Raising Awareness of Adoption and the Foster Care System

Pic 1Families that provide a safe and stable living environment are critical to ensuring a child’s well-being, both immediately and downstream. Inadequate care, particularly during the early stages of a child’s life, can have lasting consequences on their long-term welfare, leading to a greater risk for unemployment, underemployment, homelessness, and delinquency. Given the potentially irreversible and detrimental impact, child care and the foster care system have garnered the attention of many legislatures and academics alike.

The National Adoption Day Coalition commissioned a report to analyze the growing barriers to adoption in the foster care system.  According to their report, as of 2009, there were 423,773 children in foster care, of which 30% were African American, and another 20% Hispanic. Across the nation, disproportionate placement of minority children in the foster system has persisted since 2004. [1] Specifically, disproportionate representation was found for African American children in 37 states, Native/American Indian children in 14 states, and Hispanic children in 5 states. [2]

Although the absolute number of children in the foster care system has declined since 2000, hundreds of thousands of children are still left without permanent and safe homes, most notably driven by recent economic conditions. [3] For those children, the problem has progressively worsened as welfare agencies and courts have failed to efficiently place children in permanent homes. Impeding barriers include finding a home which reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the children and continued poor court case management that delays the adoption process.

State Action

In Michigan, legislators have appointed a task force to evaluate their foster care system. According to the Michigan Child Welfare Improvement Task Force, many African American families were not afforded reasonable support towards kinship reunification. [4] The report stated that about 80% of child welfare cases resulted from neglect, some of which were due to inadequate housing and heat. [5] The question then arises: if families in this category were provided sufficient support for services such as housing and heat, would they be able to maneuver away from the foster care system? In its report, the Task Force also concluded African American parents were often falsely accused and labeled as hostile or aggressive, steering African American children into the foster care system.

Federal Action

Michigan’s example of what may be happening on a national scale calls for states and the federal government to establish strategies that combat institutional bias. According to Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), “Too many children in our communities are not raised by their parents or families, and we must open doors of opportunity for them.” Bass and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have introduced legislation to recognize and support the goals of National Adoption Month. Bass praised the bipartisan efforts and stated, “Even in this partisan political environment, I am pleased that we all agree that protecting some of the most vulnerable children in the country is an issue of shared concern.” [6]

State and Federal Partnership Moving Forward

Pic 2Both state and federal agencies can play a major role in funding, structuring, and overseeing the adoption process. Based on Michigan’s task force, investment in evidence-based “prevention and early intervention services that protect children by strengthening families” should be a focal point to achieve any system of reform. A multi-pronged strategy must be put forth in order to effectively reinvest in the each state’s welfare system.

Strategy Prong #1: Prevention through Family Services
States can develop a set of comprehensive services that provide reasonable support to families, which will ultimately reduce the need for out-of-home placements. Provision of such services would address abused and neglected youth, youth in transition, and youth in the juvenile justice system. Here, the goal is to work with families in need of preventative or early intervention services and promote timely reunification with families.

Strategy Prong #2: Prevention through Reducing Biased-Based Placements and Maximizing Federal Funds
A second approach is to maximize existing funds by shifting (reinvesting) a portion into cultural competency training for agency personnel and modification of current family services to become community-based, and culturally proficient. The curriculum and training provided to organizations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasizes cultural competency. Beth Englander, Director of Special Programs stated, “Training in cultural competency at all child welfare agency levels – from policy makers to caseworkers – and commitment to carrying training into practice is essential to recruitment of diverse families, as well as to serving children in culturally relevant ways. When this training is accomplished in a real partnership with diverse communities, it can create and foster a sense of trust between the system and families in the community.  All the same, training cannot stand on its own and must be supported by culturally competent supervision and policies and ongoing community inclusion.”

States can request additional federal funds to supplement the cost of establishing policies that support culturally sensitive training programs. In addition, states can also utilize all federal funds available from the Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which aims to support adoption assistance and foster care programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. [7]

Strategy Prong #3: Public-Private Partnership for Seamless Prevention and Intervention
Finally, states can manage collaboration between community partners and state and local agencies involved in the welfare, intervention, and treatment of children. The Michigan Task Force also encouraged such efforts, writing that partnerships would ultimately encourage seamless service delivery through the development of shared goals and outcomes ultimately enhancing the quality of responsiveness and access. Given that all solutions cannot be found within one agency, involving all stakeholders in prevention efforts can result in increased kinship care and better outcomes for the youth, children, and their families.

National Supporters and Resources

Adopt America Network uses a national network of public and private agencies to place children in permanent homes.
Adoption Exchange Associate recruits adopted families for children waiting in foster care across the nation.
Child Welfare League of America focuses on children who may be neglected or abused.
National Adoption Day Coalition is a national effort to raise awareness of all those in the foster care system.  
Urban Institute provided a state by state analysis of barriers and promising approaches.

[1) http://www.nationalfostercare.org/policy/disproportionality.php
[1] http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/foster.pdf
[3] http://www.nationalfostercare.org/policy/disproportionality.php
[4] http://www.michigan.gov/documents/DHS-Child-Equity-Report_153952_7.pdf
[5] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100694902
[6] http://karenbass.house.gov/press-release/63-house-members-join-congressional-coalition-adoption-introduce-bipartisan-resolution
[7] http://www.napcwa.org/Home/docs/RL33855_04-27-2011.pdf

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