In Ohio, over 70% of
children adopted from the foster care system are adopted by their foster
parents. Over 90%
are eligible for adoption assistance.
When it comes to negotiating the amount of adoption assistance, however,
these adoptive parents usually encounter strong opposition if they propose an
adoption subsidy equal to that of the child’s foster care payment rate. The higher the child’s foster care rate, the
stronger the opposition by the county agency.
Foster parents adopting children with extraordinary levels of care are
often confronted with demands by the agency for an adoption assistance
agreement that is less than half of the child’s foster care payment rate.
In practice, Ohio’s
adoption assistance program discriminates against children with the most
serious problems. The following example captures
the very real patterns of discrimination.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith become
the foster parents of three-year-old Emma. Based on her extraordinary levels of care, the
agency makes foster home payments of $2,000 per month.
Like many foster parents,
the Smiths are people of modest means.
In order to address Emma’s extensive
care needs, Mrs. Smith leaves her job as a teacher to become a full-time
caregiver. With one income, the Smiths
must manage the family budget carefully, but manage to get by and provide for
specialized and ordinary needs.
In supervising the foster
care placement, the agency is quite familiar with the Smith’s situation. Two
years and three months after placement with the Smiths, the court grants the
agency permanent custody of Emma. The
Smiths have developed a strong emotional bond with Emma and strong commitment
to becoming her permanent family through adoption. The agency actively encourages the Smiths to
proceed with the adoption.
Emma is clearly eligible
for federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance.
As noted previously, federal and state law require that the agency and
parents negotiate a written adoption assistance agreement. The agreements contain provisions for monthly
adoption assistance payments and Medicaid coverage that follows the child. Federal regulations require that adoption
assistance agreements be completed before the final decree of adoption, unless extenuating
circumstances prevented the adoptive parents from completing an adoption
assistance agreement before finalization of the adoption.
The agency contacts the
Smiths and proposes an adoption assistance payment of $1,000. The agency does not invite the Smiths to meet
and essentially tell their story about how they plan to address Emma’s care
needs and the adjustments they must make.
After consulting with an advocate, they send the agency an e-mail
stressing the importance of a comprehensive discussion and cite the federal
Child Welfare Policy Manual, which contains authoritative interpretations of
federal law. The Smiths include the
the amount of the
adoption assistance payment is determined through the discussion and
negotiation process between the adoptive parents and a representative of the
title IV-E 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., childcare. Anticipation and discussion of these needs
are part of the negotiation of the amount of the adoption assistance payment.
Mrs. Smith points out that the decision to
resign from her teaching position is a paradigm example of family
circumstances. She tells the agency that
no one expects the adoption assistance to replace a full-time salary or cover
all of costs. The Smiths contend that
adoption assistance is a supplement that, when added to their existing family
resources, can enable them to address specialized needs without putting a
strain on the family’s ability to sustain ordinary, daily needs.
The agency refuses to
recognize the family circumstances as a major issue in determining a sufficient
amount of adoption assistance. The
Smiths are told that the agency has never gone over $1,000 per month
From the messages
received, the Smiths realize that,
- The agency “negotiator” is not authorized to enter into an agreement without permission from his superiors
- Whether consciously or not, the agency is taking advantage of the Smiths unbreakable love and commitment to Emma.