While the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage and gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face challenges that heterosexual families do not. Among the most contested issues is whether foster care agencies can deny placing children based on the foster parents’ sexual orientation.
National LGBT Adoption Laws
Two opposing bills have been sent to Congress to determine whether faith-based foster care agencies are required to place children with families who don’t share their religious beliefs. LGBT rights advocates have proposed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. It would prevent agencies receiving federal funding from denying foster care placements or adoption to members of the LGBT community and allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withhold Title IV funding to states that don’t comply. The other bill in Congress proposed by religious advocates, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, would protect agencies from losing state funding for only providing service to those who share their religious beliefs.
Whether it’s something trivial like tying a shoe or something major like choosing a college, most children have their parents to turn to whenever they need help. However, for kids in foster care, that parental support is often not there. In the case of Sophia Orama, a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, she had to be the one providing support.
With an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, Orama was forced to become the caretaker of the household. “I stayed with her [my mother] for many years because I was the one that was taking care of her,” Orama said. “It wasn’t until the time that I was 16 and I was a junior in high school and I was like, ‘I got to start thinking about myself,’ because college was coming up.”
In 2017, those adopting a child could claim a tax credit valued up to $13,570 per child. The most recent federal statistics show that the adoption tax credit helped roughly 64,000 families throughout the country in 2015 offset the various costs associated with adopting a child. However, this help comes at a price for the national budget, which is why some members of Congress discussed doing away with it in their newly proposed tax plan.
In 2015, the adoption tax credit cost the federal government $251 million and projections show its continued use could total up to $3.8 billion over the next 10 years. While these numbers may seem like an astronomical expense, they are dwarfed by the savings adoption creates when compared to the expense of keeping a child in foster care. In a 2011 report, The National Council for Adoption found that when:
States continue to put more of an emphasis on kinship care with each new study that backs the benefits of placing children in the care of relatives rather than traditional foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that nationally the number of children in both formal and informal kinship care grew by nearly 100,000 between 2012 and 2015. However, while the national number continues to grow, Kentucky has witnessed a decline from nearly 55,000 children being raised by relatives in 2014 down to 53,000 just a year later.
Paula Sherlock, the chief judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson Family Court, told the Courier Journal, “Some relatives simply can’t afford to take custody of children without financial support.” As covered in our previous article, “Grandma Underground: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy,” the impact the 2013 state budget cuts had on kinship parents which resulted in them losing their monthly subsidy. Sherlock went on to say that, “I think the loss of Kinship Care has been a definite deterrent to relative placement… For people on fixed incomes, taking in a grandchild is a serious financial issue.”
In a report by the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a branch of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it was found that 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Typically, when thinking about those suffering from PTSD, many think of war veterans as the demographic hit hardest by this mental health condition. However, a study by Casey Family Programs, the University of Michigan and the Harvard Medical School found that former foster children are nearly twice as likely to experience PTSD as veterans.
This study reported that 1 out of every 4 children who spent time in foster care dealt with PTSD at some point during the previous 12 months. Beyond PTSD, more than half experienced at least one mental health condition, such as social phobia or depression. In a report on the study, Ronald Kessler, a co-author of the project and a professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard, said, “…foster children’s greater likelihood of mental health risk is primarily based upon the experiences, such as neglect and abuse, that children face before entering the foster system.”
States across the nation continue to focus on increasing the number of foster children placed with relatives as more studies are finding there to be benefits of kinship care over traditional foster care. A 2015 study by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) found that 30% of the total population of children in care consisted of children being raised by a family member or close family friend. While the long-term benefits of kinship care are well documented, the time following the child’s placement in the care of relatives can be turbulent as both adults and children face a complex challenge: the medical issues of children in kinship care. These troubles can result in undiagnosed physical disabilities and developmental delays that may be harmful to the child’s schooling and day-to-day life.
Medical Issues of Children in Kinship Care
Most kinship cases happen unexpectedly, leaving caregivers with a short amount of time to take in all of the information covered during the licensing process. Even with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act (FCA) of 2008 easing the requirements for kinship caregivers, it can be a challenge for them to remember all of the intricacies of the policies.