Preparing for Mediation; Suggestions
In the previous post, I suggested exploring mediation if your attempts to negotiate adoption assistance are going nowhere. Mediation does not guarantee that the agency will agree to a monthly adoption assistance payment that your child needs, but it may be emerging as a framework for walking the county agencies through the negotiation process. Before requesting mediation, I suggest that parents create a written record in order to contrast their efforts to negotiate with those of the agency.
E-Mail Message to the County Agency
The parents might start sending an e-mail message to the county agency stating that, before requesting mediation, they would like to make another attempt to negotiate an agreement. They might say something like:
In order to arrive at a consensus for productive discussion, we are presenting our understanding of the process for negotiating adoption assistance. Please read the attached statement carefully and inform us of any points of disagreement. Please include the regulations or policies that support your position, so we can attempt to resolve any conflict that impedes an agreement for _________’s adoption assistance.
We are both committed to providing a permanent, loving family for _________ and we hope this will help us to collaborate in her best interest.
I suggest sending an attachment that states your understanding of what federal and state policy have to say about the negotiation process. Here is an example.
Policies and Procedures for Negotiating Adoption Assistance
According to federal and state law, the negotiation of Title IV-E Adoption Assistance should involve a thorough consideration of the child’s needs and family circumstances.
What does it mean to consider the child's needs and the parents'/family's circumstances in negotiating an agreement for Title IV-E Adoption Assistance?
Federal and state law have always required that the child’s needs and parent’s circumstances be considered in reaching an agreement for monthly adoption assistance. Section 8.2D.4, Question 1 of the Child Welfare Policy Manual, stipulates, “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., child care. Anticipation and discussion of these needs are part of the negotiation of the amount of the adoption assistance payment. (Emphasis added).
What can we conclude from the above quote?
a. Adoption assistance is a supplement to be combined with the parent’s resources. As a supplement, adoption assistance is intended to become a part of the adoptive family’s overall budget.
b. Incorporating and sustaining a child in a permanent family includes the challenge of meeting “ordinary and special needs” and “anticipated” as well as current needs. This guidance makes sense because it addresses the overall concerns of parents raising a child.
c. Unlike other federal and state benefit programs, adoption assistance is not intended to cover specified categories of expenses. Adoption assistance has a broader purpose. What kind of supplemental support will enable you, to provide a family for this special needs child? Addressing this question obviously includes consideration of the child’s ordinary daily needs.
What does consideration of the child’s needs and parent’s circumstances together mean?
The discussion of a child’s ordinary and special needs takes us to the consideration of the parent’s (family’s) circumstances. What does that mean? Let us examine a second provision, appearing in Question 3 of Section 8.2.D.4 of the Child Welfare Policy Manual dealing the negotiation of adoption assistance
Question 3 in Section 8.2D.4 the federal manual, emphasizes the inclusion of the adoptive parent’s (family’s) circumstances as part of the negotiation of an agreement for a monthly adoption assistance payment. ”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. Families with the same incomes or in similar circumstances will not necessarily agree on identical types or amounts of assistance. The uniqueness of each child/family situation may result in different amounts of payment. Consistency is not the goal.
Implications for Practice
Here are a few basic conclusions and implications for practice.
1. The adoptive parents and public agency should negotiate with a common goal clearly in mind, namely, “The overall ability of a singular family to incorporate an individual child into the household.”
2. The circumstances of the specific family provides the context for discussion of how the ordinary and special needs of the child can be addressed.
3. It follows then, that the parent’s (family’s) circumstances include consideration of adjustments and sacrifices the parents make to incorporate and sustain a child in a nurturing family. Some of the more obvious ones are:
· Giving up work outside the home or reducing work hours in order to provide for a child’s extensive care needs. Adoption assistance is limited to the child’s foster care maintenance payment rate and certainly cannot replace full time employment, but as a supplement it can enable an adoptive family to make the adjustments necessary to care for their special needs child.
· In the case of a single adoptive parent, identifying and paying for child care, after school activities or summer programs that reflect he child’s specialized care needs, while parents works.
4. In negotiating adoption assistance, the parties must consider the child’s care needs through the lens of the parent’s particular circumstances. Remember, the purpose of adoption assistance was and is to increase the pool of suitable parents by enabling adults from a range of economic conditions to provide permanent homes for special needs children.
The Foster Care Payment and the Maximum Amount of Adoption Assistance
Does the Child’s foster care payment rate set the maximum for monthly adoption assistance? Does [Agency Name] Agree? If not, what is the basis of the agency’s disagreement?
This last point is particularly applicable to Ohio, which has no uniform statewide foster care or adoption assistance payment rate schedules. As we will explain, the “Maximum Statewide Adoption Assistance Payment” of $1,166 per month is not a statewide adoption assistance payment schedule in any normal sense of the term. As discussed previously, the child's foster care payment rate sets the maximum amount of monthly adoption assistance.
Is the foster care rate that sets the maximum adoption assistance payment always the payment the child received before adoption or does it become the foster care rate adopted child would receive if he or she were placed in foster care after the adoption?
Since a child’s needs and a family’s circumstances change over time, the maximum adoption assistance payment that can be re-negotiated is the foster care payment that the child would receive were she placed in a foster home at the time a request for an amendment to the adoption assistance agreement is made. OAC 5101:2-49-05 (E) states: “The maximum amount of the monthly AA payment shall not exceed the current cost of the monthly foster care maintenance (FCM) payment that was paid or would have been paid by the PCSA if the child had been placed in a foster home. “
From the beginning, federal and state law have allowed amendments to previous adoption assistance agreements based on changes in the child’s needs and/or family circumstances. OAC 5101:2-49-12 (B) spells this out. If the maximum adoption assistance payment was not tied to the foster care rate the adopted child would have received were she placed in foster care, amending the adoption assistance agreement would be impossible in many instances.
Example: Suppose a child with modest special needs was receiving an adoption assistance payment of $400 per month. Over the next three years, serious developmental problems emerged great increasing her level of care and causing her adopted mother to quit her job. The child would receive a special foster care payment of $1,000 per month if she were placed in a foster home consistent with her care needs. If the maximum amount of adoption assistance were tied to the prior foster care payment rate of $400 a month, negotiated an increase in adoption assistance would be impossible.
Grounds for a Higher Monthly Adoptive Assistance Payment than the Amount Proposed by [Agency Name]. Areas of Non-Compliance
Because [Agency Name] did not comply with federal state requirements for negotiating an adoption assistance agreement for [child’s name], the amount proposed by the agency does not reflect her needs and our family circumstances. We seek to re-open discussions with the agency, in accordance with the required policies and procedures set forth in federal and state law.
NOTE: Customize to fit your individual situation. Discuss those that apply. Here is where you present the reasons why the agency’s proposal for adoption assistance does not meet the requirements for negotiation and as result does not reflect your child’s needs and family circumstances
[Agency Name] established a (specialized, therapeutic) foster care payment rate that reflected (child’s name) care needs. Although the child’s needs and our family circumstances have changed, the agency has proposed a monthly adoption assistance payment that falls (explain). The agency has not provided an adequate reason.
[Agency Name] has failed to consider adjustments in our family circumstances we have made in order to meet (name) extensive care needs. [ Explain services, expenses designed to address specific provides, along with changes adjustments in family circumstances such as quitting a job, or extensive travel or child care. The idea is to present the programs, services activities that you are providing or anticipate providing to address the child’s problems, along with the adjustments and sacrifices you make to meet the child’s care needs.
[Agency Name] has threatened to look for another family if we do not accept the amount of adoption assistance proposed by the agency. Such action would not only violate the agency’s commitment to _________’s best interest, but would interfere with our rights to negotiate and appeal adverse decisions under the federal law pertaining to Title IV-E Adoption Assistance.
Next: The Agency’s Response and Request for Mediation