The Future of Adoption for Children in Foster Care: Demographics in a Changing Socio-Political Environment (page 3)
As the next century unfolds, adoption will be affected, as it has in the past, by a range of economic, social, and political factors that will affect the number of children needing adoption and the number of families seeking to adopt. For children in foster care who need adoption, these forces are likely to challenge current policy and practice and place greater demands on the child welfare system to respond to the needs of a growing number of children who cannot be reunited with their birth families. This article examines the forces likely to have an impact on the adoption of children in foster care and considers the implications for policy and practice in a changing economic and sociopolitical climate.
According to recent national estimates, one million children in the United States have been adopted [Stolley, 1993], and between 2% and 4% of all families have adopted. [Mosher & Bachrach, 1996; Moorman & Hernandez, 1989]. Although there is no definitive source of data on the number or types of adoptions finalized, it is generally estimated that between 130,000 to 150,000 adoptive families are formed each year. [Hollinger, 1996]. Importantly, only about fifteen percent of adoptive families are comprised of children formerly in foster care who are adopted by unrelated adults, many of whom have been the children's foster parents. [Flango, 1995].
The future is likely to bring changes in the nature and scope of all forms of adoption. Infant adoption is likely to be affected by demographic, socioeconomic and technological forces that will coalesce to further diminish the supply of infants available for adoption and, conceivably, heighten the demand among infertile adults for adoption. [Mosher & Bachrach, 1996; Stolley, 1993]. Significant forces likewise will affect demand and supply with regard to the adoption of children in foster care. The demand- supply relationship, however, will likely present a mirror image of the relationship between demand and supply in infant adoption. Demand in relation to adoption for children in the foster care system is not the demand of individuals whose infertility drives them to adopt, as in the case of infant adoption, but the needs of children for whom adoption is the road to permanent family. Supply is the not the much sought-after pool of infants and very young healthy children available for adoption, but the pool of prospective adoptive families which consistently has not been adequate to meet children's needs for adoption.
The demographic, social and political forces likely to affect children in the next century suggest that demand for adoption among children in foster care will become even greater as the number of children in foster care continues to grow and, without significant changes in policy and practice, the supply of adoptive families will continue to lag seriously behind in relation to that demand. Absent careful planning for the future, demographic trends -- when combined with sociopolitical forces that are only beginning to take hold -- may well deepen the inequities apparent in the "harsh adoption marketplace" [Barth, Berry, Yoshikami, Goodfield & Carson, 1988] of this decade.
The Demand: Children in Foster Care Awaiting Adoption
As the number of children who are abused and neglected continues to grow each year [United States Department of Health and Human Services 1996], the number of children entering foster care likewise escalates. At the end of 1994, there were an estimated 468,000 children in foster care [Congressional Research Service, 1997], an increase of 70% since 1984. Although the number of children in foster care who need adoptive families is not known, many states estimate that 15% to 20% of the children in foster care need families through adoption. [McKenzie, 1993]. In Fiscal Year 1993, some 86,000 children in foster care needed adoption planning and services. [National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, 1996].
As the number of children in foster care has grown and the number of children needing adoption services has escalated, the numbers of children in foster care whose adoptions are finalized in any one year, nevertheless, has remained stable. The highest number of finalized adoptions occurred in Fiscal Year 1982 when between 22,000 and 24,000 adoptions were finalized. [Tatara, 1993]. Since that time, the number of adoptions finalized each year has ranged between 17,000 and 21,000 each year, reflecting increasingly smaller percentages of children in care. [Tatara, 1993]. In the most recent year for which data is available, Fiscal Year 1993, only 18,000 adoptions of children in foster care were finalized [National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, 1996], a figure that represents only about four percent of the total number of children in care that year and, based on the low estimate of 15% of children in care having a goal of adoption, only about 27% of the children whose plan was adoption.
As the numbers of finalized adoptions may suggest, there are growing backlogs of children who are awaiting adoption. Although somewhat limited in scope, a 1991 study of twenty states found that children for whom adoption was planned remained in foster care an average of 3.5 to 5.5 years and, in many communities, even longer. [McKenzie, 1993]. Data for Fiscal Year 1990 reveals that almost half [46.3%] of the children in foster care whose adoptions were finalized that year had spent two years or more awaiting adoptive placements. [Tatara, 1993]
Of the children's adoptions that are actually finalized, it is primarily younger children who are placed. In FY 1990, almost 55% of all finalized adoptions were of children between birth and five years of age. [Tatara, 1993]. As children age, the percentage of all adoptions representing the adoptions of children of each age group decline: in FY 1990, 37.4% of all adoptions were children between 6 and 12 years of age and 7.7% were between 13 and 18. [Tatara, 1993].
The data is even more dramatic for children awaiting adoption. In FY 1990, 4% of the children awaiting adoption were under the age of one, 36.2% were between 1 and 5, 43.2% were between the ages of 6 and 12 years of age, and 15.3% were between 13 and 18 years old. [Tatara, 1993]. Perhaps most telling is the difference in the median age between children who are actually adopted and those awaiting adoption: in FY 1990 the median age of children actually adopted was 4.6 years compared to a median age of 7.4 years for children awaiting adoption. [Tatara, 1993].
These data suggest that the longer children wait for adoption, the longer they will continue to wait. At the same time, research suggests that the longer children wait for adoption, the more vulnerable their adoptions are to disruption. Research has consistently shown that adoption disruption increases with the child's age at placement. [Barth, Berry, Yoshikami, Goodfield & Carson, 1988]. In a recent study of adoption disruption among older children, the researchers found a very low disruption rate [4.7%] among 3 to 5 year old children, a higher rate for children between 6 and 8 [10.4%] and increasingly higher rates for children between the ages of 9 and 11 [17.1%], between the ages of 12 and 14 [22.4%], and between the ages of 15 and 18 [26.1%]. [Barth, Berry, Yoshikami, Goodfield & Carson, 1988].
Poverty and Adoption Demand in the Future
The number of children entering foster care and, of that group of children, the number who will need adoption planning and services are likely to continue to escalate as the next century unfolds. Although factors such as parental substance abuse are likely to affect this trend [Albert & Barth, 1996], poverty, including the poverty-related effects of recent changes in family support policies in this country, will have, in all likelihood, the most significant effect on the number of abused and neglected children needing adoption planning and services.
The Role of Poverty in Child Abuse and Neglect
Poverty has consistently been identified as a key factor in child abuse and neglect. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over twenty-two times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose incomes exceeded $30,000. [United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996]. Poor children were found also to be eighteen times more likely to be sexually abused and over twenty-two times more likely to be seriously injured. [United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996]. These findings suggest that poor children are far more likely to need foster care than children who are not poor, and the data validates this relationship: research consistently shows that poverty is a critical variable in foster care entry. [Lindsey, 1994]. A number of studies, in fact, have found that the major determinant of children's removal from their parents' custody is not the severity of child abuse but unstable sources of parental income. [Lindsey, 1994; Pelton, 1989]. These findings suggest that if poverty rises in the future and affects more families and children, it is likely that there will be corresponding increases in referrals to the child welfare system and in the numbers of children who enter foster care, some proportion of whom will need adoption planning and services.
Trends in Poverty Rates
According to the Census Bureau, between 1994 and 1995, households in the US experienced an annual increase in their income -- for the first time in six years. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1996]. The Census Bureau, however, also reported that despite this positive turn in poverty rates in general, children in the United States continue to be overwhelmingly poor. Children currently represent 40% of the poor in this country even though they constitute only 27% of the total population. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1996]. The poverty rate for children, which continues to be higher than for any other age group, has remained at or above 20% since the early 1980s. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1996]. In 1995, some 14.7 million s in the Supplemental Security Income [SSI] program. [Waxman & Alker, 1996]. Under the legislation, federal funding for these and other programs has been reduced by $54 billion over six years [Waxman & Alker, 1996], representing a dramatic decrease in the level of support the federal government has traditionally provided to poor children.
Given the fact that two-thirds of the recipients of welfare benefits are 10 million poor children in this country [Kilborn, 1996], it is not unreasonable to predict that as a result of these fundamental changes in US family policy, more children will enter poverty, many poor children will become poorer, and children with disabilities will face increasing levels of poverty. Although some proponents of the new legislation have asserted that "welfare reform" would reduce birth rates and in effect, prevent children from entering the world in poverty and welfare-dependent, there is no evidence that the new policies will have such an effect. To the contrary, early welfare reform efforts had no impact on the birth rate of families receiving welfare benefits [Child Exclusion Task Force, 1996; Rank, 1989], suggesting that the measures now being implemented nationwide will not reduce unintended pregnancy nor the child bearing rates of the poor women who have been traditionally served by the AFDC program. Estimates are, instead, that the Act's provisions will result in one million more children entering poverty. [Waxman & Alker, 1996].
One of the key poverty-related measures of the new law is the withdrawal of the financial support previously guaranteed to poor families through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC] program. The new law has abolished AFDC and, in its place, established:
- A block grant for the support of poor families, to be known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF], under which assistance is no longer guaranteed to all who qualify;
Work requirements on families receiving TANF assistance, including single mothers with young children;
Time limits on TANF which permit assistance for a maximum lifetime period of five years;
TANF assistance to minor parents only if they are living at home or in another adult-supervised setting; and
Options to states to deny assistance to children born to women while they are receiving TANF benefits.
The new law also reduces Food Stamp benefits which is likely to further erode the basic support available to families. These cuts are projected to have the greatest effect on families with children, who are likely to experience 70 percent of the reductions in the program. [Children's Defense Fund, 1996a]. Additionally, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 legal immigrant children will lose food stamps altogether. [Children's Defense Fund, 1996a].
At the same time, changes in the Supplemental Security Income [SSI] program, which has been a source of financial support for children with disabilities, will result in significant numbers of children losing eligibility for disability-based cash assistance. As a result of the new law's narrowing of the definition of child disability, at least 135,000 children will lose their SSI benefits. [Vobejda, 1997]. The change will most dramatically affect children with mental and emotional disorders and those with multiple impairments, and will have an impact on many children with such conditions as mental retardation, tuberculosis, and schizophrenia. [National Health Law Program, National Center for Youth Law & National Senior Citizens Law Center, 1996]. A significant portion of the children who lose SSI support also will forfeit their Medicaid coverage --an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 children [Waxman & Alker, 1996] -- which will result in a further increase in the already extraordinarily high number of children in the United States who are uninsured. [Pear, 1996a]
These changes in family policy, which reflect only a portion of the new law's impact on poor families, may well result in greater levels of poverty and increasing risks to the health and well being of many children. Early indicators, in fact, reveal that many states, because of the discretion given to them under the new law, are adopting stricter work requirements and shorter time limits than those set as minimum standards in the law. [Pear, 1997]. It is likely that some proportion of the families who previously were able to provide their children with basic care will no longer be able to do so. Parents will not be the only caregivers affected. The new law will likewise impact the grandparents of children who have assumed responsibility for grandchildren and relied upon the former AFDC program as a key support. It is estimated that approximately 65,000 grandparents currently receive AFDC cash assistance benefits on behalf of the grandchildren for whom they have assumed parenting responsibilities. [National Health Law Program, National Center for Youth Law & National Senior Citizens Law Center, 1996; Vobejda, 1996a].
Welfare Reform, Foster Care and Adoption
The effects of increasing poverty, at least some of which will be the result of changes in family policy, will likely include increasing numbers of children entering foster care; greater difficulties reuniting children with their poor families, including the likelihood that children will stay in foster care longer; probable growth in the number of children needing adoption planning and services; and greater complexity in the use of the "special needs" classification to promote the adoption of children in care. These factors, in combination, will place increasing fiscal demands on the child welfare system to serve children -- demands that may well translate into fewer and less timely services.
Growth in the Foster Care Population. It is reasonable to predict that foster care will be necessary for a growing number of children whose parents and relatives will find themselves without the necessary financial resources to support their children. It is difficult to project the exact number of children who will enter foster care because their families lose benefits and their ability to provide their children with basic care is undermined. It has been estimated, however, that if one percent of children currently on AFDC must enter foster care, there will be an additional 100,000 children entering care -- a 20% increase in the already burgeoning number of children in care whom the child welfare system is attempting to serve. [Kroll, 1996].
Barriers to Family Reunification. Given the poverty-related factors that are likely to lead more children into foster care, difficulties may be predicted in reuniting children with their families. Analyses of length of time in foster care suggest that, even with AFDC supports in place, children have been remaining in care for extended periods of time. [Chapin Hall Center for Children, 1994]. In its analysis of five states that together represent almost half of the population of children in foster care in the United States, the Chapin Hall Center for Children  found that the median duration of first foster care stays for children ranged from a low of 8.7 months in Texas to a high of just under three years in Illinois. Length of stay for the new population of children who enter foster care is likely to be much longer. For many of these children, their families will have lost financial support under the TANF program, permanently in many cases, and will have lost or faced significant reductions in their Food Stamps benefits. Other children coming into care will have lost SSI benefits, and with that loss, will no longer have access to essential care and services which their families, on their own, will not be able to provide.
The current challenges related to reunification of children with parents will inevitably be exacerbated. It seems unreasonable to expect that the child welfare system will be able to create the stable sources of income that families will need to regain custody of their children. Nor can the system be reasonably expected to create access to health care and developmental services for children who no longer have health insurance so that their families can resume responsibility for them. The result is likely to be that children will remain in the system longer, and it will be increasingly difficult to help families reconstruct their lives in ways that allow them to regain custody of their children.
Growth in the Need for Adoption Services. It is probable that a larger percentage of children will not be reunited with their families and will need adoption planning and services. Assuming a continuing mandate for permanency for children in foster care, there may well be an increase in the percentage of children in foster care who ultimately will require adoption planning and services -- rising from the current estimate of 15% to 20% to what can reasonably be estimated at one-third or more of the children in care. Such growth, in connection with what is likely to be an increase in the foster care population by as much as 20%, would translate into almost 180,000 children needing adoption planning and services -- an astronomical figure given current resources in the child welfare system.
Complexities in Using "Special Needs"-Related Benefits. Changes in family policy will create greater complexity in the use of the "special needs" classification to promote the adoption of children in care. The majority of children in the system for whom adoption is the plan have _ated to establish: the new rules implementing "welfare reform" state that, in order to be eligible for Title IV-E, a child must have been eligible for AFDC under the AFDC eligibility rules that existed as of June 1, 1995. Stated somewhat differently, child welfare systems must attempt to qualify children for Title IV-E by applying eligibility rules that existed at some point in the past for a program that no longer exists. Given the inevitable problems that such a procedure will present, it is extremely likely that many children will not qualify for Title IV-E when they enter foster care, and, consequently, will not be eligible for adoption assistance at the time they are placed with adoptive families. At the same time, the changes in SSI will mean that a significant number of children with disabilities will no longer be eligible for SSI benefits, and with that loss of SSI eligibility, they will no longer have the SSI linkage they need to qualify for adoption assistance. The consequence is likely to be that the key resources supporting the adoption of children with special needs -- adoption assistance and accompanying Medicaid coverage -- will not be available to many children whose adoptions depend on these ongoing supports. It is reasonable to anticipate that the absence of these supports could affect the ability of many prospective adoptive families to assume full responsibility for children with special needs.
In summary, higher levels of adoption demand can be anticipated as a result of poverty related factors associated with changes in family support polices. As the number of children in foster care continues to grow, there will likely be increasing poverty-based barriers to reunification and a growth in the number of children who will need adoption planning and services. The demand, in terms of sheer numbers, will present formidable challenges to child welfare systems, challenges that will be exacerbated by the diminished availability of adoption assistance and ongoing Medicaid coverage for children after adoptions are legalized. The critical issue will become supply-side: marshaling sufficient numbers of adoptive families - who in the past have largely been families of modest means -- who are able to provide highly vulnerable children with the permanency they need.
The Supply: Adoptive Families for Children in Foster Care
Given the growing demand for adoption as a result of increasing numbers of children in foster care in need of adoption planning and services, the recruitment, preparation, and support of prospective adoptive families for children in foster care will become even more critical as the next century unfolds. To ensure an adequate supply of adoptive families for the children in foster care awaiting adoption, it will be essential to aggressively and creatively recruit a broad range of prospective adoptive families, including families who have not traditionally been recruited for the adoption of children with special needs. Such an approach will require a shift from what historically has been an emphasis on screening out prospective adoptive families to developing partnerships with potential parents. [Barth, 1997]. This new type of partnership will likewise require that effective programs be developed to prepare and support adoptive families before and after adoption.
The Supply Side: The Demographics of Families Who Adopt Children in Foster CareCurrently, children in foster care are adopted by three major types of families: former foster parents, relatives, and families unrelated to the child. In FY 1990, for example, almost half (47.2%) of the children adopted were adopted by former foster parents, a small percentage (7%) by relatives, and a significant percentage (41.5%) by people unrelated to them. [Tatara, 1993]. The number and types of families who will adopt children in foster care in the future may well depend on the direction that policy and practice take in supporting the development and implementation of aggressive and effective programs of recruitment, preparation and support for adoptive families.
Adoption by Former Foster Parents. One of the most common characteristics of adoptive families of children with special needs has been their status as former foster parents. Although nationally approximately one-half of all "special needs" adoptions are by foster parents, the proportion is higher in some states, with some communities reporting that 80 to 90 percent of all adopters are foster parents. [McKenzie, 1993]. For the most part, foster parents adopt children who were previously placed with them. [United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1992]. Experts predict, based on current trends, that the percentage of foster parents who adopt will continue to rise. [McKenzie, 1993]. This positive trend, however, may be offset by other factors.
As important as foster parents may be as adoptive resources for children in care, the total number of foster parents has significantly declined since the early 1980s. [National Foster Parent Association, 1989]. Experts have predicted that the current shortage will continue throughout the 1990s and into the next century, and the total number of foster parents is likely to decline even further. [United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1992]. This prediction appears to be proving correct. Even states that have undertaken intensive, multimillion dollar efforts to recruit more foster parents find that they currently have even fewer foster parents than before their recruitment campaigns began. [Grunwald, 1997]. This trend is likely to translate into fewer foster parents being available for increasing numbers of children -- either to provide shorter term foster care or to offer the permanency of adoption. An increase in the rate of foster parent adoption, as a consequence, may well be offset by declining numbers of foster parents and a corresponding shrinkage in this traditional base of potential adopters.
Adoption by Relatives. An alternative source of adoptive families is the extended family networks of the children themselves. For children in foster care needing adoption, relatives generally have adopted through two routes. Some serve as the children's foster parents and then adopt; others offer to adopt their relative-children placed with unrelated foster parents once the decision to pursue adoption is made. It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the children in foster care are placed with related foster parents, with a considerably higher percentage in certain urban areas. [Child Welfare League of America, 1994]. Using the 1993 estimate that 86,000 children in foster care needed adoption planning and services, it can be predicted that some 25,500 children currently placed with relatives will have adoption as their plan.
Many of these relatives may stand ready to adopt, but others may not be able to meet children's longer term needs. [McKenzie, 1993]. The literature suggests that many family members who serve as foster parents for their related children, often grandmothers, have misgivings about formal adoption related to the family member's or the child's older age, concerns that adoption evidences disrespect for the child's relationship to the birth parent, and financial considerations. [Testa, Shook, Cohen & Woods, 1996]. These constraints are likely to continue to place limits on relative foster parent adoption.
Alternatively, extended family members may adopt their young relatives whose stays with unrelated foster parents have not led to reunification with their birth families as may have been originally contemplated. [McKenzie, 1993]. This type of adoption, however, as the Fiscal Year 1990 data shows, currently represents a very small percentage of all adoptions of children in foster care. The extent to which this group of relatives could become more available as adoptive families for children in foster care warrants closer scrutiny. Their under use as adoptive resources may be related to concerns similar to those articulated by relative foster parents or, alternatively, may reflect a lack of interest on the part of child welfare systems in exploring the availability of such families, particularly when they reside in counties or states other than the child's place of residence.
Recent policy changes seem to suggest greater support for larger numbers of relative adoptions, but it is questionable whether these changes in and of themselves will lead to higher rates of adoption by relatives, either among those who initially provide foster care or those who step forward when the child welfare agency determines that reunification with birth parents will not be pursued. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 requires, for children in foster care whose permanency plan is adoption, that the child welfare agency with custody consider giving preference to an adult relative over a non-relative caregiver when determining a placement for a child. Given the pattern observed in the adoption of related children -- that these adoptions are primarily by families with lower incomes [Mosher & Bachrach, 1996] -- the preferential consideration, while recognizing the value of family and cultural continuity, is not likely to offset the law's financial impact in terms of adoption assistance and Medicaid coverage. As a consequence, unless there are countervailing policy and practice developments that provide access to financial assistance and health care coverage, there are likely to be serious limits on the extent to which adoption by relatives will represent an ongoing viable resource for children in foster care.
Adoption by Unrelated Families. The alternative course to primary reliance on the diminishing pool of foster parents and on children's relatives is to recruit, prepare, and support adoption by unrelated families. This form of adoption, as the FY 1990 data reflects, has represented a significant percentage of adoptions of children in foster care. However, experts have noted that adoption by unrelated families has been on the decline [McKenzie, 1993], with the majority of adoptions of unrelated children occurring outside the foster care system. Data show that unrelated children are most commonly adopted by childless women, women with fecundity impairments, white women, and those with higher levels of income and education [Mosher & Bachrach, 1996], groups that historically have sought to adopt healthy infants. These groups of individuals -- who significantly outnumber the healthy infants available for adoption -- would seem to represent a significant adoption resource for children in foster care. The question is likely to become how this group can be recruited and supported in the adoption of children with special needs and, thereby, added to the groups of prospective adoptive families traditionally considered as resources for children in foster care. Key policy and practice considerations are likely to be related to the attitudes of many adoption professionals who believe that this group of potential adopters simply have no interest in adopting children with special needs. [Sullivan, 1994].
Adoption in the Future: Recruitment of Adoptive Families
Trends suggest that as the next century unfolds, there is likely to be great diversity in the types of families in which children are being reared, a diversity that can provide many options for children in foster care awaiting adoptive families. Demographic data reflecting family diversity suggests a broad pool of potential adoptive families, who, through creative and aggressive recruitment can become the new supply of families for adoption in the future, adding to the adoptive resources traditionally sought among foster parents and to a lesser extent, among children's extended family networks.
Single parenting on the whole is likely to continue to constitute a significant proportion of families, a trend that may indicate a broad social context for encouraging increasing numbers of adoption by single individuals. Census data reflect growing numbers of never married individuals in the United States, rising from 21.4 million in 1970 to 44.2 million in 1994, and a quadrupling of the number of currently divorced individuals since 1970. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1994a]. At the same time, an increasing proportion of children live in one-parent families. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1994a]. Between 1970 and 1994, the proportion of children living with two parents [biological, step, and adoptive] declined from 85% to 69%. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1994a]. The remaining 31% of children who, in 1994, were living in one-parent families were as likely to be living with a never-married parent [36%] as with a divorced parent [37%]. [United States Bureau of the Census, 1994a]. There is also a growing population of single fathers. Although the majority of one parent families are headed by women, the number of male-headed single families is increasing. In 1995, the number of families headed by men with no wife present had risen to 3.2 million families, compared to 1.2 million in 1970. [Vobejda, 1996b].
As the number of single individuals and single parents through biological procreation has grown, the number of single parent adoptions likewise has increased significantly. In 1975, 2.5 percent of the completed adoptions were with single parents, and studies suggest substantial growth in this percentage since then. [Meezan, 1980]. In Oregon, for example, 5 percent of all placements made by the Children's Services Division in 1989 were with single parents; by 1991, the figure rose to 12 percent. [Shireman, 1995]. In his study of the adoption of children with special needs, Groze  found a significant increase in the percentage of all adoptions that were by single parents -- from 5 percent in 1970 to 34 percent in 1984. Currently, it is estimated that approximately one-quarter of children with special needs are adopted by single individuals, and in some geographical areas the percentages are higher. [Shireman, 1995]. A study of adoptive families in New York State in 1994, for example, found that one half of families adopting children with special needs were single parent families. [Avery & Mont, 1994].
At the other end of the spectrum, large families [with 3 or more children at home], are growing. While large families were not as prevalent in 1994 as in 1970, they nevertheless have showed signs of a slight resurgence. [United Sates Bureau of the Census 1994b]. The number of large families, which had fallen from 10.4 million in 1970 to 6.5 million in 1990, rebounded in 1994 to 7.1 million. [United Sates Bureau of the Census, 1994b]. It is conceivable that, as part of the trend of larger families becoming somewhat more common, more families will consider adding to their existing families through adoption. In the 1994 survey of adoptive families in New York State, researchers found that a large percentage -- 81.4% -- of the families who had adopted children with special needs already had children in the home. [Avery & Mont, 1994]. Of those adoptive families with other children in the home, the mean number of children was 2.28. [Avery & Mont, 1994]. These families were much more likely to adopt older children than families without other children in the home [Avery & Mont, 1994], suggesting that established families with children have been and can continue to be important adoptive resources for children in foster care.
Diversity will likely be seen in the racial and cultural composition of the pool of prospective adoptive families in the future. As virtually every commentator on the foster care system has noted, children of color are over represented in the foster care population as a whole, and they wait longer than white children for adoption, if and when it is decided that adoption planning and services are appropriate for them. [Lawrence-Webb, 1997; Brown & Barley-Etta, 1997; McKenzie, 1993]. Studies have shown that African American children are more than twice as likely to remain in foster care as to be adopted while white children are about twice as likely to be adopted as to remain in care. [Barth, 1997]. Latino children are about equally likely to remain in foster care as to be adopted. [Barth, 1997]. It is reasonable to anticipate, based on the trends observed over the last several years, that this over representation will persist, and these children will wait for disproportionate periods of time for adoptive families -- issues raising serious policy and practice questions about the most effective strategies to serve children of color.
In response to these concerns, federal law was recently changed to attempt to facilitate the transracial adoption of these children. Underlying this new legislation was the belief that children of color, in general, and African American children, in particular, are not being adopted because of race-based decision-making in adoptive placements. [McRoy, Oglesby & Grape, 1997]. The expectation underlying this policy is that by facilitating adoption by white families, larger numbers of children of color in foster care will move readily into adoption.
Because there is no definitive source of data on a national basis regarding the current number of transracial adoptions of children with special needs, no baseline exists against which to compare the level and nature of transracial adoptive placements in the future. Most analyses suggest limited use of transracial adoptions. A Child Welfare League of America  survey of 22 states, for example, found that four percent of all adoptions in 1993 were transracial, and Stolley  reported that only about one percent of all adoptions involved adoptions of African American children by white parents. Avery and Mont  in their New York State study found that approximately 11 percent of adoptions among a sample of 258 families were transracial. The researchers found that in most instances, white parents adopted black children [10.68%] and only in a very small number of adoptions [.83% or 3 cases] did black parents adopt a white child. [Avery & Mont, 1994].
It is unclear whether there is a relationship between these low rates of transracial adoption and the lengthy waits for adoption experienced by children of color in foster care, nor is it clear whether transracial adoption will positively impact the supply of adoptive families for children in foster care. Because of the important racial, cultural, and systemic issues associated with transracial adoption [McRoy, Oglesby & Grape, 1997], transracial adoption cannot be addressed purely from a demographic perspective. Demographically, however, the narrow issue of the needed supply of adoptive families for children in foster care can be considered in terms of the adoptive resources available in the white community and in communities of color.
Those who support transracial adoption maintain that the change in policy to preclude consideration of race in adoptive placements will facilitate the adoption of children of color by white families, resulting in a large pool of white families coming forward to adopt these children. [Bartholet, 1993]. This position has largely been supported by anecdotal accounts and not by data that demonstrate that white families, in significant numbers, have sought and been deprived of the opportunity to adopt African American and other children of color with special needs. There appears to be no research that addresses the extent to which white families seek to adopt children of color; the extent to which such families have been screened out as prospective adoptive families; or the extent to which these families have sought alternate forms of adoption, such as international adoption, because of rejection by the child welfare system. Given the complexity of the issue, it not clear that a policy change, in and of itself, will give rise to a large supply of prospective white adoptive families seeking to adopt children of color in foster care, as some suggest. On the other hand, there is no data to support assertions such as those advanced by The Economist  that policies facilitating transracial adoption will have no significant impact on the number of children in foster care awaiting adoption. From the limited perspective of supply in relation to demand, the change in policy provides the opportunity to discover the extent to which the pool of white adoptive families is, in reality, a resource for children in foster care. It also provides an opportunity to carefully track the level and nature of transracial adoption and its impact on the number of children in foster care who are awaiting adoption and the length of time they wait.
Those who oppose the facilitation of transracial adoption contend that there are prospective African American and other adoptive families of color, but barriers within the child welfare system historically have made it difficult for these families to adopt children in foster care. [Neal, 1996]. Interestingly, while many experts have pointed to the failure of the child welfare system itself to effectively reach prospective adoptive families of color [McRoy, Oglesby & Grape, 1997; McKenzie, 1993], including the disproportionate screening out of prospective African American families [Hill, 1993], the adoption literature commonly assumes that African American and other adults of color largely lack interest in the formal adoption of children in foster care. [National Council for Adoption, 1989]. These assumptions, however, like the assumptions related to the interest of white families in adopting children of color, are not based on data. There has been little empirical study of the actual extent to which members of communities of color, including African American communities, are willing to pursue formal adoption [Kalmuss, 1992], although there are reported surveys that reflect that significant numbers of African American household heads are interested in formally adopting. [Hill, 1993].
Specifically with regard to adoptive resources within the African American community, it has been suggested that there are significant opportunities among African American couples with fertility problems and among single African American adults who want a child, do not anticipate marrying, and with respect to African American women, do not wish to have a nonmarital birth. [Kalmuss, 1992]. Although there are unanswered questions about the knowledge and attitudes about adoption held by adults of color, their perceptions of the adoption system's degree of openness to them and their perceptions of the level of support in their own communities for adults who adopt unrelated children [Kalmuss, 1992], a number of adoption recruitment programs targeting communities of color have been successful in reaching prospective adoptive families of color. [McRoy, Oglesby & Grape, 1997] These results suggest that it is unwise, from the perspective of enhancing the supply of prospective adoptive families, to assume that adults of color have little interest in the adoption of children in foster care. As the new legal requirements related to transracial adoption are implemented, maximizing the supply of adoptive families will likewise demand the development of potential adoptive resources for these children within the children's own communities of color.
Adoption in the Future: The Preparation of and Support for Adoptive Families
Enhanced recruitment efforts of adoptive families for the increasing number of children in foster care needing adoption, in and of themselves, are not likely to be sufficient to meet the future adoption demand. A significant percentage of children in foster care have and in the future will have substantial needs for medical, mental health and developmental services on an ongoing basis, and given their histories of abuse and neglect, their transitions into new adoptive families may present special challenges. Assuming success in locating prospective adoptive families, child welfare systems must then be prepared to support these families prior to and after adoption.
Post adoption services, however, have largely been neglected. Currently, fewer than one-third of the states have a formal program to serve adoptive families after legalization of their children's adoptions. [Barth, 1997]. This dearth of services bodes poorly for enhanced recruitment of adoptive families. Prospective adoptive families will be far more likely to become actual adoptive families if there is an assurance of the availability of services post-adoption.
Post-adoption support and services are also critical in averting adoption disruption. As the data demonstrate, adoption disruption affects an important percentage of the adoptions of children in foster care -- and is more likely to be the outcome as the age of the child at placement increases. [Barth, Berry, Yoshikami, Goodfield & Carson, 1988]. It can be anticipated that a range of factors will continue to effect the probabilities of adoption disruption for children who enter adoption from foster care: many of these children are and will be placed at older ages and most have traumatic histories associated with abuse and severe neglect. [Sullivan, 1996]. Practitioners have pointed consistently to the availability of post-adoption support and services as critical to ensuring both the availability and stability of adoptive families for children in foster care [Voice for Adoption, 1997], and it seems likely that the role of these services in future recruitment and support will become even more important.
If the adoption of children in foster care is to be a reality for the many children who will need adoptive families in the future, practice and policy must ensure the availability of comprehensive and integrated programs of preparation and post adoption services and support. As developed by Sullivan , the framework for such a comprehensive program has five key components: social acceptance and support; education about adoption; counseling and mental health services; specialized medical, dental, legal and financial services; and advocacy. The following table, adapted from Sullivan , outlines the services likely to respond to prospective adoptive families' concerns about the adoption of children with special needs and likely to provide stabilizing support post-adoption.
|Table 1: A Comprehensive Adoption Support and Services Program|
|Service Type||For Adoptive Families||For Adopted Individuals||For Birth Families|
|Social Acceptance and Support Services||Provide adoptive parents with affirmation of adoption as a valued and acceptable mode of parenting||Provide adoptive parents with affirmation of adoption as a valued and acceptable mode of parenting|
Demographic data and the sociopolitical factors impacting the adoption of children in foster care suggest that adoption demand will increase dramatically in the near future, far outstripping the current, already inadequate supply of adoptive families. Demand is not likely to be amenable to any significant level of change given the poverty-related forces already at work. Supply, however, can be more readily effected by policy and practice that embrace creative strategies to recruit and support adoptive families. From a resource perspective, a supply-side commitment may well mean a significant departure from the current programmatic emphases, resulting in a re-targeting of fiscal and professional resources. The dynamics of supply and demand can provide the conceptual framework to support such resource reallocation and shape a positive future for the adoption of children in foster care.
Reprinted with the permission of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. © 2007 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. All rights reserved.
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