Monday, April 9, 2012

What's Wrong with Adoption Assistance in Ohio?; The First in a Series

Through the advocacy of adoptive parents, significant improvements have been made in the federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance program over the past two decades. Not surprisingly, the advocacy of better informed adoptive parents has exposed severe weaknesses in the operation of the adoption assistance program. The forthcoming series of blogs will profile some of the major problems and urge adoptive parents to contact administrators at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), legislators and the Governor's Office. Serious defects include:
  • Inconsistent hearing decisions. Adoptive assistance is different and far more complicated that other assistance programs administered by ODJFS. Adoption assistance hearings account for a very small proportion of all hearings in any given month. A number of hearing officers have very little knowledge of adoption assistance and their ignorance of the program is clearly revealed in their hearing decisions. The source of the problems is not so much the individual hearing officers as the complete lack of training provided on the complexities of adoption assistance and how to address them.
  • A large number of county agencies do not comply with federal and state criteria and procedures for the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements. Adoptive parents, are routinely and incorrectly told, for example, that adoption assistance is limited to costs associated with the treatment of a child's special needs. Expenses associated with the activities and function of families in general are not considered. This view is completely at odds with current state and federal policy and is major source of conflict between adoptive parents and agencies.
  • Adoption parents frequently prevail in hearing decisions pertaining to negotiation. The hearing decision orders the county agency to negotiate and sometimes sets conditions. At this point, the parents often face a combination of passive resistance, active resistance, delays, obfuscation that stretches out the process for months. In several cases, a second hearing on the same issue is necessary. ODJFS is aware of this problem of cases dragging on and on, but has developed no ideas for resolving negotiations. Oh, I neglected to mention that during these interminable cases, adoptions are also delayed. Parents are typically blamed for the delays in finalizing the adoption.
  • There is a lack of experience in adoption assistance at ODJFS. Administering a program involves much more than looking at isolated phrases in state rules. One must have a knowledge of the program's history, and its goals. In addition to knowing how policy issues have been interpreted, one has to know how compliance with eligibility requirements and other rules are documented or verified. At present, there is no consistent guidance on how policy issues must be implemented or documented. The ADC-Relatedness requirement for Title IV-E adoption assistance eligibility is a prime example.

We will examine these problems in greater detail in forthcoming blogs. One point has become abundantly clear. Parents called to adopt special needs children are taken for granted in Ohio. Most special needs children are adopted by their foster parents. Once an emotional bond is established, these foster parents become completely committed to the children. Unfortunately, county agencies take full advantage of this bond and use it to push for minimal amounts of adoption assistance. Throughout the process, the parents' advocacy is demeaned and the needs of the children minimized. ODJFS becomes complicit through the failure to provide effective training guidance and oversight.