House, Senate Committees Make Deal on Adoption Incentives

Key House and Senate Committees have agreed on legislation that would renew federal adoption incentives, require states to count failed adoptions, and prohibit states from using long-term foster care as a viable form of permanency for most teens.

The bill, H.R. 4980, is a negotiated compromise of six different bills and has the backing of the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee, and the Democrat-led Senate Finance Committee. It could come up for a vote as early as July, when the House returns to session.

“I am committed to seeing this effort cross the finish line quickly so vulnerable children in foster care don’t end up in the streets, homeless shelters or the juvenile justice system where they are more likely to fall victim to pimps and traffickers,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in a statement announcing the bill’s completion yesterday.

The bill would change the way that adoption incentives are calculated, setting a new mechanism for determining awards. Guardianships would for the first time be included in the incentives calculations.

Under the current system, states receive awards for youths in three categories: $4,000 multiples for younger children and special needs children, plus $8,000 for adoption of children above the age of nine.

States received awards based on a comparison of current-year numbers to its performance in 2007, the most recently established base year. This bill would peg incentives to a “base rate” mechanism, in which current-year adoption totals were compared to a calculation factoring in previous-year adoptions and the total number of children in state care during two previous years.

It also includes new categories with higher incentive awards:

  • $4,000 awards for improvement on overall guardianship placements
  • $5,000 awards for improvement on overall adoptions
  • $7,500 awards for improvement on guardianship and adoption of children between the ages of nine and 14
  • $10,000 awards for improvement on guardianship and adoption of children older than 14

“Having helped create the Adoption Incentives program…I know by providing states with incentives for adoptions we can encourage them to do more to help these children,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). “We have already seen great progress in increasing adoptions since this program was created in 1997, and it is our hope to continue this progress with this bill.”

H.R. 4980 would also require states to track and report disruptions to finalized adoptions and guardianships, one of the biggest blind spots in research on the child welfare system. The few sample studies on the subject suggest that up to 30 percent of adoptions fail.

The bill instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a method for collecting data on youths who “enter foster care under supervision of the State after finalization of an adoption or legal guardianship.”

States would also have to spend 30 percent or more of their incentive money on post-adoption and post-guardianship services.

The bill would eliminate Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as a viable option for youths under the age of 16. APPLA is a designation under which child welfare systems set youth on a course to age out of foster care into adulthood, essentially conceding that they will not be reunited with family or adopted.

APPLA was established in 1997 with the idea that it would afford organized aging-out services as an exception to the rule. But even the creators of APPLA concede that its use became far too common.

“We wanted it to be a last resort,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), speaking at a roundtable on APPLA back in 2012. “Over time,” it has become “an obstacle to reunification or adoption.”

For those older teens who are designated for APPLA, the legislation requires biannual reviews of their status. Caseworkers will need to demonstrate “unsuccessful efforts made by the state agency” to find another permanent option for the youth.

Among the other provisions in the bill:

Trafficking Victims: States would have to develop protocols for “expeditiously locating any child missing from foster care,” and determining if exploitation was involved in the circumstances.

States would also face new trafficking-related entries to the central pipeline of data from the states to the federal government, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). States would have to identify the annual number of children in foster care who are identified as trafficking victims, and differentiate between those who were trafficked before and during foster care.

Normalcy: States would need to establish some single or regional authority system responsible for developing and enforcing “prudent parenting” standards for foster homes and group care facilities, meaning a context for permitting foster youths to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Further, each foster home or group setting would need to have one adult trained and responsible for making those decisions.

Family Connection Grants Survive: Last year, the House moved legislation that would have paid for the popular Family Connection grants with an offset from the unemployment insurance program. But the legislation did not move on the Senate side, and in December that offset was used to forge the overall fiscal 2014 spending deal.

This bill would give the Family Connections grants a one-year lifeline, permitting $15 million for fiscal 2014.

Youth empowerment: Systems would be required to involve foster youths above the age of 13 in case planning, and permit those youths to add up to two people to a case planning team.

Identification required: Youth who are in foster care for more than six months must exit care with a birth certificate, social security card, all health insurance and medical information, and state identification.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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  1. To Kathryn and Jan: I don’t get it. If your kids need “services”-psychological, educational and otherwise get them the services. Why does it have to be “provided” by the state? If your kid is sick you take him/her to the doctor, so why is it different for other types of services? Many of these things are provided free via the public school system or your own health insurance may provide it. But if not, you must figure out a way to get your kids the services they need. Just throwing up your hands and giving up because the state doesn’t provide the services to you is not conducive to making your adoptive child a productive member of society. There are so many low cost or free services out there if you look for them (if money is the issue). If there really is none in your area have you ever put in the sweat equity to call every psychologist (for example) in the area to see if they would donate their time because of your child’s circumstances? Or call the local hospital to see if they have any programs for free or low cost services? Or spoken to a local church leader to see if they can get members of their congregation to donate the services needed?

  2. The presumption is that ‘reasonable efforts’ to place child back in home (reunify) has been made. Also, another assumption is that everything that is *documented* reflects all aspects of the ‘case’ (which it doesn’t because CPS workers are willfully vindictive and hostile, with a superiority complex).

    Nowhere is it mentioned here about the implementation of a ‘Bill of Rights for Parents’. Nor is this in our consititution or ‘Bill of Rights’. In fact, outside of Supreme Court Decisions, Parents do not have rights.

    Another observation is that there is no mention (if they are even aware) that there is no such thing as ‘due process’ ‘miranda law read’ or right to ‘medical privacy regarding HIPPA’. (There never is an attorney present). Cooperation is twisted into ‘consent’. Huge difference.

    Think about it. When the entire rural economic system profits (education/health/social services/family court/law enforcement) and these folks grew up with each other, all in cahoots with each other, there is plenty of room for misrepresentation, fraud, and a slew of other unethical behaviors. Each have ‘immunity’…seriously!

    So, when we discuss what legislation should do…we need to consider the 100’s of families that have been traumatized – ripped apart for the expanding need for billions and billions of ‘federal and state’ funding that in fact exploits vulnerable families.–all this hardship to find that ONE child in a hundred that is, in fact, abused, neglected, or dependant.

    Domestic Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Dependancy is not exclusive to ‘marital couples having a spat’. Think, ‘cabinets’ ‘courts’ ‘organizations’ ‘agencies’ ‘departments’ and ‘businesses’.

    I call it legalized human trafficking and legalized kidnapping when the focus is NOT on family reunification! Parents (and children) suffer Battered CPS Abuse syndrome and Battered Legal Abuse Syndrome. parents are treated like children

    There is no safety net for Parents and their children. Children are taken and parents have to go upstream in a beauracratic, exhaustive, time consuming court system for YEARS!

    We need reforms alright; but first lets create programs locally that in fact DOES honor and sanctify the family unit. The assumption is that CPS and Family Courts are all ‘good’ and their decisions ‘sound’ and ‘rational’.

    They aren’t. DCBS Ombudsman investigates complaints against DCBS? That make sense to you? This is an example of the fox watching the hen house.

  3. Katheryn, you are singing my song! I too am an adoptive Grandmother of a child not in the system. Knowing he was exposed to the same neglect and traumas that children in the system have been and not being able to obtain the necessary services is a huge issue.

  4. I belong to Kinship Adoption Services. I live in Orange County California. I have 2 adopted grandchildren that my husband and I adopted when they were in diapers and they are now 11 almost 12. They are cousins. One wasn’t in the foster system and one was. The one that wasn’t needs mental health services but cant get them. Fortunately the one who was has gotten the services he needed. why cant we get services for the ones who we prevented from going into the foster system?

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