In New York City, Failed Adoptions Still Pay Off for Adults

A few weeks ago, we published a theory on how to track failed adoptions. It is something that no state currently does, and all states may have to do soon if certain federal legislation ever gains a presidential signature.

The theory is that if you could tally up the number of adoption subsidies that ended before a child reached 18, you could pinpoint most of the failed adoptions. There are only three reasons why a subsidy would be cancelled:

  1. The child reached the age that the state cuts off adoption assistance (always 18 or over)
  2. The adoptive parent is no longer legally responsible for the youth, and has had parental rights terminated.
  3. It is proven that the adoptive parent is providing absolutely no support to the youth.

Our theory is that knowing the number of subsidies ended for reason number two would reveal the vast majority of adoptions that formally failed. Of course, the theory would only work if a city, county or state was in fact cutting off subsidies for that subsidy cut-offs

Two very smart readers contacted us to say that, at least in New York City, this is not the case. In fact, subsidy cut-offs might barely occur at all, exposing another potential blind spot in the child welfare process.

Dawn Post and Sarah McCarthy are attorneys with the Children’s Law Center of New York City, where 98 percent of adopted foster youth are followed by subsidies, which are paid in partnership with the federal government.

The two oversee the center’s Broken Adoptions Project, through which they represent young people who are no longer in the home of their adoptive parent and who never plan to return.

From an e-mail exchange with Post and McCarthy:

“Mr. Kelly proposes that disrupted adoptions be tracked by counting the number adoption subsidies that are cut off after a parent is no longer legally responsible for the youth and has had his or her parental rights terminated. This is a good idea in theory that, in practice, would dramatically undercount the number of failed adoptions.

For his proposition to work, the agencies that administer the subsidy…would need to actually enforce that the subsidy was being used for the child’s care, and move to terminate the rights of adoptive parents who have put the child back in foster care and are not planning for the child’s return.

In practice, the circumstances under which adoptive parents had their parental rights terminated is rare and has, to our knowledge, only happened a few times in New York City. For further context around this issue, see this article.”

The problem, they explain, is that there are plenty of adoptive parents who should have their rights terminated:

“Without exception, the broken adoption clients seen by the Project have known that their adoptive parent was receiving money for their support. Many of these young people have expressed a profound sense of outrage that an adult who no longer provides their care continues to receive government funds for their support.”

Post and McCarthy say they have represented “more than 80” children in this situation through the project, “all of whom were confused and dismayed to find that a person who no longer supported them would be receiving funds from the state government for their care.”

The only way for a youth to gain access to that money is to sue the former adoptive parent for child support. “Child Support Magistrates in New York City have been taking note of this problem, and have begun using child support orders to ensure that the money goes to the child or the child’s actual caretaker,” the two lawyers note.

The concern over fraudulent or erroneous continuation of subsidies may not be unique to New York City. The American Bar Association’s Litigation Section voiced concern in a 2012 brief that subsidies were unchecked for fraud.

While some states conduct routine reviews of subsidy recipients, the only federal requirement is that recipients self-report if they no longer support the adopted child. From the ABA:

“While knowingly accepting government benefits to which one is not entitled is, of course, a crime, many other federal-benefit programs do not rely on recipients’ honesty, combined with the threat of criminal prosecution, to ensure that people stop receiving the benefits when they become ineligible.”

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at