation about how to solve the problem of older youth aging out of the U.S. child welfare system without families (see the Adoption Institute’s report on the subject).

It’s important for the candidates to discuss LGBT issues, but why is that almost always done with the focus solely on the adults — i.e., should they be allowed to marry and so forth? How about if we flip the focus and ask about all the children in our country languishing in foster care, pointing out the research showing that lesbians and gay men provide good homes for a growing number of these boys and girls (see the Adoption Institute’s report on the subject)?

And when candidates run or are considered for any office, how about if the media shine a spotlight on their records on adoption, foster care and children’s issues in general, in addition to all the others that journalists already scrutinize? If Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is considered a serious vice presidential candidate, for instance, he should have to explain why he vetoed legislation last year that would have given adopted adults in his state the same rights to their original birth certificates — and thereby the same access to their medical and historical information — as everyone else has as a matter of course.

Children don’t lobby, they don’t vote and they don’t contribute big bucks to political campaigns, so it’s not a big surprise that questions of the kind I’m suggesting haven’t made it to center stage yet. But they should and, to quote nearly every politician who ever was, here’s why: Children, really and truly, are our future.

Children Are the Winnners When We Replace Stigma With Best Practices for Gay and Lesbian Parents

November 21, 2011

News flash: Today, in every state in America, gay fathers and lesbian mothers are raising children. For a range of reasons, not everyone in our country likes or wants to accept this reality, but it is a reality nevertheless. And it is also true that adoption – primarily of “waiting” children and youth from foster care – is one of the reasons for this growing phenomenon. As National Adoption Awareness Month (also known to many as “November”) comes to a close, I’m happy to report that research and experience show that non-heterosexual parents bring up their children as thoughtfully, competently and with as positive results as their straight counterparts.

Nevertheless, societal stigmas relating to adoption by lesbians and gay men remain, as do institutional barriers. These impediments do not further the best interests of children; indeed, they prevent or delay permanency for many, undermining their long-term psychosocial and academic adjustment. With over 100,000 girls and boys lingering in foster care, despite being legally free for adoption, we need to make every effort to find timely, permanent placements for them as well as for every other child, in the U.S. and abroad, who would benefit from adoption.

In keeping with its strategic priority to conduct work that improves children’s prospects of living in safe and successful families – and just in time for Adoption Month! – the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has published “Expanding Resources for Children III: Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians.” To read the report, which is the culmination of four years of research, go to: http://bit.ly/to4CYp. This important work reviews what is known about adoption by non-heterosexual parents and presents new empirical data about their perceptions, experiences and needs. Based on this knowledge, the Institute provides recommendations for improving adoption practice and for strengthening pre-adoption and post-adoption services for their families.

For readers’ background, here are key findings from previous Adoption Institute research:

  • Children growing up in lesbian- and gay-headed households show similar patterns of adjustment as those raised by heterosexuals.
  • Non-heterosexuals adopt children at significant rates; over 65,000 have done so, and 14,000 kids from foster care live in homes headed by gay/lesbian individuals or couples.
  • Most children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents, so banning or hindering lesbians and gay adults from fostering or adopting reduces the number of permanent and nurturing homes for children in need.
  • At least 60% of U.S. adoption agencies accept non-heterosexual parental applicants, and almost 40% have knowingly placed children with them – meaning almost any qualified lesbian, gay man, or same-sex couple can find professionals to work with them.

And here are some major findings from the new report by the Institute:

  • Over 50% of lesbian and gay parents adopted children from the child welfare system, and 60% adopted transracially – so non-heterosexual individuals and couples are important resources for children who linger in foster care.
  • Over 80% of these parents voluntarily shared information about their sexual orientation with adoption workers, and most workers responded in a positive and accepting manner.
  • About one-third of the adoptions by lesbians and gay men in our survey were “open,” and the birth families’ initial reactions upon learning of their sexual orientation were strongly positive (73%). Interestingly, gay male couples more often reported having been chosen because of their sexual orientation than did lesbians, explaining that the birthmothers expressed a desire to remain the child’s “only mother.”
  • Two-thirds of lesbians and gays identified multiple areas of unmet training needs, including those related to general parenting, children’s developmental issues, helping children cope with adoption and parental sexual orientation, and race and culture issues.

In addition, one of the Institute’s most significant recommendations is support and advocacy for same-sex marriage, because the research shows that children benefit financially, socially and in many other ways from having two married parents.

Until recently, few guidelines existed in the area of adoption practice relating to gay and lesbian parenting. In addition, little research had been conducted on adoption by LGBT families or on their experiences and needs in raising their children. That is why the Adoption Institute is providing best-practice guidelines grounded in sound theory, experienced casework and valid empirical data. To read them, please go to the “Expanding Resources for Children III” report at http://bit.ly/to4CYp. To read the Huffington Post commentary I wrote to kick off National Adoption Month, go to: http://huff.to/vyDbPc. To read my last HuffPost commentary on gay/lesbian adoption, go to: http://huff.to/oxDzlu

The new research and policy analysis by the Adoption Institute, as well as the work of other organizations and individuals – notably including the Human Rights Campaign, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and Professor Gary Mallon – represent important steps in developing better ways of working with families in which the parents happen to be gay or lesbian. As better practices are identified, validated, disseminated and utilized by well-trained professionals, during every National Adoption Awareness Month and in every other month for years and decades to come, the true beneficiaries will be the many thousands of boys and girls whose lives will be improved.