Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cutting Adoption Support Is Short-Sighted

According to a January 24 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report, more than 25 states are anticipating budget problems. Unfortunately, recent increases in adoptions from foster care have made adoption assistance programs a tempting cost-cutting target. Regardless of financial challenges, states should never victimize children and their adoptive families by reducing subsidy payments to balance budgets.

California, Maine, and Oregon are all proposing to reduce subsidies so they can balance their budgets:

• In California, the 2008–2009 budget would cut adoption subsidy payments by 10 percent, even for families with signed adoption assistance agreements.
• In Maine, proposed cuts include a cap on adoption assistance payments that is 30 percent lower than current rates.
• Oregon legislators are discussing ways to check the rising tide of adoption assistance payments. One representative thinks agencies should find more parents who will adopt without a subsidy and another asserts that Oregon should revise eligibility requirements so fewer children can access these payments.

As Mark Courtney—executive director of Partners for Our Children and the Ballmer Endowed Chair for Child Well-Being at the University of Washington—recently asserted, adoption subsidy cuts are “simply a poorly thought-out cost cutting strategy.” Cuts discourage foster parents and others from adopting and, as economist Mary Eschelbach Hansen points out, adoption improves cognitive, educational, social, and economic outcomes for at-risk children in care. In addition, as researcher Richard Barth recently reported, the 50,000 children who are adopted from care each year save the government from $1 billion to $6 billion.

Youth who leave care without a caring family face a difficult future. Studies note that those who age out of care are much more likely to have educational deficits and periods of homelessness, experience health and mental health problems, and come into contact with adult welfare and justice systems. Findings published in Ending the Foster Care Life Sentence: The Critical Need for Adoption Subsidies indicate that adoption subsidies are not just less expensive than foster care, they are vital to parents’ ability to adopt.

A few states have recognized this truth and made child welfare a priority:

• New Jersey increased the 2008 Department of Children and Families budget by $49.4 million. New funds will help the state support at-risk families, prepare foster and adoptive families, and enhance family-centered therapeutic services for children with serious emotional disorders.
• Virginia has a projected $1.2 billion 2009 funding shortfall, yet Governor Kaine’s 2008–2010 budget proposal requests a $36.2 million increase to raise foster care and adoption payments.

As states brace for lean years ahead and officials reflect on budgeting decisions, they must remember that adoption saves money and improves outcomes for children and youth. Adoption subsidies and other post-adoption support must be enhanced, not reduced.

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