Foolish or Flawed? The Federal Adoption Incentives Program

In 1997, in response to the growing crisis of older children languishing away in, and aging out of, foster care, President Clinton created the Federal Adoption Incentives Program which is an annual performance bonus awarded to states that facilitate the most adoptions of children out of the foster care system.

The amount of the award would be calculated based on the type of adoption facilitated and the change in numbers from 2007 to the current year.

  • $4,000 for overall adoptions of foster youth
  • $4,000 for foster youth that were identified as “special needs”
  • $8,000 for foster youth between ages 9 and 18 years old.

To determine the amount of the bonus the state would receive, 2007 numbers would be compared to the current years numbers and the difference would be multiplied by the dollar amount shown above.

For example: Let’s say Missouri successfully facilitated 150 adoptions out of the foster care system in 2007.  Let’s also say in 2013 Missouri successfully facilitated 206 adoptions out of the foster care system. That is a difference of 56 adoptions more. Multiply 56 by $4,000 for a total of $224,000 in extra bonuses the state of Missouri would be awarded by the federal government.

While this program was created with good intentions, studies have shown that there has been no improvement of the rates of older children adopted out of the foster care system versus younger children. This also may have unwittingly created incentives for caseworkers, whether knowingly or not, to place “easy to adopt” children into state care.

While the system was put into place to encourage permanency in the life of children – ultimately adoption of all children in foster care, what it did instead was create performance bonuses for social workers based on the number of adoptions they facilitated, even if those types of adoptions were in high demand; infants.

While there is a crisis in the foster care system for orphans aged nine and older, the most adoptable age of a child is a year or younger. Newborns are next to impossible to adopt from the foster care system unless you are a foster family in waiting or willing to take on a sibling group. This is because newborns and infants are not in need of anyone willing to adopt them – dozens of people are willing and ready, especially if the baby has minimal special needs.

Because infants are so easily adopted out of the system, it would make sense that performance bonuses would be much easier to attain with infants and children under a year of age than older children – even though the incentive for older children is double what the incentive for overall youth is.

While the system was put into place to encourage permanency in the life of children – ultimately adoption of all children in foster care, what it did instead was create performance bonuses for social workers based on the number of adoptions they facilitated, even if those types of adoptions were in high demand; infants.

In 2014 it looked like the government acknowledged that this incentive program was failing. Statistically older children were still in the system and no closer to permanency than they had been 17 years prior. They proposed a new bill – a bipartisan effort – to address these issues.

“If monetary awards are still being given for infant adoption and infant adoption is the easiest type of adoption to facilitate, is the motivation to unnecessarily remove infants from their families still an issue?”

Instead of the old categories of performance awards, H.R. 4980 would create new categories of incentives as follows:

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

The thought process behind this was that there were now incentives for guardianships and not just successful adoptions. The name was effectively changed to “Adoption and Legal Guardianship Incentive Payments Program.” The final bill, can be read by clicking the hyperlink (will open in a new window).

While it was great to finally have legal guardianship included in a monetary incentive program for states to push permanency on social workers for foster youth, the question remains, “If monetary awards are still being given for infant adoption and infant adoption is the easiest type of adoption to facilitate, is the motivation to unnecessarily remove infants from their families still an issue?”

Let’s do a comparison. Indiana has implemented it’s own bill in regards to mandatory cord blood testing upon birth of infants delivered in Indiana hospitals (more on this in the next post). The law let’s the hospitals make up their own policies on drug testing as long as it is within the guidelines set forth.

According to a journal published in 2011 by the NCBI, false-positives aren’t rare. Indiana’s law allows for toxicology screens (without permission from mom) of cord blood for the following reasons, at the hospital’s discretion:

  • No prenatal care
  • Late or limited prenatal care
  • Suspicious maternal behavior consistent with drug use
  • Unexplained placental abruption
  • Preterm labor of no obvious cause
  • Intrauterine growth retardation of no obvious cause
  • Previous known drug or alcohol issue
  • Unexplained intrauterine fetal demise
  • Fetal heart rate or uterine contraction pattern consistent with a hypertonic or hypercontractile uterus

There are many vast explanations for most of the issues above that no obvious cause would be found. In Indiana they will all allow a hospital to drug test mom and baby via cord blood (which can go back up to five months in pregnancy), without mom’s permission. If the result is positive, regardless of the many studies indicating that false positives are not rare, the local child protection agency will launch an investigation and is able to place the infant in protective services. If mom is battling any other ailments, such as Postpartum Depression, this will further complicate her case with child services.

It is not necessary to provide any incentive for infant adoptions. The demand is too high.

In fiscal year 2015. Indiana received $1,830,000 in federal performance awards for facilitating adoptions and/or guardianships from foster care. In comparison, Wisconsin, who has some of the most family-preservation focused adoption laws and no law in regards to formal drug testing of at-risk mothers without permission, received only $49,015 in federal performance awards. Is there a correlation between Indiana’s law on drug testing cord blood and their high award?

In summary, the policy of the federal government providing monetary incentives to states to facilitate infant adoptions, no matter how many other monetary incentives exist for other types of adoptions, may do the opposite of what is intended. While infants are still in high demand, without enough to meet that demand, providing monetary awards for facilitating their adoptions does not help older children who are stuck in the system or at risk of aging out. It is not necessary to provide any incentive for infant adoptions. The demand is too high. Additionally, incentives (that include newborns and infants adoptions) may inadvertently and negatively influence social workers to remove babies from the care of their parents for erroneous reasons thereby creating orphans to gain monetary awards while fulfilling the demand of hopeful adoptive parents.

To see each state’s incentive award please visit the following link: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/adoption_incentive_history.pdf

 

3 thoughts on “Foolish or Flawed? The Federal Adoption Incentives Program

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