Thursday, August 6, 2009

Adoption Assistance: The Need for a Statewide Communication Network

The Need for a Communication Network

In the wake of budget cuts to adoption assistance programs, we must establish an effective statewide communication network. County agencies have been sending adoptive parents letters requesting that they consider a voluntary reduction in their Title IV-E adoption assistance benefits. So far, the position that existing adoption assistance benefits cannot be automatically reduced unless the parents agree appears to be accepted. The federal Adminstration for Children and Families and federal courts have recognized adoption assistance agreements as contracts that cannot be automatically altered. Please contact me at if you receive a notice informing you that the county plans to reduce your adoption assistance benefits whether your consent or not. In such cases, contact the ODJFS Bureau of State Hearings imediately and request a hearing.

If you receive a letter asking you to voluntarily accept a cut in adoption assistance, the choice is up to you. If you disagree, I would suggest an e-mail or letter informing the county that the adoption assistance agreement is a contract that cannot be altered except by mutual consent. You can add that after considering your child's needs and family circumstances it would not be in their interest to reduce the level of support. Accordingly, you are rejecting the request to amend the adoption assistance agreement and reduce the adoption assistance benefit.

Negotiations of future adoption assistance agreements after September 1, 2009.

Adoption assistance agreements must still be determined by negotiation based on a consideration of the needs of the child and circumstances of the family.

In an Administrative Appeal Decision, rendered on May 14, 2009, the reviewer, a member of the ODJFS’s legal services staff, cited the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual on three separate occasions. (See Docket Number: AA-3952, Appeal No(s) 1477168 IVE). The most striking quote was taken from Section 8.2D.4 of the Child Welfare Policy Manual with addresses the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements. The first sentence reads as follows: “Title IV-E adoption assistance is not based upon a standard schedule of itemized needs and countable income.”

The quotation in the recent Administrative Appeal decision continues:

"Instead, the amount of the adoption assistance payment is determined through the discussion and negotiation process between the adoptive parents and a representative of the State agency based upon the needs of the child and the circumstances of the family. The payment that is agreed upon should combine with the parents' resources to cover the ordinary and special needs of the child projected over an extended period of time and should cover anticipated needs, e.g., child care. Anticipation and discussion of these needs are part of the negotiation of the amount of the adoption assistance payment.
The circumstances of the adopting parents must be considered together with the needs of the child when negotiating the adoption assistance agreement.

Consideration of the circumstances of the adopting parents has been interpreted by the Department to pertain to the adopting family's capacity to incorporate the child into their household in relation to their lifestyle, standard of living and future plans, as well as their overall capacity to meet the immediate and future needs (including educational) of the child. This means considering the overall ability of the family to incorporate an individual child into their household. Families with the same incomes or in similar circumstances will not necessarily agree on identical types or amounts of assistance. The uniqueness of each child/family situation may result in different amounts of payment."

The Administrative Appeal Decision was signed by the Head of the ODJFS Office of Legal Services as well as the reviewer. This decision is significant because it recognizes the authority of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual to clarify the meaning of Ohio rules.

Please contact me if the agency refuses to negotiate in accordance with the criteria quoted above. Remember that the federal financial participation rate is currently 68.34% of each adoption assistance payment. The county’s non federal share is now 31.66%. Traditionally, the federal participation rate was around 60% and the non-federal share was about 40%. After September 1, 2009, the county agencies will have to provide the non federal share of each dollar in IV-E adoption assistance above $225 per month. On the other hand, the county’s share of the cost is significantly lower than it used to be prior to April 2009.