In 2004, nearly 23,000 children were adopted from foreign countries. Since then, many of these countries, including Russia and Ethiopia, have put an end to international adoptions. The result is just 5,400 children have been adopted from places outside the United States in 2016. With fewer international children available, a rise in adoptions from foster care throughout the United States seemed imminent.
However, while the number of children in care across the country rose by more than 10 percent between 2012 and 2016, including a 15 percent increase in children waiting to be adopted, the adoption rate failed to keep pace. What makes these statistics more troubling is that nearly half of those waiting to be adopted are legally free.
According to a University of Chicago report, nearly one-third of the nation’s foster children haven’t graduated high school or earned their General Education Development (GED) Certificate. In an effort to raise high school graduation rates President Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” in 2015.
ESSA replaced President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and put an emphasis on improving student performance while setting a national academic standard. It also addressed the unique educational needs of foster children with several mandates, such as keeping children in the school they were enrolled in prior to entering care or moving to a new foster home and providing transportation to and from school.
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.”