Interstate adoptions: Harder than they should be?

NEW YORK (AP) — Fewer children would be stuck in foster care if state authorities reduced red tape and standardized procedures nationwide to encourage more adoptions by out-of-state families, according to a coalition of child welfare experts appealing for change.

“Children wait in foster care not because there aren’t enough families to adopt them, but because of artificial barriers we erect,” said Jeff Katz, executive director of Listening to Parents, a Boston-based group that organized the initiative.

The coalition — representing several of the nation’s leading adoption advocacy groups — issued a report Tuesday detailing some of these barriers and proposing steps to overcome them.

One proposal would be to standardize the home study courses that are required of all parents seeking to adopt. At present, home studies vary widely and some states do not accept the preparations made by a family in another state.

Another proposal is to adjust the federal adoption incentive policy so both the sending and receiving states are rewarded for interstate adoptions. According to the report, the current system rewards the sending state for finalizing an adoption, while the state receiving the child may not get fully compensated for costs of recruitment and post-adoption support.

The report cites federal data showing there were only 4,600 interstate adoptions out of 690,000 children adopted from foster care between 1998 and 2009. In the 2010 fiscal year, according to Katz, there were 527 interstate adoptions out of about 53,000 total adoptions from foster care.

The U.S. child welfare system is complex, with every state — as well as many cities and counties — operating their own agencies and programs under a patchwork of state and federal laws. By the latest federal count, there were about 408,000 children in foster care nationwide, including more than 100,000 who were eligible to be adopted.

One of the advocates endorsing the new report, Kathleen Strottman of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, said Congress might need to be involved in any efforts to rebalance the financial incentives for adoption. However, she said moves to standardize home studies requirements could be undertaken by the states themselves if they were willing to cooperate and overcome possible mistrust.

“The less we can treat this as a state-by-state issue, the better,” she said. “The needs of children are similar. The opportunities for children should be similar.”

Other experts endorsing the report included Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work; Joe Kroll, executive director of the St. Paul, Minn.-based North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Rita Soronen, CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

An adoption expert not involved with the new report, Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, said he and fellow advocates nationwide have been battling for years to eliminate barriers to interstate adoptions.

“For whatever policy reasons, we can’t seem to lick them, and the bottom line is the kids are the losers,” Pertman said. “It’s a states’ rights thing — states saying, ‘We know what we’re doing and no one else should tell us what to do.’”

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