Friday, December 27, 2019

Submitting Testimony on Problems with Counties in Obtaining Adoption Assistance to DeWine Advisory Council

Governor Mike DeWine succeeded in getting the Ohio General Assembly to double state funding for foster care.  Unfortunately, I have seen no signs of a change in county agency practices with respect to "negotiating" adoption assistance.  Agencies appear to be continuing the practice of aggressively pushing for adoption assistance payments that are significantly lower than individual children's family foster care maintenance payment rates.

The Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, created through Executive Order 2019-27D, has been holing a series of Foster Care Forums around the state.  Adoption is mentioned as an invited topic.  Go to

There, you will be invited to submit written testimony or to register to attend a forum in person.  Adoption Assistance does not seem to constitute a burning topic for the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, but you have nothing to lose by submitting horror stories involving the attempt to negotiate agreements for adequate adoption assistance payments if that has been your experience.
I submitted the remarks below to individual members Advisory Council.

You can submit testimony to them directly and/or send it in the space provided on the web site.  Please submit you own stories, but feel free to use any portions of the following remarks or the previous blog
post if you find them helpful.

Major Deficiencies in Ohio’s Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program and Some Modest
                                   Suggestions for Reform


The following outlines some of the multiple deficiencies in Ohio’s federal Title IV-E adoption assistance program, which simply does not work.  Adoption assistance is my area of expertise.  The opioid epidemic has obviously plunged Ohio’s entire child welfare system into crisis.  The system is overwhelmed with finding caregivers for children removed from their homes because their parents’ drug abuse.  The reunification of children with their biological parents has been made more difficult by widespread drug abuse.  Increasing numbers of children will not return home.  Their parent’s rights will be terminated, and county agencies will look for permanent homes through adoption and/or placement with relatives.

The need for adoptive families will be greater than ever.  Provision for federal Title IV-E adoption assistance is crucial to meeting the demand for suitable adoptive parents from a wide range of economic situations.   Adoption assistance is not a replacement for a family’s resources.  Rather it is a supplement that, when combined with family resources, is designed to enable parents to incorporate a special needs child or children into a permanent nurturing family.

As always, inadequate funding is at the heart of the problem.  On the other hand, appalling deficiencies in expertise, education, training, guidance, and supervision can be successfully addressed at very little cost.  I am forwarding a recent report by the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman’s office.  Colorado has a county administered child welfare system like Ohio’s and suffers from many of the same problems.  (See Attached Document).

Deficiencies of Ohio’s County Administered Child Welfare System and the Negative Impact on the Federal IV-E Adoption Assistance Program and the Special Needs Children It Is Supposed to Serve

Ohio maintains a county administered, state supervised child welfare system, which results in widely inconsistent practices, knowledge of federal and state policy and procedures by county children services agencies.  There are no statewide payment schedules for foster care support or adoption assistance. 

As a consequence, there are substantial inequities in levels of support foster care support and adoption assistance among Ohio counties.  To a considerable degree, the level of foster care payments and
adoption assistance is determined by geography. 

Federal State and Local Financial Participation in Foster Care Payments and Adoption Assistance

Federal financial participation (FFP) in adoption assistance and foster care varies slightly from year to year. The FFP rates for Federal Fiscal Year 2020, extending from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020 will be 63.02%.   The non-federal state and county financial participation rates will be 36.98%   

By law, county agencies are required to provide foster care services.  Accordingly, county agencies must provide non-federal matching funds  for each federal foster care payment. 

Federal funding for adoption assistance is available up to the rate of payment the child receives or would receive in a foster home.  Most children adopted from the public foster care system are adopted by their foster parents.  County agencies are responsible for the non-federal portion of adoption assistance payments above $250 per month.  Vitually foster children all are considered to be special needs.

Problem: Many Ohio county agencies are uninformed about federal and state policies and procedures pertaining to adoption assistance and fail to administer the program in compliance with those policies and procedures.


1.     County agencies’ failures to negotiate adoption assistance agreements in compliance with federal and state policy, result in pressure on the adoptive parents to accept inadequate levels of support that may be less than half or even one third of the foster care payments, which were actually established by the county agencies.   

      This common practice places the adoptive parents in a cruel dilemma; accept an inadequate level of adoption assistance placing their child’s needs at risk; or contest the agency’s proposal by relying on an appeal system that does not resolve the contested issue.  Agencies often to pressure adoptive parents to accept their proposed adoption assistance payment by threatening to place their child with another family, despite the strong emotional bond that has developed between foster parent and child.

2.      ODJFS has not provided comprehensive guidance on the purpose of the adoption assistance program or training on policies and procedures for interacting with adoptive parents. This deficit is most glaring in providing direction on procedures for negotiating the amount of adoption assistance.

a.       Throughout its history, the federal government has administered the Title IV-E adoption assistance program through policy issuances  that are now consolidated and updated in the online Child Welfare Policy Manual.  Although ODJFS references the Child Welfare Policy Manual in certain instances, it has not taken steps to inform county agencies and hearing officers the federal manual is the most authoritative source for the interpretation of federal adoption assistance law.  When informed adoptive parents cite specific provisions of the Child Welfare Policy Manual to advocate for their children, county agencies and hearing officers often refuse to accept their validity.   

b.            Due to a lack of comprehensive policy clarification and training, county agencies routinely convey false and misleading information to adoptive parents regarding the criteria for negotiating the amount of adoption assistance. 

c.             Sections of the Child Welfare Policy Manual can be used as a resource for developing models for the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements between parents and county agencies.  There has been no effort to develop such models for negotiation.

d.            Adoptive parents have the right to appeal adverse decisions by county agencies, including the denial of the parents’ request for a certain amount of adoption assistance.  County agencies often do not provide “adequate notice” of appeal rights as required by federal and state law.

e.             Adoptive parents may elect to try mediation before exercising their right to a state administrative hearing.  The mediation team at ODJFS, however, is not adequately informed about the IV-E adoption assistance program.  In some mediation meetings adoptive parents have been pressured to comply with the county agency’s position on the amount of adoption assistance, even when it was hundreds of dollars below what the adoptive parents’ believed was adequate to meeting their child’s extensive needs.

f.              If mediation fails, the parents may request a state administrative hearing.  ODJFS hearing officers have not been trained to recognize the complexities of adoption assistance and the ways it differs from other federal assistance programs.  Hearing officers have not been trained to use the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual as the primary authority for interpreting adoption assistance law.  Hearings conducted by untrained hearing officers frequently result in inconsistent and incorrect decisions.

g.            ODJFS has no procedure for final resolution of conflicts over the amount of adoption assistance.  Because there is no state guidance, hearing officers do not feel authorized to make decisions about the amount of adoption assistance a child should receive.  In sustaining an adoptive parent’s appeal, the hearing decision finds, at best, that the county agency did not negotiate in a manner consistent with state regulations.  The hearing decision remands the matter back to the county agency for further negotiation. 

In spite of hearing decisions ordering county agencies to re-enter negotiations with adoptive parents, agencies have come to realize that there are no adverse consequences for ignoring hearing decisions. Negotiations often go nowhere.  When parents contact ODJFS, they are told that the remedy is to request another administrative hearing.  One official even wrote that hearing orders were not actually orders, but recommendations.  The official’s response was out of compliance with federal hearing regulations at 45 CFR 205.10.  Cases often drag on for months, and adoptions are delayed while the parent's commitment to the child is questioned. In reality, adoptive parents endure the stress of negotiating adoption assistance precisely out of dedication to their child's welfare.

Some Modest and Inexpensive Recommendations

The funding scheme for adoption assistance services as a disincentive for county agencies to support adequate payments.  The state first agreed to pay the non-federal share of adoption assistance only in the case of payments of $250 a month or less in 1986.  The state’s level of financial participation in adoption assistance payments remains the same today, some 32 years later.

At the present, I will follow Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman Report and suggest measures that can dramatically improve the adoption assistance program and curb many of the practices that adoptive families significant emotional and financial distress without proposing a massive budget increase.

Education and Training

Training should by grounded in the overriding purpose of adoption assistance.   State and county officials should direct their energies toward finding ways of supporting permanent adoptive families.  As one observer put it, “looking for reasons to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’ ”

Adoption Assistance training must not be limited to rules and minimum requirements.  The program was created to provide supplemental support to enable suitable parents of various means to meet the ordinary and special needs of traumatized children in the course of providing them with a permanent family. The administration of the program should be focused on helping adoptive parents to obtain a level of support that will enable them to make the adjustments and sacrifices necessary to provide a nurturing family for a special needs child. 

The alternative to adoption is foster care.  Children aging out of the foster care system often face bleak futures.  The county agency should be regarded as a partner, with a common goal of permanency embraced by the individuals and couples who will assume the responsibilities of parenthood.  

Who Should Receive Education and Training?

Education and Training should include county workers and supervisors, state hearing officers and their supervisors and appropriate state workers and their supervisors.  Since adoption assistance is more complex and nuanced than other federal benefit programs employing means tests, consideration should be given to creating a unit of hearing officers devoted exclusively to adoption assistance cases.  Finally, education and training should be extended to adoptive and foster care support groups.

What Are Some Key Components of Education and Training?

Education and Training should include:

  • ·         The establishment at the state and county level of the online federal Child Welfare Policy Manual as the primary resource for the interpretation of adoption assistance law.  Ohio’s IV-E State Plan already promises compliance with “official policy issuances” as a condition for federal funding.  The Child Welfare Policy Manual is a compendium of "oficial issuances."

  • ·         Model procedures and practices for negotiating agreements for the amount of adoption assistance in compliance with federal and state law.

  • ·         Regular forums for discussing various policy issuances with parents, state officials and county staff, participating by video conference, teleconference or other electronic medium.

  • ·         Comprehensive topic by topic training on adoption assistance, eligibility, negotiation of payments, appeals and other topics.

Oversight and Dispute Resolution

In addition to establishing a training resource, a small policy, education and training unit should be created to:

  • ·         Respond to questions and complaints from parents and agencies.

  • ·         Arbitrate unresolved disputes over the amount of assistance, when negotiations remain stalled and hearings fail to resolve disputes over the amount of adoption assistance.  Arbitration must be consistent with due process rights of both parents and agencies.

  • ·         The small unit should be independent of ODJFS and supported by the Governor’s Office, at least until vital education and training, arbitration and trouble-shooting measures are sufficiently integrated into state agency culture.  Given the current culture of ODJFS, the lack of expertise in adoption assistance and the lack of coordination between policy sections and hearing divisions, the unit charged with implementing the changes must be outside the authority structure of ODJFS in order to be effective.


Selecting the Person(s) to Implement the Above Changes

It is strange but true that a relatively few people possess sufficient understanding of the purpose of the adoption assistance program and its evolution over time to illuminate currents policy requirements.  The person or persons asked to put the education, training, outreach and oversight measures discussed above should be carefully selected.  The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACA) located in St. Paul Minnesota is highly regarded national advocacy and information organization.  NACAC would be a good place to contact.