Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Mediation Process, Initial Impressions, 2 Signifcance of Child Welfare Policy Manual

The acceptance of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual by the ODJFS mediators provides adoptive parents with the policy support for citing specific reasons that a certain level of adoption assistance is of crucial importance to the welfare of the children;  Provisions from the Child Welfare Policy Manual can help support the argument that the amount of adoption assistance proposed by the county would place an intolerable burden on their efforts to sustain a permanent family for damaged children, one in which they could grow into normal healthy adults.  The acceptance of the Child Welfare Policy Manual undercuts three common practices invoked by county agencies to justify an insufficient amount of adoption assistance.   
1.  A number of county agencies base their offers of adoption assistance on treatment of the children’s medical, developmental or other conditions, ignoring other needs and the family’s overall circumstances.  

2.  A number of county agencies tell parents that only certain needs may be considered in negotiating adoption assistance.  Ordinary, day to day needs are considered invalid. 

 3.  A number of county agencies pay little attention to the family circumstances that result from raising additional special needs children and impact the parents’ ability to meet those children’s needs.

The federal Child Welfare Policy Manual states that negotiation of adoption assistance should be based on a broad definition of children’s needs and the family’s overall circumstances considered together.  

What is the significance of the mediators’ acceptance of the Child Welfare Policy Manual as the authoritative source for determining federal policy on the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements?

Readers should be aware that in seeking a compromise agreement, mediators will probably not spend much time on policy debates.  That is one major difference between mediations and state administrative hearings where policy issues are often the primary focus. The mediation will focus on the children’s specific  needs and the circumstances of the individual family’s situation.  The mediators will not cite the Child Welfare Manual very much or at all.  

So how can provisions of the Child Welfare Policy Manual be useful to parents?  Relevant sections provide the underlying legal support for the parents' concerns about expenses related to meeting the child’s overall needs and the impact on their family circumstances.  Parents will spend most of their time presenting their children's current and anticipated needs, along with their overall family circumstances, to establish that a certain amount of adoption assistance, combined with family resources is required to address those needs and to sustain a permanent family.  Relevant sections of the Child Welfare policy Manual can be cited to confirm that the parents' concerns and the expenses listed are legitimate and consistent with federal and state law.

a.      Key sections from the Child Welfare Policy Manual can be cited to support the written statements and information that parents submit before the mediation.  For example, consider the passage quoted below which states that the objective of negotiating adoption assistance is to enhance the ability of the family to incorporate a child into a stable and permanent household.  This statement supports the inclusion of ordinary expenses such as food, mortgage payments and utilities, which affect the entire family, including the specific needs of the adopted child.

b.     Although some mediators may claim to be familiar with adoption assistance policy, citing, quoting or paraphrasing relevant sections from the manual can be helpful in situations where the county agency or mediator opposes certain expenses or reasons why the parents are seeking a higher amount of adoption assistance than the county agency has been willing to accept.

As we mentioned previously, it is a important to prepare the mediators by submitting written a information a few days prior to the actual mediation section.  Before specific sections of the Child Welfare Policy Manual to support their reasons for addressing specific needs and making a case for a certain amount of adoption assistance, it is a good idea for parents to confirm the authority of the Child Welfare Policy Manual by including the following statement from the federal Administration for Children and Families, the section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that administers the Title IV-E adoption assistance program. 

The Child Welfare Policy Manual contains mandatory policies that are based in federal law and/or program regulations. It also provides interpretations of federal laws and program regulations initiated by inquiries from state and tribal child welfare agencies or ACF Regional Offices.
As noted in a previous post, this means that OAC rule 5101:2-49-05, which addresses the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements must conform to the relevant sections of the Child Welfare Policy Manual.

Parents can cite sections of the manual to establish that adoption assistance is a supplement that is designed to be combined with the family’s resources in order to enable them to provide for important needs that they might otherwise be unable to afford, given the time and energy required to provide the level of care that the children require.  For example, Question 1 of Section 8.2D.4 of the manual, states,
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.
In another part of Section 8.2D.4. the Child Welfare Policy Manual states,
During the negotiation of an adoption assistance agreement, it is important to keep in mind that the circumstances of the adopting parents and the needs of the child must be considered together. The overall ability of a singular family to incorporate an individual child into the household is the objective.
The parents may also cite Section of the Child Welfare Policy Manual to further support to policy that adoption assistance is not subject to approved and unapproved costs, but “once an adoption assistance agreement is in effect, the parents can spend the subsidy in any way they see fit to incorporate the child into their lives.” 
Taken together, these passages support any number of reasons why the adoptive parents need a higher amount of adoption assistance than that proposed by the county.  

The parents are planning to adopt a sibling group of three, increasing the household size to seven.  The siblings are all of pre-school ages.  The parents may be concerned about providing activities and programs to address anticipated needs as indicated by the children’s backgrounds and certain trends in their development.  The mother is unable to work because of the care needs of three additional children added to those of the two biological children in the home.  The father’s modest salary may raise concerns about basic household needs such as food, mortgage, transportation costs and home heating.  

The adoption assistance payments proposed by the county may be hundreds of dollars less than the children’s foster care payments, placing a severe economic burden on the family and jeopardizing the family’s ability to enroll the children in programs and activities aimed at ameliorating anticipated needs. 

In their written statements, the parents can point to the sections in the Child Welfare Manual that refer to the children’s ordinary and anticipated needs as legitimate topics for negotiation of adoption assistance.  The statement that the objective of negotiating adoption assistance is to support “The overall ability of a singular family to incorporate an individual child into the household . . . . .” can be cited to introduce expenses that impact the entire household, such as heat, the mortgage, food and a vehicle capable of transporting the entire family.

The parents can also add, per the Child Welfare Policy Manual, that they do not expect adoption assistance to cover all of the expenses, they are concerned with, but to supplement the family’s resources to allow them to provide important experiences or meet crucial needs that could not be covered without a certain amount of support. As noted previously, when someone objects to an expense cited by the parents, they can remind the participants of its legal validity by citing a pertinent section of the Child Welfare Policy Manual.  The parents know the children best.  Once again, there are no expenses related to the overall needs of the children and their relationship to the successful incorporation into a permanent family that must be excluded from the negotiation of adoption assistance. 

All of the following needs and situations are legitimate subjects in the mediation process to arrive at an agreement over the amount of adoption assistance.  They can occur separately or in a variety of combinations.

1.   The loss of a job, or quitting a job to meet the extensive care needs of special needs children.  Suppose, for example, the adoptive mother could no longer work outside the home because of the children’s frequent rages and inability to sleep through the night.  The cost of specialized child care is also a legitimate subject for consideration.  Such problems reflect the family's circumstances.

2.  The cost of programs, services, activities, associated with anticipated needs. This situation is more likely with young children, whose problems are becoming more severe.  In the case of various activities or programs such a camps, music, Y membership, scouts or sports, it is helpful to show that they not only “normalize” life for a damaged child, but in doing so have a therapeutic or socialization purpose. Statements from pediatricians, psychologists or other providers are helpful. 

3.  The cost of food, shelter, a family vehicle resulting from the incorporation one or more special needs children into an existing household.  Such expenses not only refer to children's ordinary needs, but to the primary goal of incorporating children into a permanent household that is prepared to nurture their healthy development.

4. The cost of medical, psychological or other treatment services that are not covered completely by Medicaid or private health insurance. Once again statements by health care providers are helpful. Most will write a statement when the parents explain that the purpose is to obtain federal adoption assistance that is designed to help foster positive growth and development within a permanent family.  Parents can ask the health care provider to include the following information:

Describe involvement with child.  What is the problem for which the child is being treated? Diagnosis?

How do the child’s problems present themselves in daily life?  What challenges do the parents face regarding the child’s care needs?  (time, effort and skill)

What is the purpose of the treatment?  What future risks or problems may be anticipated, especially if the treatment is not successful?

Given the child’s background, current and anticipated problems and the family’s circumstances, is it in the child’s best interest to obtain an adequate amount of adoption assistance?

Parents can defend their cost and service concerns by stating they are consistent with Child Welfare Policy Manual’s stipulation that the ultimate objective of adoption assistance negotiations is to support the “overall ability of a singular family to incorporate an individual child into the household.”