By Emma Fiala
Whether experienced in the foster care system or not, most Americans have at least some idea that the system is flawed and, at times, more harmful than helpful. But just how bad is it, really? As it turns out, according to talkpoverty.org, it’s worse than we thought.
The situation is so bad that some find it simply unbelievable and chalk up the idea that government provides an incentive for foster care placements and forced adoption over reunification to a mere conspiracy theory when in truth, the federal government spends nearly 10 times more on foster care and adoption than it does on reunification.
“Some people do phrase it as a conspiracy theory,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “When they say the government makes money on foster care, that’s not true … on foster care they still lose money, but they lose less money.” Adding that “private agencies do make money on foster care in many cases.”
The common agency name “child protective services” would lead one to believe that these agencies exist to protect the children of the United States. Unfortunately, as they are funded by a host of sources from the federal, state, and local levels, a lot gets lost in translation. These various agencies that exist across the country are not in fact a cohesive national system. Instead, they are simply linked by a set of federal guidelines and loose definitions of child maltreatment.
Thanks to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), financial reimbursements exist for foster care programs, including “adoption bounties”—thousands of dollars that paid to states for successfully adopting out a child. And thanks to the Federal Foster Care Program (Title IV-E of the Social Security Act), states receive a reimbursement ranging from 50 to 76 cents for every dollar spent on “daily child care and supervision, administrative costs, training, recruitment, and data collection,” according to talkpoverty.org.
Government funds foster care and adopts, that much is clear. But what about family reunification?
While the foster care and adoption funding noted above isn’t capped, under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, family reunification funding is. And Title IV-B isn’t even solely for reunification services as provisions allow for funding of foster care programs as well as the promotion of adoption.
Another misappropriation of funds away from services that would assist families exists within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a source of federal funding for child welfare programs. While the program is supposed to be a form of cash assistance for low-income families with children, the funds can also be used to support programs and services designed to help children in need, including “child protection” agencies providing foster care and adoption services.
According to Richard Wexler, at least eight states use TANF funds to pay for adoption subsidies, 23 states use funds to cover CPS investigations, 27 states use funds for foster care, and three use TANF funds to pay for residential treatment facilities for children.
In effect, funds designated to help impoverished families with children are instead being used to finance the separation of impoverished children from their families.
Regardless of situation, under the ASFA, states are required to terminate parental rights after a child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. This sometimes led to children bouncing from foster home to foster home, so the government created an adoption incentive—or adoption bounty—of $4,000 to $12,000 per child. But before a state can collect, they must first exceed the number of children adopted the previous year resulting in an incentive for states to adopt out an increasing number of children every year rather than reunifying them.
Unsurprisingly, the number of adoptions increased and the number of reunifications declined following the implementation of ASFA. And thanks to the Bush administration’s Adoption and Promotion Act of 2003, states that increase the number of adoptions from foster care year to year receive even more money.
According to Wexler, private agencies dealing with foster care placements are probably “paid for each day that child remains in foster care … So the private agency has an incentive to convince itself that the child really, really can’t go home and has to stay with them for a long, long time.”
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