HHS Close to Plan on Tracking Failed Adoptions

In Youth Services Insider‘s humble opinion, there are two enormous blind spots that trump all others when it comes to data on disadvantaged youth.

First is the outcomes related to trying juveniles in adult criminal court.

The other is failed adoptions. Not adoptions that disrupt before they become official; the ones that dissolve, resulting in a youth’s return to foster care.

We could soon have answers on the adoption front. YSI has learned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is close to announcing a plan to collect data on one of the biggest blind spots in research about youth: the rate at which adoptions from foster care fail.

President Barack Obama signed into law last year a bill known as H.R. 4980, a hodgepodge law that included several state requirements related to sex trafficking and normalcy in foster care, and reauthorized and recalibrated the federal adoption incentives program.

It also placed the onus on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to start tracking failed adoptions. The bill specifically instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a method for collecting data on youth who “enter foster care under supervision of the State after finalization of an adoption or legal guardianship.”

YSI was told by someone who saw early iterations of H.R. 4980 that it originally prescribed an approach for tracking failed adoption, but HHS asked for a change because it had already started working on a plan to do this through the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

We have attempted a number of times to learn what that plan entails, and finally heard back from ACF spokesman Ken Wolfe. According to Wolfe, the Children’s Bureau has completed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is “currently in the clearance process” and will be published in the Federal Register.

Not much news, to be sure, but worth noting because of the subject’s importance. The best estimates from the dated research on this suggests that up to a third of adoptions from foster care end with a youth returning to the system.

We are fascinated to see what HHS comes up with as a strategy for tracking failed adoptions. It will hardly be simple for states to connect one closed foster youth case with a new case opened on the same child.

Last year, we published a theory presented to us by adoption expert Sharon McCartney that you could use changes in adoption subsidies to track failed adoptions. We quickly heard back that, in one large child welfare system, McCartney’s theory is challenged by poor management of those subsidies.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor John Kelly.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.