Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Changes Hike U.S. Adoptions Foster Care Altered for Quick Placement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Changes Hike U.S. Adoptions Foster Care Altered for Quick Placement

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The nation's foster care system is in the midst of a striking transformation that has driven up the number of foster children adopted in virtually every state, in many cases rising by 50 percent or more in less than two years.

Across the country, adoptions of foster children last year were roughly 40 percent higher than in 1995, increasing to more than 36,000, according to state figures collected by the North American Council on Adoptable Children and reviewed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The increase is the result of recent federal and state efforts to revamp a system that has trapped tens of thousands of children in foster care, often shuffling them between homes and institutions for years.

Those efforts represent a fundamental change in thinking, a shift away from doing everything possible to return abused and neglected children to their birth parents and instead working much faster to find them a permanent, safe home.

That has led states to retrain social workers, follow strict timetables, hire more family court judges and push harder to find adoptive families for children stuck in foster care.

"For the first time, states are focusing on really putting their attention on permanent placement for kids," said Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Kharfen.

Experts caution, however, that the surge in placements could have dangerous side effects. With pressure building for increased adoptions, some fear this may lead to more cases of ill-prepared families taking on troubled children.

Agencies historically have had a harder time placing minority children and those who are older or disabled.

The new survey did not collect information about the age and race of the children, but state officials and experts say the recent surge in numbers reflects adoptions of the children easiest to place.

The federal foster care program was created in 1980 to help states deal with abused and neglected children, and the system has grown to about 500,000 children. States began efforts several years ago to move children through that system faster, and a federal law with the same goal was enacted in 1997. …

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