Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #10: Tracking Dissolved Adoptions

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who completed Congressional internships. The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund. Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today we highlight the recommendation of Destiny Reid, 20, a student at East Carolina University.

The Proposal

Amend last year’s Preventing Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act to require more of states when it comes to reporting the dissolution of adoptions. The act currently requires states to provide the total number of youths who entered foster care after a finalized adoption. Reid calls for further information, including:

  • Reason for dissolution
  • The length of time it took for the adoption to finalize
  • The length of time the adoption lasted
  • The specific agency responsible for the adoptive placement
  • The child’s case plan after re-entry and any relevant information on siblings

The Argument

For the first time ever, starting next year, there will be some national figures on the failure rate of adoptions involving foster kids. But that figure alone, argues Reid, is insufficient if the goal is to learn from failure.

“In order to adequately address adoption disruption and dissolution,” she says, “Congress needs data that includes the number of failed adoptions, the reasons adoptions dissolve, and the age of the children when adoptions dissolve.”

Information on those data points could shape the implementation of programs “to lower the rate of adoption disruption and dissolution nationwide,” Reid said.

In Her Own Words

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Destiny Reid

“I will never forget the day that we were removed from our adoptive home. I was in the car getting a hamburger for dinner and I came home to find several cars awaiting me and my siblings. All of us were separated and put into different foster homes. Sadly, although my two brothers were able to stay together, I was sent to a different foster home with one of the girls from our adoptive home.

Congress needs to better understand adoption disruption and dissolution in order to protect future adopted children from the trauma I faced during and after my dissolved adoption.”

The Chronicle’s Take

In our opinion, the two biggest blind spots in data on at-risk youth are what happens after a juvenile offender is transferred to adult court, and what happens to a foster child after they are adopted.

In a way, the reason for both blind spots is the same: there is no longer a government system held accountable for them. Adult corrections see no need to specially track or take interest in juvenile offenders. Once an adoption is finalized, the child welfare system has achieved its central mission of permanency.

So any data on failed adoptions is better than nothing. Soon, hopefully, we will know if we are talking about a small fraction of the adoption pie or an alarming one. Soon we will know if certain states are wildly below the mean, or above it, when it comes to failed adoptions.

The big question is: What constitutes a high national rate of failure? If a third of the children adopted from foster care come back, surely that should be jarring to Congress.

What about 15 percent, the dissolution rate found in two large state studies done more than two decades ago? If you applied that rate to national adoptions from care from 2000 to 2014, we’d be talking about 105,000 failed adoptions.

A lot depends on early figures now that states are on the hook to report. Bad news would behoove Congress to seek answers to more questions. And the ones posed by Reid are a great start.

Click here to read Reid’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 910 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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