A Foster Child’s Family Tree: How To Find Adoption Records

In May 2014, New Jersey joined eight other states in opening up access to adoption records for adoptees. Today, the nature of open adoption record legislation across the United States is still evolving. For those foster children who were placed in care at a very young age, these records can represent a vital link to the past. Sometimes, however, the release of these records can also represent a violation of the biological parents’ wishes; the conflict between the rights of the adopted and the rights of the parents is central to understanding why many states still do not allow adoptees to find adoption records. For this reason, adoption record information is generally understood as belonging to one of two categories – identifying and nonidentifying information. As adoption law grows and adapts, more and more states are opening up these records and finding ways of navigating the complicated legal situations that spring up from these distinctions.

Find Adoption Records Legislation In Your State

What do these distinctions mean? According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, nonidentifying information includes (but is not limited to) the adoptee’s date and place of birth, physical descriptions of birth parents and their education levels . For almost every state, nonidentifying information is available to adoptive parents or adoptees, and roughly 26 states make similar information about the child available to birth parents.
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Legally Free Children in Care Facing an Adoption Shortage

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.

Legally free children in care
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.
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Religious Freedom and LGBT Adoption Laws Face Off

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.

LGBT Adoption Laws

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.
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Giving Adoption Tax Credit Where Credit is Due

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.

adoption tax credit

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:
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Foster Care Costs: What Happens When Children Aren’t Adopted?

For teens across the country, their eighteenth birthday is a major milestone – as these children reach the age of majority, they find that suddenly they can call themselves adults. As discussed in the previous article, “Help Needed For Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care In America,” for 23,000 US teens aging out of foster care each year, crossing the threshold into adulthood often comes with challenges and responsibilities. These adults-by-law are still vulnerable youth who have a lot of learning to do, but without the support structures that other youth outside of the child welfare system have, it can become easy for them to lose their way.

A parent saving pennies in a piggy bank to offset foster care costs.
Increasingly, states are moving to raise the age limit for children in foster care in order to help them maintain the systems of support they need to succeed after they turn eighteen. As child welfare systems across the country continually update their ideas and infrastructure to provide positive outcomes, there is a debate over how money should be invested. How much, exactly, does it affect foster care costs when a child is not adopted?
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Outstanding Adoptive Family Success Story: Karen and Trevor Booker

Across the county, foster parents take children in need into their homes. In some cases, these same children become a part of their families forever through adoption. New Jersey foster parent Karen Booker knows this story well.

outstanding adoptive familyWhat has made such an impact on Karen’s life was her decision to foster over 50 children, 3 of whom she has adopted. Karen touched so many lives during her 5 years of being a licensed foster parent and continues to keep her home open to children in care.

The Booker’s journey to becoming the Outstanding Adoptive Family of the Year at Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency’s (DCP&P) Annual Recognition Brunch began when her biological children were getting ready to go to college. Rather than having another child, she said she decided to foster because she “knew that there were a lot of children out there who needed homes and needed love.”
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