Academic journal article Child Welfare

Adoption Policy and the Well-Being of Adopted Children in the United States

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Adoption Policy and the Well-Being of Adopted Children in the United States

Article excerpt

In the United States during the 1990s, rising numbers of children entered foster care and falling numbers exited. The number of children in foster care peaked at about 570,000-nearly eight in 1,000 children-in federal fiscal year 1999, and the average child's stay in foster care exceeded 31 months (authors' calculations from Adoption and Foster Care Reporting System Foster Care Files for 1999). This created great concern. Long periods of time and multiple placements in foster care harm child well-being through increasing risk for behavioral problems (Early & Mooney, 2002), dropping out of high school (Scannapieco, Schagrin, & Scannapieco, 1995), delinquency, and adult dependency (Doyle, 2007; Lewis, Dozier, Ackerman, & SepulvedaKozakowski, 2007). To improve the well-being of foster children who could not be reunited with their families of origin, especially of older foster children and those with special needs, the United States Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) and the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (APA). These laws, in combination with subsidies to parents who adopt, increased adoptions from fewer than 28,000 per year in 1995 to more than 50,000 in 2005 (Hansen & Hansen, 2006; Hansen, 2007; Maza, 2009; Wulczyn, Chen, & Hislop, 2006) and reduced time in foster care by about 30% on average (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [U.S. DHHS], 2013).

This paper is the first to consider explicitly whether the well-being of children adopted from foster care improved in response to ASFA and the APA. Data limitations require us to consider the inverse of well-being: problems. We create a composite index of problems in four domains: physical, socio-emotional, economic, and cognitive. While a multidimensional index has been used to study children in foster care (Shaffer, Egeland, & Wang, 2010), an index has never before been used to describe the well-being of children adopted from foster care. We find that, though ASFA and the APA are associated with reduced time to adoption, there was no change in the measured well-being of adopted children.

After a summary of adoption law and policy in the United States, we discuss the impact of ASFA and the APA on child well-being. We then describe available data and construction of the index. We use multiple regression analysis to assess changes in the index relative to the timing of policy changes. A description of the trends and of the regression results is followed by a discussion of policy implications. We conclude with a summary of limitations of the current study and data on the well-being of adopted children, and we make recommendations for improvements.

Adoption Policy in the United States

A history of modern adoption policy in the United States begins with the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which authorized federal reimbursement of states' expenditures on monthly payments to foster families and families that adopt foster children who have special needs. The payments to families support two goals of the law. The first goal is to enable state child welfare authorities to keep foster children in family settings (rather than institutions) even as states took "reasonable efforts" to reunify them with their families of origin. The second goal is to encourage adoption if reasonable efforts failed.

Eligibility for adoption assistance payments is tied to the special needs of the child, where "special needs" are defined by the state and may include disability or any other characteristic of the child that may make adoption more difficult. Eligibility is also tied to the poverty status of the family from which the child was removed, which may serve as a proxy for deprivation that may increase the probability that a child develops special needs over time. Eligibility for the subsidy is not tied to the income of adoptive parents. The amount of the subsidy, however, is negotiable, and some states allow the amount of the subsidy to vary with the resources of the adoptive parent. …

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