Hearing on Increasing Adoptions from Foster Care
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
February 27, 2013
Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
|SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
LINDA SÁNCHEZ, California
JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
TODD YOUNG, Indiana
|LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
Ms. Rita Soronen
President and CEO, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Ms. Kelly Rosati
Vice President of Community Outreach, Focus on the Family
Mr. Pat O’Brien
Executive Director, You Gotta Believe!
Ms. Nicole Dobbins
Executive Director, Voice for Adoption
Hearing on Increasing Adoptions from Foster Care
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
[The advisory of the hearing follows:]
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 4:13 p.m., in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Dave Reichert [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Chairman Reichert. I call this subcommittee meeting to order. We welcome you to today’s hearing. I can’t think of a more important or more bipartisan topic than promoting adoption. This is an area where both parties have worked together to improve outcomes for children, which is what I would like to do whenever possible as the chairman of this subcommittee. I know Mr. Doggett agrees with that goal, and I look forward to working with all the Members to work productively toward that end. Of course, we won’t always agree, but whether it involves adoption, data standards, or preventing wasteful spending, there is a lot we can do, and should do, together.
As Mr. Doggett mentioned, I have a background with 33 years in law enforcement, but also some personal experience in the adoption/foster care arena. Two of my grandchildren are adopted. I was a foster grandparent for a while for a number of children and also now, of course, an adoptive grandfather, and we are very proud of the fact that my daughter and her husband, my son‑in‑law, have adopted two little children: Emma, who was a crack cocaine, heroin‑addicted baby when she was born; and Breyer, who was a meth‑addicted baby when he was born. And you can imagine some of the challenges they now face as they grow older at 9 and 10 years old. But they now have a strong foundation, a loving family, and a good, strong base to start their lives from, which gives them so many more opportunities than they would have had.
On the other hand, as the sheriff and as a detective, a homicide detective, working in King County ‑‑ and especially my memory goes back to the days working the Green River murder cases, if you are familiar with those, a series of murders of street people, women and young girls, 51 cases were closed. The suspect pled guilty to 49 murders. I worked with a lot of those young kids on the street. Those were kids who were in and out of foster homes, who weren’t adopted, who were in their teens, early teens and late teens, some even younger. I would get calls at night at home: “I am at a phone booth, I ran away from my foster home.” You take them to the YWCA and the YMCA; they run away from there.
You folks on the panel know this, have seen this yourselves, and have experience there. I know members on this panel have heart for this issue, and I wanted to share those stories with you so that you understand how close this is to me personally in so many different ways. And I could tell so many other stories, but we will move on.
As I said, not every child has been so lucky to have a home. For example, in the 10 years from 1987 through 1997, the number of children in foster care rose dramatically, climbing from 300,000 to 537,000. That surge in foster care caseloads is one of the reasons why Congress, led by our current chairman Dave Camp, passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. That law was designed to ensure more foster children were quickly adopted when they couldn’t return to live safely with their parents.
The Adoption Incentives Program, created as part of that law, was one key measure to encourage more adoption of children from foster care. In short, it rewards States if they increase the number of children leaving foster care for adoptive homes. We all know it worked. Since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, foster care caseloads have fallen dramatically. After peaking at 567,000 in 1999, foster care caseloads have fallen by almost 30 percent. At the same time, adoptions from foster care increased in the late 1990s and remain much higher than before the law’s passage.
Today we will review how the Adoption Incentives Program supported these improvements. We will hear directly from adoption experts, including from organizations that have proven they can increase the number of children adopted from foster care, and we will start to consider whether we need to make changes to encourage even more adoptions.
In my view, the Federal Government should continue to support efforts to increase adoptions, as there are still over 100,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. These kids deserve a place to call home. They need someone who will commit to caring for them, and they deserve our best efforts to ensure that they are adopted.
Again, I look forward to the testimony of all of our witnesses today and also thank you so much for your patience. I am really interested in how we can work together to ensure more children grow up in a safe, loving, and permanent family.
Chairman Reichert. Without objection, each Member will have the opportunity to submit a written statement and have it included in the record at this point.
Chairman Reichert. I would like to recognize Mr. Doggett for his opening statement.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I believe that our Federal Adoptions Incentive Program, which provides financial awards to the States that increase the number of children adopted out of foster care above a certain baseline, is an important part of the effort, the joint bipartisan effort, to try to encourage permanent loving homes for children who are placed in foster care. These awards are due ‑‑ and this program is due to expire at the end of September, not that far from now, and I am hopeful that we will be able to work together to reauthorize the program.
Under the Adoption Incentives Program, the States become eligible for awards if they increase the number of total adoptions, those for children over age 9 that are adopted, and the adoption of children with special needs. The goal of the program is to incentivize and encourage the States to increase the adoptions out of foster care and to quickly move children who are unable to return to their parents into permanent homes. States must reinvest these payments back into services, such as postadoption services for children and families and other services generally provided under the child welfare system.
Forty‑three million dollars is available for the program in this fiscal year. Since the program was created, as the chairman described, roughly $375 million has been awarded, and every State in the country has participated in the funding. In fiscal year 2011, Texas, my home State, received about $7 million in incentives, the largest amount of any State in the country. San Antonio has been viewed as a particular model of success.
Bexar County has been creative in safely moving children into permanent homes. Each month there at the county courthouse, the county hosts an adoption day event that allows dozens of families on the same day to complete their adoptions in a single day, and that happens every month. These proceedings have allowed countless children to have shorter stays in foster care and move more quickly into stable homes. I believe that judges in Bexar County understand they are responsible for getting children who experience abuse and neglect into a safer foster environment and, in addition, are responsible for placing that child with a permanent family if it does not become safe for the child to return home.
These improvements to the local adoption system, encouraged and utilized by child advocates like District Judge Peter Sakai, who has been a leader in the area over the last decade, and CASA San Antonio have allowed faster and more efficient placement of foster youth into permanent families.
We will hear from all of our witnesses finally this afternoon, but specifically I share the concern that I believe Nicole Dobbins will be expressing about the lack of clarity regarding how the States use these award payments. I know that some States under budget pressures have tended to use the Federal money for perhaps what they had been doing previously, and I think it is important that our Federal resources add to, not supplant money that was already being invested on adoption activities. The inclusion of a maintenance‑of‑effort requirement as part of reauthorization could help us ensure that the dollars that are so precious here that we are expending are actually being used to improve and strengthen child welfare.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can continue to increase adoptions for children in foster care, but I do think that one step that is important is to avoid any cuts in these modest, federally funded adoption initiatives that will occur within just a few days under the sequester. Cutting funding for this program could mean less funding for postadoption services for families that have adopted a foster child, or less funding to recruit adoptive homes through online adoption exchanges and promotional materials, or less support for training adoption workers.
Another issue that requires our attention this year is the more recent Family Connection grants initiative. It is also scheduled to expire at the end of September. It has provided $15 million each year in grants for State agencies and community organizations. It has been a more narrow program, but it is designed to connect or reconnect children with their biological relatives when it is safe and appropriate to do so. This small program, fairly new, created only in 2008, is currently being evaluated, but it looks like a program, from the preliminary review that I have seen, that could be effective in improving the lives of at‑risk children.
I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses and working with our colleagues to continue to improve the well‑being of all children in foster care.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Doggett.
Chairman Reichert. I want to remind our witnesses to limit their oral testimony to 5 minutes. However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made part of the permanent record.
On our panel this afternoon we will be hearing from Rita Soronen, the president and CEO of Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption; Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach, Wait No More, Focus on the Family; Pat O’Brien, executive director, You Gotta Believe; and Nicole Dobbins, executive director, Voice for Adoption.
Ms. Soronen, you are recognized.
STATEMENT OF RITA L. SORONEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, DAVE THOMAS FOUNDATION FOR ADOPTION
Ms. Soronen. Thank you, Chairman and members of the committee. I am Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I am honored to be with you today.
I would like to start with a short video before I make my comments, and I think that is cued to run.
Ms. Soronen. Sometimes a video can say it all, but I will try and sum up in a few words as well.
You all know, and thank you for your comments, that children come into the child welfare system through no fault of their own. They are victims of traumatic abuse and neglect, and when they are permanently freed for adoption, our promise to them is that we will find them a family. Last year in this country, we negligently failed to live up to our promise of a family for more than 26,000 children who aged out of care.
This child‑focused recruitment model, or Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, that was developed, tested, and, until 2012, privately funded by the foundation proves that there is a family for every child. We started the program with 7 pilot sites in 2004 and now provide individual grant commitments to public and private agencies that support 169 adoption professionals in 49 States, the District of Columbia, and 4 provinces in Canada. We have served 8,800 children, 3,400 of whom have had a finalized adoption, and another 500 are in their preadoptive placement, and these numbers are even more compelling when we understand the children successfully served.
The average age of a child served through this program is 12. At the point of referral into Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, 30 percent of these children had already experienced six or more placements, and 50 percent had been in care 4 years or more. Half of the children have at least one identified clinical disability, and one in five of these children have already had a failed or a disrupted adoption. Critically, prior to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, more than half of these children had experienced no adoption recruitment activities on their behalf, none.
Child‑focused recruitment demands that rather than ignoring these children because of a perception of unadoptability, or casting a broad net of general recruitment, or funding public displays of children, experienced adoption professionals work a model that includes smaller caseloads of typically harder‑to‑place children, intensive contact with the child and others, extensive case file review, diligent search for families and expert adoption preparation, and we know this works at a cost‑effective level.
For example, before the State of Ohio took our program to scale, their fiscal experts estimated our grant commitments of $3 million for seven Ohio recruiters had already saved nearly $32 million for the State of Ohio. With a financial partnership that added 32 more recruiters focusing on youth, they anticipated savings of more than $105,000,000.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, no child has to age out of care, hoping to make it on their own in this complex world. We can and we must keep our promise of finding families for all of our children. I will welcome your comments at the end of the testimonies.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you for your testimony.
[The statement of Ms. Soronen follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Ms. Rosati, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF KELLY ROSATI, VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY OUTREACH, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY
Ms. Rosati. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It is an honor to be here. I am very grateful that this is the subject of your hearing today, and it is a privilege to be able to be a part of it.
My name is Kelly Rosati, as you said, and I am the vice president of community outreach at Focus on the Family, and as a part of our community outreach, Wait No More, our event to focus on foster care adoption recruitment, is a cornerstone of our work.
Focus on the Family is a donor‑supported, global Christian ministry that reaches about 238 million people in 130 countries, and as I said, we are very passionate about foster care adoption. Our president, Jim Daly, was, in fact, orphaned as a child and lived in the foster care system, and so part of that experience has been what fuels his passion for this.
I am blessed. My husband and I are parents to four children, who came to us through the blessing of foster care adoption, three of whom have special needs, the kind that are the subject of the children who are still waiting for families.
Wait No More began in 2008, and the idea was that we would use the voice and the reach of Focus on the Family to try to increase awareness about the needs of kids that are in foster care that need families, just like we saw in that video, and the idea was that we would partner with local child welfare officials, adoption agencies, church and ministry leaders in a given community to try to work collaboratively to raise awareness and help recruit families for these kids.
Since 2008, we have had 15 Wait No More events in 12 States, and we have had some very encouraging outcomes. We have seen 8,300 attendees at our events, representing 4,700 families. We have worked with 200 county, State, private agencies and ministries all across the United States, and those folks that have attended have represented 2,100 different churches in communities across the country.
The best news of all, though, is that at the end of the day at these events, we have seen more than 2,100 families who have begun the process of foster care adoption. They are beginning this process with a full understanding of the challenges that they are about to encounter.
Frankly, one of the things we do at our events is that we give the attendees the opportunity to hear perspectives from adoptive parents, to hear the perspective from young adults who were adopted as teenagers or as a part of sibling groups. We give them the opportunity to hear from social workers about what the process is going to be like and what some of the barriers may be. And, frankly, we talk an awful lot and almost, you could say, try to talk them out of it in a way, because we want them to be very serious that this is about the needs of the child. And again, as you saw in the great messaging on the video, it is about the needs of the child, not the wants and desires of the adults.
And so we are talking specifically about teenagers, sibling groups, and kids with special needs, and so that is why we are encouraged that knowing all of that, knowing some of the barriers and the challenges, including the specific behaviors that they may encounter, and why they may encounter those behaviors, and what strategies might be effective in helping that child, after all of that we have seen more than 2,000 families that have begun the process of foster care adoption.
We are very passionate and committed to postadoption support. We want to have integrity in recruiting these families for our kids, and we want to also be there for them after the fact, when they encounter difficulties, and so as a part of that commitment, we have spent an equal amount of money on complementary postadoption support for families. We have provided about 50,000 units of resources that are designed to be adoption competent to meet the needs of the families. We have trained 200 counselors across the country in partnership with Texas Christian University’s Institute on Child Development; we have helped train them to have a greater adoption competency. We underwrite the training, we pay for it, but we say to them in return, we ask that you would provide counseling to a family at no cost to the family so that we can increase access to the kind of help our families need.
We have a 1‑800 hotline that families are able to call. Actually it is a warm line where they can receive free counseling and also have referrals then to adoption‑competent counselors in their areas.
Finally, I would like to say, as you think about barriers to adoption and to increasing foster care adoption, one thing to be mindful of, I suppose, is the fact that I think we have perverse disincentives built into the system. So right now if you are a teenager in foster care, you may have access to certain benefits, including mental health services and postsecondary education, if you stay in foster care, but if you choose a family, you don’t have access to those same benefits, and we don’t believe that children should have to choose between those things.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you for your testimony.
[The statement of Ms. Rosati follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Mr. O’Brien, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF PAT O’BRIEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!
Mr. O’Brien. Thank you.
I am Pat O’Brien, founder and CEO of You Gotta Believe! The Older Child Adoption & Permanency Movement, an organization that first and foremost considers itself a homelessness prevention program. And the way we prevent homelessness is to find permanent parents for teens and young adults before they are discharged from the foster care system to no one but themselves.
When we started You Gotta Believe back in 1995, I noticed an interesting statistic when homeless populations were surveyed. In every survey we looked at, over half the homeless reported having grown up in foster care as youth. They had actually come into our system for their own safety and well‑being, only to be placed in harm’s way when they were discharged from the very same system.
I believe the sad result is the direct product of two primary barriers. The first barrier is simple: lack of belief that we can find permanent parents for teens and young adults as they are aging out of foster care. This lack of belief keeps laws from being created that would mandate concurrent planning at the exit end of the system. My over 25 years of experience has taught me that our child welfare system must never stop recruiting permanent parents for children at any age that they are at risk of aging out to our Nation’s streets.
The second barrier is actually a child welfare permanency planning goal referred to or called in the law Some Other Planned Permanent Living Arrangement which May Include a Residential Educational Program. Many in our field refer to this permanency planning goal as Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement, or APPLA.
APPLA is focused on preparing youth for adulthood. APPLA focuses on skills development and teaching youngsters the important skills to survive in the world on their own. And though skills development in preparing for adulthood is very important, there are still very few, if any, young people in the general population, including your and my children who are over 21, making it on their own without the help of their parents.
For example, as you know, the overwhelming majority of 22‑year‑old college graduates who come from fairly well‑off one‑ or two‑parent families return home to their parents after they graduate college with a 4‑year bachelor’s degree.
But we as a child welfare system are putting youth between the ages of 18 and 21 in harm’s way without even trying to get them the permanent parents before they are discharged from our foster care system because there is no law that mandates even the effort.
So how do we find permanent parents for aging‑out youth? You Gotta Believe has a three‑pronged approach. The first is called ‑‑ we call the friends approach. You see, once you believe that a permanent parent must be found for every youth before they age out of care, the first place you look for this permanent parent is talking to the constructive adults who are already in an individual young person’s life. And when we identify someone who is known to the youth, we ask these folks to take a 10‑week learning experience we call Adopting Older Kids and Youth, or A‑OKAY, to see if making a lifetime commitment to this young person they so much care about is something that they can do.
Our statistics and research show us that this is the single most effective way to recruit a lifetime parent for youth aging out of care. During a 4‑year period under a Federal adoption opportunities demonstration grant, it took nearly 1,000 prospective applicants from the general public to walk through our door to get 37 young people a parent. However, during the same 4‑year period, it only took 154 prospective applicants to walk through our doors who knew a teen to get 83 young people placed in a lifetime family. This approach is a simple, highly efficient means of recruiting permanent parents for aging‑out teens.
Our second approach is the acquaintance approach. There are many young people in the system where it is believed by the people around them that they have no constructive adults in their lives. For these youth we set up opportunities for them to share the same time and space with our prospective and certified families. We do this by bringing young people into our A‑OKAY parent preparation classes as consultants to teach our prospective families what it is like to be a teen growing up in foster care.
Many families who come forward having no interest in adoptive teens have decided a teen on our panel was someone they could adopt. Dozens and dozens of youth have been placed as a direct result of sharing the same time and space and becoming acquaintances with the prospective and certified families who have taken our A‑OKAY course. This is the second‑best way.
The third approach is community education. Years ago our organization realized that we were having little success trying to sell what we were doing to the general public in 15‑ or 30‑second sound bites. That is why we created our own media, both TV and radio. These broadcasts serve a local purpose of recruiting local parents and a more global purpose by inspiring the rest of the world by introducing them to the wonderful youth who need permanent families and the parents who adopt them, all in one‑half hours of thoughtful interviews and conversations.
Finally, where should adoption incentive rewards be reinvested? There are two equally important areas. The first is funding to continue to recruit the very permanent parents that we know are out there for each and every youth. Reinvesting these incentive dollars to utilize the three strategies noted above would be an impactful way to get more youth into permanent families before they are discharged from the foster care system.
Parents and families are the foundation and springboard to every child’s future. Parents and families give youth access to the village we so often talk about needing to raise children. It sure does take a village to raise a child, but only if the child has a parent in that village to provide the foundation he or she needs. This is equally true for the 18‑, 19‑, 20‑ or 21‑year‑old as it is for the infant, toddler, latency‑age, and tween‑age child.
Secondly, we must support families after the youth move in. Almost all the youth at the age range we place had serious trauma in their lives. We prepare parents for what to expect, but we must also be there to support them during their hard times.
If we could provide these two basic adoption services, then each youth will have what the child welfare system promised them when they first came into foster care, and that promise was a home that provides safety, the opportunity for well‑being, and a permanent parent and family who will be there for them long after their years in foster care are over.
I want to thank you very much for the time.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. O’Brien.
[The statement of Mr. O’Brien follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Ms. Dobbins, you are recognized.
STATEMENT OF NICOLE DOBBINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VOICE FOR ADOPTION
Ms. Dobbins. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the subcommittee, I direct an organization that is an advocacy organization called Voice for Adoption. Our members recruit families, and they provide postadoption support services.
I would like to shed light on four key areas within my time: The rate of adoption from foster care is increasing, but adoptions of older youth continues to be a struggle. Our aging‑out youth population you heard about, we need to connect them to permanency before exiting. Postadoption services is a critical need identified, but there are a lack of resources to support these efforts. And lastly, accountability for Federal funds that have been dedicated to adoption, we need to make sure that we are reviewing those to ensure that reinvestment is happening as required by law.
The Fostering Connections Act as well as the ASFA of 1997 took great strides in increasing adoptions. The rate of adoption has increased by 77 percent, but more needs to be done.
Consistent with the national number of children in foster care decreasing, so is the number of children waiting to be adopted. As adoption populations decline, States won’t be able to continue to meet and exceed the rates they are basing their adoption incentives on, which is fiscal year 2007.
Voice for Adoption recommends adjusting the baseline level so that more current levels reflect ‑‑ are reflected so that the Adoption Incentive Program can continue to be an effective approach.
We also request that detailed reports on the number of adoptions by each category be reported by HHS, because currently they are just being reported about the amounts. It is hard to have a clear picture of what types of increases States are having because of this only amount reported.
Despite the achievements we have seen, connecting waiting children with adoptive families still is a struggle within these States. It is critical that we find ways to increase the likelihood of adoption of older youth, and as you understand from what you have heard, promising practices for older youth differs for that of young children. These efforts include a variety of things that should be strengthened, encouraged at the State level, including youth engagement, permanency planning, smaller caseloads, intensive family finding, kinship connections, and reunification efforts when possible. Voice for Adoption recommends reauthorizing the Family Connections grant.
Another way we see a way to continue to promote the effective practices to encourage State leverage of public‑private partnerships is to promote a key provision of the Fostering Connections Act, which is the Federal Title IV‑E reimbursement training for a range of services. We believe that this benefit has not yet ‑‑ the expansion has not yet been realized, and we recommend that some clarity in both successful State examples are pushed through HHS, specifically towards effective models that we know work for adopting children, specifically older children.
When we take these youth from their homes, we know that we have an obligation to create better circumstances for them, and right now as a system we are failing older youth. An area that warrants greater examination is something you have already heard about, the APPLA case goal. It replaced long‑term foster care in the legislation 16 years ago, but we fear, and there is a growing concern in the field, that it simply changed the terminology and not the trajectory of these young people’s lives.
Voice for Adoption recommends providing incentives to States for the reduction of youth who exit without permanent connections. Furthermore, I urge the committee to hold future hearings on this specific issue.
Two last points. Postadoption services help adoptive families and children move through the stages of becoming a family, especially children who have been adopted from foster care, as they work through past traumas and strengthen the family as a unit. The Federal Government has invested millions of dollars into increasing adoptions without reciprocal mandates to services to support these families after finalization.
There has been a great deal of research about the quality of postadoption services, and parents sometimes are faced with seeing practitioners who don’t understand the dynamics, which escalates the issues. For this we recommend greater development of implementation of adoption‑competent mental health providers and appropriate funding streams to accomplish this goal. Specifically we recommend that States be required to use the adoption incentive bonuses to meet the needs of families postadoption.
Lastly, I would like to highlight an issue that you may be interested in, which is the Fostering Connections maintenance‑of‑efforts provision that came out of the Federal delink for the adoption assistance. States are seeing a greater increase in their budgets. Due to this, the Congressional Budget Office scored Fostering Connections Act at $1.4 billion savings to States. The Federal Government required States to reinvest the savings back into child welfare and adoption services, but despite legislative attempts, it has been unclear whether these funds are being reinvested.
As States continue to accrue savings on what they would have been spending on State adoption assistance, there is an even greater opportunity for the investment in making sure that postadoption services are available. With that, we recommend that a percentage of these funds be designated if no other funds are, and that public reporting of these uses by States are reported by HHS.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you.
[The statement of Ms. Dobbins follows:]
Chairman Reichert. And now we move into the question phase, so we will have an opportunity to use up 5 minutes and ask you some questions, too.
We will focus on some of those things you just mentioned to us in your testimony. For example, in fiscal year 2011, HHS reported that there were over 38,000 children who had been in foster care for over 5 years. In the same year over 26,000 kids aged out of foster care with no permanent family connection, and this, again, was a point most of you made during your testimony.
Why do some of these kids stay in foster care so long?
Ms. Soronen. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, based on our experience with this child‑focused program across the Nation, all of the States, what we see are a number of layers of challenges to getting these children out of care. You saw the “unadoptable” word. Unfortunately, with lack of training at the feet‑to‑the‑ground level with social workers to show that the children on their caseload are adoptable, we hear time and again caseworkers assuming that they can’t be adopted, so let’s put our resources into helping them age out of care. So first we have to train, I think, the frontline workers a little bit better about these children, their needs, and their adoptability.
We also have the very children themselves who have suffered such trauma in their lives, who have moved ‑‑ what I didn’t share is 10 percent of the children in the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program had moved 10 or more times before they landed on the caseloads. So when a child moves multiple times, multiple schools, there is no reason to trust a notion of an adoptive family is going to be any better for them. But what we found is when we had dedicated adoption recruiters who could work with those children, talk to them, explain and maybe work away some of their fears about simple things like changing their name or that they may not have to move again, the value of a family, the majority of the children who had previously been opposed to adoption then moved toward considering adoption. This is critical because those are the children who express a voice in court, and the court makes a designation of another planned permanent living arrangement or long‑term foster care for that child.
So it is that sort of devil’s mix of wanting to respect a child’s wishes, but sometimes those wishes are based on further trauma in the system that has said to them, I don’t want to be adopted. So training for the frontline workers, I think, and making sure that they are working with the children so that they can understand the value of adoption.
Chairman Reichert. I am going to follow up on that just a little bit. On page 3 of your testimony, you noted that half the children Wendy’s Wonderful Kids worked with never previously had anyone work with them to find an adoptive home. Are there any Federal policies that contribute to that or other reasons why children might stay in foster care so long without anyone helping them or finding them an adoptive home?
Ms. Soronen. I don’t think so much there are Federal policies that push that they stay in care, but the way that we have trained our workers to deal with older youth has not been beneficial to getting them out of care. So putting their face on a Web site, for example, is one tactic, but then that charismatic wish that someone will see their face and come adopt them, let’s face it, when we are all in a social setting, and we talk about teenagers, we all kind of screw up our faces. In just normal families teenagers are a challenge. Imagine a teenager who has been in care for 10 years, who has multiple challenges, who has pushed back against adoption, and a worker simply stops working on their behalf and says, what I think is best for this child is moving forward, and parents aren’t stepping forward, either.
So I think it is we can’t legislate changing attitudes, but we can show success, that these children can be served, that they can be adopted and help drive a public will for getting them adopted.
Chairman Reichert. Yes. One of the biggest frustrations I had working on the street and working with kids, was trying to get them convinced that they were adoptable, that they could move into an adoptive home. So I have been a witness to that. I think you are very accurate in your description.
One last quick question. Mr. O’Brien, your organization works with youth who are close to aging out of foster care. Why have those kids been waiting so long, in your view?
Mr. O’Brien. My view, it is because no law mandates that we must continue to never stop looking for a family. Almost all of those kids are receiving APPLA services, teaching them to prepare them for adulthood, when they have everything provided for them up until a certain birthday, whether it is 18, 19, 20 or 21, and then after that birthday they have been prepared for aging out, they age out, and they have absolutely nothing provided for them.
If at the exact same time we were preparing them for adulthood we never stopped looking for a family, by law we would have found many, many more kids, because the crime is not not finding the family, the crime is not even having to look for the family, and when kids get old, we don’t have to look.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you so much for your answers.
And, Mr. Doggett, you are recognized for 5 minutes for questioning.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to each of our witnesses not only for your testimony, but for the devotion you show to this very important and challenging cause.
The small role that we can play relates to the reauthorization of these two specific laws, and I gather that each of you favor our reauthorizing the Adoption Incentives Program. Have you had ‑‑ I believe, Ms. Dobbins, you mentioned the Family Connection grants, which is the newer program. Have any of our other witnesses, have you had experience with that program, and do you favor its reauthorization?
Mr. O’Brien. Well, I mean, I would certainly favor anything that is good for kids.
Mr. Doggett. Right.
Mr. O’Brien. It is just that it almost avoids the real issue. I mean, as we are providing more and more services, we are not ‑‑ there is no mandate to continue working with kids to try to get them parents at the same time. So I would absolutely recommend the reauthorization of it, but I would like it a little bit stronger where there is a mandate to look for families at the same time.
Mr. Doggett. Ms. Rosati?
Ms. Rosati. I would like to add that I think not only do we not have that mandate, we unintentionally create these incentives that end up pushing things to the outcomes that none of us would actually desire. And so as the issue that I mentioned, sometimes you may have benefits that are there for a child only when that child stays in the system and ages out of the system, so that if you are a parent ‑‑ if you are a foster parent in the life of that child, or if you are an acquaintance or a friend, and you have a connection there, and you want that child to support ‑‑ to be supported, to go to college, or to access the mental health services that they may need, you can’t also say, let’s go ahead and I will adopt you and be your forever family, because the minute you do that, you are going to sometimes in some places then lose the opportunity to go to college, lose the opportunity for the mental health services that you need that will be the foundation for a successful life going forward. And so I think replacing some of those disincentives in the system would also go a long way to providing the outcomes that we all desire.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you.
Ms. Dobbins. Yes, I just want to make a point trying to get to both questions there. One of the questions is how come kids stay in care so long. There is a correlation between placement setting of children in care, especially for older youth. A lot of older youth are in group home facilities, congregate care settings. What we know about those youth is that recruitment efforts don’t typically happen, but what we have seen with Family Connection grants, at least preliminary evaluations, is that these are actual efforts in reviewing caseloads for some of the harder children to find homes for, which are the intensive family findings, so who are the relatives of these children.
And so, again, back to the correlation, if, you know, we have large populations of older youth in these facilities, then those are the ones not getting the attention that they really need to be working down some of the things that we talked about of, you know, what are their fears, do they want to be adopted, can we convince them that, you know, there is a family that wants them and that kind of thing.
So I hope that kind of answers both questions. So I think the Family Connections grants start to work towards the practice that we are seeing greater improvements in.
Mr. Doggett. And why is it that we need additional data from HHS? And I guess in turn they are getting that from the States.
Ms. Dobbins. Additional data on which, I am sorry?
Mr. Doggett. You indicated in your testimony that you wanted to see HHS reports by category. I am just asking you to expand on that.
Ms. Dobbins. Oh, a very good question.
Mr. Doggett. I assume that means also they are requiring that from the States.
Ms. Dobbins. I am sure they are. I just haven’t seen reporting at, you know, the public level, because, you know, what is reported is how much States actually earn, but I think it is important to also know what States are receiving the bonuses for, so in which categories? Are they receiving them because they are increasing the adoptions of older youth ages 9 and older; or is it because they are increasing the special needs population; or is it because their rates of adoption are increasing, which is something important to note, because the rates of adoption is only provided as an incentive to States if there is money left over in the allotment? And so what we have seen is that rates of adoption have increased, but are there States that possibly have rate increases, but can’t reach the individual adoptions over a certain baseline that aren’t getting the incentives because that is an afterlook?
And so that is a question of, you know, a better reporting on the categories, or at least a deeper look into this as it is being reauthorized.
Mr. Doggett. Do the maintenance‑of‑effort requirements need to be altered?
Ms. Dobbins. That is actually another issue with the maintenance of effort is from the IV‑E adoption assistance delink. The Federal Government did a great job of legislating that these reinvestments do need to go back into child welfare services, but what we have seen is we are not really sure where they are going. We had hoped that States are spending them in the right places, but there is not a good reporting of that. And at Voice for Adoption we do believe since this money is coming from increasing adoptions, and we want to support that, that a modest percentage of that, 20 percent, be dedicated to continuing to support these families so that we are not seeing families, you know, disrupt and that their needs for, you know, trauma and abuse are looked at at the, you know, family level.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you.
Chairman Reichert. The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Young is recognized.
Mr. Young. Well, I thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member. This is a very important topic. I appreciate everyone’s patience and presence here today. I know it has been a long day.
Lowering barriers to adoption and supporting families postadoption, I think there has been a Federal precedent for this effort. It is something we need to make sure that we continue and improve upon, and so your testimony has been helpful in guiding us in that regard.
This question I will start off for anyone on the panel, feel free to respond, but from the standpoint of those who are seeking to adopt a child from foster care, how efficiently do the various Federal and State programs supporting adoption appear to work together, in your estimation?
And as you think about answering that, there may be some particular areas of focus that you want to attend to; perhaps the information that would‑be adoptive parents need to access tax credits supporting adoption, do they receive sufficient information? Do they receive sufficient information about maintenance payments for children with special needs? Are they told of postadoption services from programs like Promoting Safe and Stable Families and Child Welfare Services?
I will leave this open to the panel.
Ms. Dobbins. Yeah, I will try to take a stab at that.
I think one thing you mentioned specifically that I would like to touch on is the adoption tax credit. What we have seen with the changes in the adoption tax credit that have happened in the last few years is that a lot of adoptive families are not able to access it because they don’t have a tax liability high enough. I can follow up; there is great information behind this. So that is one issue. So it became refundable in 2010 for 2 years.
It takes a certain amount of time and effort for that information to trickle down from the Federal level to States, to families, to caseworkers, and what we have seen most recently that when it was just reauthorized in January, it was not refundable, and for 2012 it is not. But what families were told, and we keep hearing from families, that it was refundable, so they were looking forward to using those services, that money, to support, you know, their children after adoption. So there is a lack of, you know, what knowledge is really getting to the families, and so that could be shored up.
There was one other question that I wanted to get to.
Mr. Young. I will actually be coming back to you.
Would others like a crack at that question?
Ms. Rosati. Yeah. As someone who went through the process four times, I think those are really great questions. We were not aware of the adoption tax credit in the beginning. I guess for some reason we just assumed it was only for intercountry adoption and not for foster care adoption, so we missed it for one or two kids. That was a bummer. But we were then able to access it after the fact.
I think that for the families that are going through the process, things are pretty overwhelming. The amount of paperwork is overwhelming, the time that things take can be overwhelming, the level of intrusiveness that it feels like into your life feels pretty overwhelming.
I don’t say all of those things, however, to say that we need to change them all. I actually have a little bit of a counterintuitive perspective on that. I think that if you are going to welcome home a child who has experienced previous trauma, you have to be ready for a lot of situations that do not fall under the umbrella of normal parenting, and so when you go through these processes that, frankly, are very difficult, I actually think it helps prepare you for the difficulty to come. And so I think there is a balance in how much we want to streamline.
Mr. Young. Sure.
Ms. Rosati. And so many of the processes, of course, are for safety, and so there is really not much that should be done.
Mr. Young. Thank you.
I am going to follow up with Ms. Dobbins in my remaining time here. You mentioned a menu of different policy options that are available to us to both promote more adoptions and perhaps improve those postadoption connections. Mr. Doggett, I think, questioned you about more detailed HHS reporting. It makes great sense to me.
You mentioned State examples of best practices need to be better enforced or regulated by HHS. If you could briefly ‑‑ we have got about 30 seconds left ‑‑ indicate what you are referring to there or speak to the reduction of incentives for States that do not end up with permanent connections at a high level.
Ms. Dobbins. I think one thing is the IV‑E training. We talked a lot about practices. I think it could be encouraged, especially with public and private partnerships, of how good examples of what this is looking like. There is a reimbursement level that can be expanded, and ‑‑ sorry, I am blanking on the next thing, but I hope that answers your question. I am happy to follow up after.
Mr. Young. That is all right.
I yield back. Thank you.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you.
Gentleman’s time is expired. Mr. Griffin is recognized.
Mr. Griffin. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Rosati, I want to ask what are your funding sources for each of your groups, and how much of that is composed of State funding or Federal funding versus private sources?
Ms. Rosati. We receive no government funding. We are funded by the generosity of our donors. And we are able to go into the areas that we work and essentially pay for the events ourselves so that we are able to hopefully add to the good work that has already been done in the community. And I think one of the reasons we are received well is that we are not asking for funds, we want to contribute our funds if they would like to have us.
Mr. Griffin. Before I hear from the others, I just want to ask you, does that model represent a very unique sort of small percentage of the groups that assist, in your experience?
Ms. Rosati. It seems like it, because people are pretty shocked and happy when we come in and offer that we want to contribute our resources to make those efforts work. So we are not aware of too many other things like that, but we are really happy to be a part of the good work that is already going on on the ground. And the public‑private partnership is key. Having all of those stakeholders working together has been a real key to the success.
Mr. Griffin. The others, do you care to comment about your funding sources?
Mr. O’Brien. Sure. Our primary funding comes from local counties and the city of New York. And also the Dave Thomas Foundation funds three of our full‑time staffers.
Mr. Griffin. Great.
Mr. O’Brien. And then we raise some money, and we have a State contract through Adoption Opportunities Federal grant. So it is somewhat diverse, but it comes a lot from governmental local sources.
Mr. Griffin. Ms. Dobbins, Ms. Soronen?
Ms. Soronen. We are a national nonprofit public charity. Until 2012, we were exclusively funded through private donors and through our philanthropic partnerships.
When we released the research on the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids model in 2011 and then approached the State of Ohio to scale that program as a test site for scaling was the first time we took State funds in order to scale that program, but we still manage them. The funds come through us, and we manage those grants as a nonprofit organization.
Mr. Griffin. Ms. Dobbins.
Ms. Dobbins. We are a very small advocacy organization. We are membership based, so our members actually pay in dues, annual modest dues. We don’t receive government funding, Federal funding, and we receive donations as well.
Mr. Griffin. Got you. Ms. Rosati, is your group the only faith‑based group here today, or do any of you others represent faith‑based organizations? And you would characterize yours as faith‑based?
Ms. Rosati. Absolutely, yes.
Mr. Griffin. I am familiar with your group.
Mr. O’Brien. Well, we do a lot of believing at my place, but we don’t ‑‑
Mr. Griffin. Sure. Yes.
As a faith‑based group, have you found that there are additional legal barriers because you are a faith‑based group?
Ms. Rosati. I am pleased to say that we have not really experienced barriers. We went into this with our eyes wide open, understanding that there may be some issues. We have had tremendous working relationships with our government partners. I think there are some basic rules we all observe about how it is that we interact, and it has worked very, very well.
I do know, however, that there are places where those who are involved in child welfare from a faith‑based perspective have had difficulty maintaining their continued presence in those areas. And certainly the ability for those faith‑based organizations to continue to operate in accordance with the dictates of their faith is something we think is very important. So while we haven’t seen those barriers, we know that they exist, and we certainly hope that they won’t expand any further in the States where we have already seen that happen.
Mr. Griffin. I am running out of time, but I just want to real quickly ask, you mentioned, Ms. Rosati, that there were some Federal incentives that you thought were not necessarily accomplishing the stated goal. And that happens a lot with the Federal Government; well intentioned, but misses the mark. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Ms. Rosati. Yes. A couple of the two biggies that we see a lot are the opportunity for those who age out of the system to go on to college and to have that funded and benefited. I think legislators at the State level are afraid it will break the bank. In fact, it will do no such thing. And because they limit it, if you go on and get adopted, you lose that benefit. So you shouldn’t have to choose between higher education and an adoptive family.
Another big one that we see a lot relates to certain kinds of mental health services that are fully funded and accessible if the teenager stays in foster care, but if they get adopted, then it becomes much more difficult to access.
And those would be two things I think where we would need parity in order to eliminate the disincentive that currently exists.
Mr. Griffin. Thank you. Sounds like something we need to look at. Thank you.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you.
Mr. Davis, you are recognized.
Mr. Davis. Thank you very much.
Let me thank the witnesses for coming. Chairman Reichert, Ranking Member Doggett, let me, first of all, thank you for this hearing. I think it is a very important one as we attempt to improve the Adoptions Incentive Act.
For almost a decade now, I have advocated to draw on the successes of Adoptions Incentive Program in increasing adoptions to amend the focus of the law to promote permanency. The witnesses have discussed the need to focus on finding permanent homes for foster children, and, as I understand it, there are three paths to permanency for foster youth: reunification, guardianship and adoption.
We know from research, including the GAO report requested by the Ways and Means Committee, that African American children stay in foster care longer because of difficulties in recruiting adoptive parents and a hesitancy to terminate parental rights as is required for adoption.
African American and Native American families tend to choose guardianship as a route to permanency rather than adoption because they do not see a need to legally sever the relationship or connection between parent and child.
Given the fact that my congressional district has the highest percentage of grandparents raising grandchildren in the Nation, followed by two other congressional districts in Illinois, one right next to mine and then the other one a little further away, guardianship as a permanency option is critically important. A grandmother raising her grandchild does not want to erase the legal connection of her own child to her grandchild. In the fostering connections law, this subcommittee and Congress recognize the disproportionate negative effect of excluding guardianship with regard to foster care parents.
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member and other members of this subcommittee, I ask you to help make sure that we improve the Adoptions Incentive Act by encouraging States to promote permanency for foster children so that more children, and especially more children of color, can exit care to permanent homes faster.
Ms. Dobbins, you have done a great deal of work in this area, and Voices for Adoption does a great deal to promote permanency. Based upon your expertise on the Adoptions Incentives Program, what are some of the ways in which we can amend the law to better promote permanency?
Ms. Dobbins. Thank you. And great question. I think what is important is permanency. We do support permanent options and in broadening the incentive, especially as we can look to what the Federal Government has done in this area of really promoting this and seeing a really big increase in States taking this on and those resources becoming a permanent family for kids who otherwise would be in foster care for long periods of time.
I think we also have to understand how to measure the incentive and make sure that it is the right fit, so we do support it.
Mr. Davis. My time is going to expire, Mr. Chairman, but if the other witnesses could just indicate whether or not they view this as a very important recognition.
Ms. Soronen. Congressman, we do. And, in fact, when we provide our grants and set aggressive goals for those grants, we have included guardianships as those goals. And of those numbers I told you, nearly 200 of those finalized permanent numbers are guardianships.
Mr. O’Brien. And a lot of the homes that we find for older teenagers are with people that they are related to, and that is a very important source of permanent parents.
Ms. Rosati. I concur as well. We have a partner out in the Seattle area who just formed what is called The Children’s Law Center to provide volunteer lawyer services for the grandparents and others who are in the situation you described to allow them to lock in and get what they need in terms of permanent guardianship.
Mr. Davis. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Davis, and I look forward to working with you on this important issue that you just raised.
Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank all the witnesses for being here.
Ms. Soronen, I want to thank you as a fellow Buckeye for being here and testifying as well.
Ms. Soronen. Thank you.
Mr. Renacci. Adoption is generally always a better outcome for kids than remaining in foster care. In addition to the benefits the child receives, I believe adoption has the potential to have huge economic benefits.
Ms. Soronen, you mentioned on page 7 of your testimony that your program is resulting in State savings as well, just in terms of the cost of foster care versus the cost of the program. Can you tell us more about the impact your program is having on State spending in Ohio?
Ms. Soronen. Yes. And we were pleased that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services came forward and said, we want to move these children out of foster care into adoptive homes. And I believe in their hearts of hearts that is their first goal, but they also understand the financial impact.
Ohio is one of those States that has not been able to hit the threshold of adoption incentives for a number of years. And so this program, as we looked at it and worked with the fiscal manager at the Ohio department, we said, help us understand what is the financial impact in Ohio, so as we potentially move this to other States, we can use this as both the human and a financial template as well.
What we found is with a $2.3 million investment from this budget from the department, and then in ‑‑ hopefully negotiated in the next biennial with Ohio, over a 3‑year period with a potential 6‑ or $7 million investment, what they believe is the savings to the State will be in excess of $100 million, and that is because we are getting children age 9, 10 or 11, and we know that by the time a child turns 8, the likelihood of adoption is significantly decreased. So to keep a 9‑ or 10‑year‑old in care for 8 or 10 more years, if you look at those costs, take out the subsidy that the State provides, that savings is still significant.
And the State has said to us they look forward to using those savings to continue to invest in embedding and growing this as best practice for Ohio’s older youth.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you.
Ms. Dobbins, I want to go a little further on the incentive payments. You know, as you mentioned in your testimony, 22 States did not receive incentive payments for fiscal year 2011. I know this is an issue that does affect the State of Ohio. Not only did Ohio not receive incentive payments for 2011, but the last incentive payment Ohio received was fiscal year 2003.
But I know Ohio has made great strides to increase the rate of adoption, yet the way the program is currently structured, Ohio does not receive incentive payments for its progress.
Should the current baseline remain, or should it be changed again?
Ms. Dobbins. I think there are two things, and I did highlight this as an example, where there is opportunities where States are increasing the rates of adoption, but the rate of adoption is afterlook, so States only get that incentive if there is still funding allotted for the adoption incentives.
So the first way that States get money is that they have to increase the numbers of adoptions of older youths and children with special needs above a baseline which was in fiscal year 2007, but if then they can show that they have also increased the rates of adoption, then whatever money is left over, then States receive that incentive.
So we do think this should be looked at more closely, especially by people who do data analysis, to see if changing it to affect the rate, and if that is a greater indicator of success among States, we think that might be an issue that the subcommittee could look at.
Mr. Renacci. Do you see waiting periods for foster youth to continue to decline?
Ms. Dobbins. Well, populations of foster care are declining, yes. So these numbers have steadily declined over time, even the number of waiting children. So, yeah, we do.
Mr. Renacci. Ms. Soronen, do you have any comments on the baseline, especially since it affects Ohio?
Ms. Soronen. I think I agree with everything that Nicole has mentioned. I would also add that we should look at what Mr. O’Brien talked about, those caseloads of children in long‑term foster care, and scrub those caseloads and see what we can do relative to the Adoption Incentives Program of also assuring that those children aren’t simply in that indeterminate status for their lifetime in foster care of another planned permanent living arrangement.
Mr. Renacci. The other witnesses, any comments on the baseline at all to add?
All right. Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Well, you made it. That concludes the questioning. So we just appreciate you waiting, being patient with the rest of what we were doing here today. And then just a real heartfelt thank you for what you do for our young people across the country.
And I know this was a good hearing, because Mr. Young just whispered in my ear, “This is an excellent hearing.” And you heard Mr. Davis’ comments about, thank you for holding this hearing. So we take this issue very, very seriously. And just again, thank you so much for being here and for your patience today.
So if Members have additional questions for the witnesses, they will submit them to you in writing, and we would appreciate receiving your responses for the record within 2 weeks.
[The information follows:]
Chairman Reichert. And now the committee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 5:20 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
Public Submissions For The Record
Lilliput Childrens Services
Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network
Family and Youth Initiative
Center for Adoption Support and Education
Human Rights Campaign
Family Equality Council
Listening to Parents
LMFT Northwest Adoption Exchange
Adoptive Parent and Advocate
Center for Fiscal Equity
Children’s Home and Aid
Family Finding and Adoption Services