NEXT: Wednesday September 3, Beginning of Series on Negotiating the Amount of Adoption Assistance
If relatives or other prospective adoptive parents assume custody or guardianship of a child, will they experience obstacles in obtaining adoption assistance?
Yes, unless the child is determined eligible for SSI prior to finalization. (See Part 2 of this series on SSI and eligibility for Title IV-E adoption assistance and Part 5,question 2). Relatives and other caregivers who may adopt should not assume custody or guardianship if they might need support from adoption assistance.
Although federal adoption assistance law does not actually address custody as an eligibility issue. Most states regulations require that the child be in the custody of a public or private agency prior to the petition for adoption in order to qualify for adoption assistance.
Agencies should inform caregivers about barriers to adoption assistance posed by assumption of custody or guardianship, but sometimes fail to do so. OAC adoption assistance rule 5101:2-49-02 requires agency custody as an eligibility requirement for non-SSI eligible children. If caregivers with custody apply for adoption assistance. the public agency will deny eligibility by asserting that the caregivers are engaged in a non-agency or independent adoption, even if all of the other requirements are met.
Is there anything that can be done to qualify for adoption assistance once relatives or prospective adoptive parents have obtained temporary custody or guardianship of a child who they may wish to adopt?
Yes, if the child has special needs, you should explore the possibility of SSI eligibility as path to adoption assistance. For SSI eligible children, agency custody is not an issue. Another possibility is contacting the children’s Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to discuss the importance of obtaining adoption assistance and the obstacle that stands in the way.
The GAL may be able to contact the local judge and agency to stress that support through adoption assistance is in the child’s best interest. In order to meet eligibility standards, the GAL should propose that the public agency should petition the court for permanent custody and “place” the child with the current caregivers. Alternatively, the public agency could take a permanent surrender from the birth parents. In either case, the agency should also petition the court for a judicial determination to the effect that remaining in the home is contrary to the child’s welfare or that placement of the child with the prospective adoptive parents is in his or her best interest. (See Part 2 of this series on Basic Eligibility Requirements for a discussion of the judicial determination requirement).