Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Mediation Process, Initial Impressions, 3 Family Costs and the Need for Adoption Assistance

Earlier, we said that the mediation would focus on the family budget in an attempt to determine if the amount of adoption assistance proposed by the county agency was an adequate amount.  At first glance, this approach appears inconsistent with the rule forbidding the employment of means tests to determine the amount of adoption assistance.  It also seems at odds with the statement in Section 8.2D.4 of the Child Welfare Policy Manual which states, Title IV-E adoption assistance is not based upon a standard schedule of itemized needs . . . . “
Although we may be getting into a bit of a gray area, one could argue that creating a portrait of a family’s overall situation captures the children’s needs and family circumstances and sheds light on the family’s ability to incorporate special needs adopted children into a permanent household by presenting such things as:
  • The monthly costs associated with meeting the adoptive children's current and anticipated needs.  Such cost might include specific services, activities, lessons, experiences and the associated expenses such as transportation. 
  • The ordinary monthly costs necessary to sustain a permanent household for the children, including such expenses as food, mortgage payments, transportation, utilities, and various activities.  Note: a number of household expenses cannot be easily subdivided among individual family members.  Since adoption assistance is a supplement that is to be combined with the family’s resources, it can enable families to meet ordinary expenses and those associated with the particular special needs of the adopted children, which they might not be able to afford without the additional support.
  • The loss of resources due to meeting the children’s care needs instead of working outside the home

One could even include the family’s monthly income. It would not comprise a means test because the mediators are looking at the whole range of children’s needs and family circumstances.  The detailed portrait of the family’s situation can then be examined in light of the children’s foster care payment rates and the amount of adoption assistance the county agency has proposed.  
Such a comprehensive picture gives the mediators some idea about the adequacy of the proposed adoption assistance payments to enable the family to incorporate special needs children into a permanent household capable of fostering the children’s healthy growth and development.  Although mediation is not binding on the parties, if the gap between the family’s monthly expenses and the family’s resources, including the proposed adoption assistance payments is significant, it provides the mediators the opportunity to try and convince the parties to reach an agreement for a more adequate amount of adoption assistance.  

Suppose a family’s monthly budget including the current and anticipated needs of the three adopted children was $5,300 per month for a household of 6.  The adoptive mother quit her job because the two adopted children required extensive care and supervision as well as trips to doctors,and various therapeutic programs.  The father takes home $3,300 per month.  The agency has refused to agree to any adoption assistance payments beyond $400 per child, per month.  The children’s foster care payments were each $800.  The parents expect the shortfall to grow as the adopted children show signs of more significant developmental and behavior problems.  The children's doctors and other professionals have stated that an increase in the severity of the children's problems is likely to occur based on their backgrounds and existing current patterns. 

In such a situation, the discussion at the mediation meeting might revolve around the amount of adoption assistance which would relieve the family’s economic burden and help them to not only incorporate the adopted children into a permanent family, but to provide services, and activities that would promote the adopted children’s healthy growth and development.  

An Example of a monthly estimate of family costs 
The following example offers some guidance on submitting monthly family expenses.  The categories are meant as suggestions.  If parents can think of a way of identifying expenses that better captures their particular situation, then by all means use it.  I suggest that you use the policy references and comparative totals as a cover sheet.  Try to use a somewhat “typical” month, but you can choose a month in which expenses were above average, as long as they are not way beyond the norm.  If certain expenses occur annually or semi-annually, you can always divide them by 12, or 6 or whatever is appropriate.
Send a completed copy of the monthly family cost estimate to the mediator a few days before the mediation session and keep a copy for discussion. 

Monthly Estimated Cost of Care for

We are presenting this cost breakdown to:

1. Present a picture of _________  and ___________ cost of care along and our family circumstances which affects our ability to incorporate them into a permanent capable of maximizing their growth and development.  

2.  To illustrate that we do not expect adoption assistance to cover all of his needs.  We expect adoption assistance to function as a modest, adequate supplement that combined with our family resources will enable to integrate ________  and _________into a healthy, happy permanent home.

Legal and Policy Support

OAC 5101:2-49-05
The monthly AA payment amount should combine with the adoptive parent(s) resources and circumstances of the adoptive family and shall provide for the special and anticipated needs of the child projected over an extended period of time.

Ohio Title IV-E adoption assistance rules are based upon provisions of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual. According to the federal Administration for Children and Families

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.

The Child Welfare Policy Manual is used as a guide in the ODJFS mediation process established on July 1, 2014.
Federal and state law states, adoption assistance should “combine with the parents' resources to cover the ordinary and special needs of the child projected over an extended period of time. . . “   The children’s needs impact the family’s circumstances and vice versa.  As Section 8.2D.4 of the federal 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.    

Total  Average Monthly Costs: _______________________________.

Average Loss of Monthly Family Resources Due to Changes in Family Circumstances: ________________.   (Here put any losses in family resources.  The most common being quitting a job to provide extensive care for special needs adopted children)

Average Monthly Income: _______________________________________.  (Gross and Net)

Average Monthly Income combined with County’s proposal of $ ___________ in Adoption Assistance per month, per child:_________________________________.  (If applicable)

Average Monthly Income combined with the foster care payments $___________ per child, per day or about ______________ per child, per month: ______________________.  (If applicable)

Specific Expenses - List specific, items, services, programs and costs under appropriate category

Expenses Addressing Children’s Special Needs: Things like therapy, services not covered by Medicaid or insurance.  You can include specific recreation, sports, music, camps, lessons, activities if you feel that they have a therapeutic or socialization purpose. If not put them in the ordinary category.  Also specialized child care and transportation costs to services.  Specify or estimate the monthly cost of each item or expense. If it is has therapeutic or socialization goals, mention them. 

Anticipated Expenses: Things that you want to provide for the children based on future needs.  If possible explain the anticipated needs in terms of a doctor, therapist or educator or some other professional’s conclusions.  Things related to the children’s health, medical, developmental, educational or psychological problems.  Identify each item or expense and specify or estimate the monthly cost of each.  If you cannot estimate the expense even in general terms, just list the service, program, therapy or procedure that is anticipated

Ordinary Family Expenses: Here you can include food, clothing, heat, utilities, mortgage, the need for a larger vehicle, school expenses, transportation and other things that you are aware of that may place a burden on the family budget.  Certain expenses are for the entire family and can’t be easily divided among individual members.  In those cases put down the entire monthly cost.  The justification is the objective of negotiating adoption assistance is “the overall ability of a singular family to incorporate an individual child into the household.”  The impact on the family of incorporating additional special needs children into the household meeting their overall needs is a legitimate topic for negotiation.  Identify each item or expense and specify or estimate the monthly cost of each.

Family Circumstances: This is more of a case of family situations that reduce family resources such as one parent giving up work outside the home, loss of a job by the primary earner, illness, injury to a parent or other factors that strain or reduce the family resources.  Adoption assistance won't compensate for a loss of wages or a salary, but it will help parents to make the necessary sacrifices and adjustments to sustain a successful adoption.  Explain the loss of family resources.  If it is due to the time and energy required to meet the children’s details, give them a little narrative about a day or two in your life.

Add the cost of each item or expenses and put the monthly total above in the space allotted.  Subtract losses due to various family circumstances.  Use the policy citations up to and including the “Average Monthly Income combined with the foster care payments” as a cover sheet preceding the more detailed expenses.

In order to reach an agreement, Mediators see if the county is willing to increase its proposed amount of adoption assistance and the if the parents are willing to come down from the children’s monthly foster care rates.  It might be helpful for parents to remind the Mediators that federal and state funding cover the entire first $250 in adoption assistance per child per month.  For every additional amount above $250 federal funding covers 62.64%. of the cost up to the child’s foster care payment rate and county agencies $37.53% in federal 2016 which extends to September 30, 2016.  

For example

Monthly                                                          Monthly County Cost
Adoption Assistance                                        (37.53% of any amount of
Payment                                                         Adoption Assistance over $250                                                            


Parents can use the county’s actual monthly cost, for example, to argue that a modest investment of $168.12 per child per month would provide $700 in adoption assistance.  For adoptive families of modest incomes a few hundred dollars more in adoption assistance can make a crucial difference in the family’s ability to provide services, activities and experiences to enhance the growth and development of a special needs child, while still meeting the child’s ordinary basic needs. 

This post primarily focuses on the negotiation of the initial adoption assistance agreement.  In the next post, we will consider additional issues involved in the negotiation of an increase in the adoption assistance payments.