Wednesday, January 27, 2016

U.S. District Court Decision Declares Indiana Did Not Negotiate Adoption Assistance In Compliance with Federal Law


Note: For the full text, click on case name above. When to "Go to  ......"  message appears, click on that.  If you can't locate the case contact me at and I will send you a PDF. copy.

In October, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis ordered the Indiana Department of Child Services to enter into negotiations for adoption assistance with the adopting family based on the needs of the child and circumstances of the family.  The court found that the state agency had failed to do so and therefore failed to comply with federal law.

The decision is significant because the facts of the case are so similar to cases in Ohio.  The family plaintiffs in the case were the foster parents of three severely disabled children. One child received $65.56 per day in foster care payments (about $1,971 per month).  The other two children received payments of $40.08 per day or about $1,219 apiece per month.  The total level of foster payments was $145.72 per day or $4,432 per month.

The state agency proposed only $52 a day in adoption assistance for the three children combined, which the court noted was "less than 36% of the foster care payments and less than the foster care payments that DCS makes for children without special needs."

Instances in which Ohio county agencies propose adoption assistance payments that are 50% or less than the children's foster care payments also are quite common.  Unfortunately, they are most common in cases where the children have severe disabilities and very high levels of care.  Because of the of their extensive care needs such children receive high foster care payments.  When the foster parents proceed to adopt the children, however, they encounter proposals for adoption assistance that are hundreds of dollars less than each child's foster care payment.  The parents' commitment to their children places them in a cruel dilemma.  Accept an inadequate level of adoption assistance or risk losing the children.
The judge in the Indiana federal District Course case made key findings that support the cases of many adoptive families in Ohio.

For years, Ohio parents have cited relevant portions of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual to delineate and define the scope of child's needs and family's circumstances.  The judge in ARTHUR validated authority of the the federal manual by Ohio parents by noting, "to assist with the interpretation of states’ duties under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the Department of Health and Human Services, through its Children’s Bureau, has created the Child Welfare Policy Manual."  The judge cited crucial portions of the the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual in Section 8.2D.4 which address the negotiation of adoption assistance.

The court determined that considering family circumstances included such things as the loss of income after the foster-adoptive mother quit her job to provide adequate care for the children. The family's need for a larger home to accommodate the need for one child to have a room to himself and the corresponding crowding in the family's current residence was also considered a valid concern under the heading of family circumstances.  In the end, the court found that Indiana Department of Child Services

has not taken into account the loss of the family’s income because Ms. Arthur
has been required to leave her employment. It has not taken into account the fact that the family needs to purchase a new home. It has not taken into account the numerous expenses that the three children will incur both currently and in the future.

Indiana is in the same federal region as Ohio.  (Region V).  This federal court case is one of the few decisions I have encountered that addresses, the negotiation of adoption assistance payments.  JULIE ARTHUR and DAVID ARTHUR, Plaintiffs, v. DIRECTOR, CENTRAL ELIGIBILITY UNIT, INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES can be useful in supporting adopting parents' arguments for adoption assistance payments that reflect the needs of the children and their family circumstances, payments that are reasonable close to their children's foster care payment rates.