Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hamilton County’s Approach to Negotiating Adoption Assistance Agreements Shows Promise

In two recent cases, Hamilton County conducted negotiations for Title IV-E adoption assistance in a manner that could stand as a model for Ohio. The agency sends adoptive parents a questionnaire “tool” to start the negotiation process. The questionnaire is not broad enough in scope to cover all the concerns that might fall under a child’s needs and family circumstances.

Unlike other Ohio agencies, however, the questionnaire constituted only a step in the negotiation, not the entire process. The initial amount of adoption assistance offered by the agency was also viewed as a starting point, not the drop dead bottom line, or we will place your children with another family ultimatum, that parents in other counties experience on a fairly regular basis.

When the parties actually met, Monique E. Gregory and other Hamilton County participants were willing to consider a range of concerns raised by the parents including, child care costs, various activities of a social nature and additional expenses incurred by the family designed to better incorporate the child into a permanent family. As a consequence, in two instances, an initial proposal of $350 ended in adoption assistance agreements of over $700 per month, amounts close to the monthly foster care payment.

Priciples Worth Considering

The staff at Hamilton County:

Listened and recognized the validity of the parents’ concerns in-as-much as they
knew the children and their own situations better
than anyone.

Maintained flexibility in agreeing to raise the monthly adoption assistance payment initially proffered in response to the parents concerns about their children’s overall needs and their overall family circumstances.

Recognized that adoptive parents have complete discretion in deciding how best to adoption assistance may be used on behalf of their children.

Recognized that no one, including the parents is silly enough to expect that the family can come close to providing for a special needs child on monthly adoption assistance payments alone. Adoption assistance is intended to serve as an important supplement that when combined with the parents’ resources enables them to continue the sacrifices necessary to “cover the ordinary and special needs of the child projected over an extended period of time," including anticipated needs. (See Section 8.2D.4 of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual). Consequently, Hamilton County seemed to recognize that the primary issue in the negotiation is the following. Considering the child’s overall needs and family circumstances, what is a fair and adequate monthly adoption assistance payment that will enable you to sustain this child in a permanent family?

Appeared committed to reaching a mutually satisfactory adoption assistance agreement.

Negotiation of adoption assistance is governed by federal and state laws, but those laws set forth procedures and guidelines rather than formulas. A successful model of negotiation depends upon a common understanding of the purpose of adoption assistance and a mutual focus on supporting a successful, permanent family for the child. Assuming that the two cases are representative, Hamilton County’s approach to negotiation appears to constitute a promising step toward the process envisioned in state and federal law.

It is of course impossible to evaluate an entire program, particularly one as contentious as the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements on the basis of two cases. Further questions remain. Both of the negotiations in question involved children with somewhat moderate special needs. What happens if the child in question requires a specialized level of foster care? Is Hamilton County willing to negotiate an adoption assistance agreement that reflects the expenses and adjustments associated with a child with exceptional care needs? Nonetheless, Hamilton County’s philosophy and procedures are worthy of additional study in an effort to improve negotiation practice standards across Ohio. Such improvement is sorely needed, as a number of counties routinely ignore federal and state regulations.

Note: Please contact me at if you know of other agencies whose negotiation practices are worth noting and perhaps emulating.