Adoption Subsidies Deserve A Closer Look in Child Welfare Field

Youth Services Insider has predicted that Adoption Subsidies Could Become a Hot Topic in Child Welfare. There is good reason to take another look at these subsidies.

Most adopted parents are loving and generous people who spend much more on their children than they receive in subsidies. But some adoptive parents and their advocates seem to see the subsidies as an entitlement that they can enjoy regardless of whether they are still caring for their children, or worse, maltreating them.

An earlier YSI article,  New York State Could Be the First State to Take a Closer Look at Adoption Subsidies, described new legislation that would empower the state to verify that adoptive parents are still supporting their children before continuing to pay adoption subsidies. The bill arises out of a concern about adoptive parents that have stopped supporting their adopted children but continue to receive subsidies.

The mechanisms required by the bill are very moderate. As YSI puts it, it does not order county agencies to “patrol adoptive homes for compliance with [their subsidy agreements], a move that would almost certainly be seen as an overreach.”

The bill does nothing more than to require each family receiving a subsidy to certify annually that it is living up to its obligations. If a family refuses to certify or ignores the request, a state can investigate. The bill also allows the state to investigate if it receives a report that a family is no longer supporting an adoptive child.

These are very modest measures. I would prefer an annual visit with the child to make sure that all is well. Nevertheless, a state alliance of foster and adoptive parents has “concerns” about the bill.

I don’t know what surprised me more: that foster and adoptive parents would have concerns about such a seemingly innocuous bill, or that a move to monitor adoptive homes would “almost certainly be seen as overreach.”

But after studying the issue, I realized that the federal position on adoption subsidies has created a sense of entitlement to these benefits among adoptive parents, regardless of if and how they are caring for the children..

As the American Bar Association (ABA) explains in an informative article about adoption subsidies and fraud, federal law requires a state to terminate an adoption subsidy when it learns that the adoptive parent is no longer supporting the child. But it provides no means for a state to make this determination.

And the federal government has deprived the states of the best opportunity for states to cut off fraudulent payments, which is an annual eligibility determination. The federal Child Welfare Policy Manual does not prohibit states from redetermining eligibility for adoption subsidies. But in response to a question from New York State, HHS made clear that states cannot cut off adoption subsidies if parents refuse to reply to a request for information, according to the ABA article.

As the ABA points out, “other federal benefit programs do not rely solely on the recipients to advise the government when they are no longer eligible for benefits.”

It’s no wonder that the “overwhelming consensus” of the 41 agencies cited by YSI as responding to a question from the Administration on Children and Families was that states should have the authority to rescind adoption subsidies.

The executive director of an organization representing foster and adoptive parents in New York told YSI that it is concerned about adoptive families that are struggling to reunify with their adopted children who have run away. But the legislation does not mandate that the subsidy be discontinued in such a case; just that the situation be investigated.

The U.S. will have its first national data on disrupted adoptions next year, but evidence from New York already suggests it is a significant issue. Potential savings from  recouping undeserved subsidies could be significant. In the current fiscal year, it is estimated that the federal outlay for adoption subsidies will be almost $2.7 billion.

A much smaller but more distressing problem than adoption disruption involves adoptive parents that abuse or neglect the children for whom they are receiving subsidies, sometimes even resulting in death. In my next column, I will propose a way to address this problem.

The overwhelming majority of adoptive parents have opened their hearts and their homes with no motive other than their love of children. I highly doubt that these parents would object to an annual check-in for the renewal of the funds that they are receiving through taxpayer support

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Marie K. Cohen
About Marie K. Cohen 68 Articles
Marie K. Cohen (MPA, MSW) is a child advocate, researcher, and policy analyst. She worked as social worker in the District of Columbia's child welfare system for five years. She is a member of the Citizen's Review Committee for the DC Child and Family Services Agency and the DC Child Fatality Review Commission and a mentor to a foster youth. Follow her blog at fosteringreform.blogspot.org, on Facebook at Fostering Reform or on Twitter@fosteringreform.