September 2012
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

For children in foster care who cannot be reunified with their families of origin, there is no question that adoption is preferable to “aging out”. Moreover, every dollar spent on adoption for a child from foster care yields three dollars in benefits. Yet, 27,854 youth aged out of foster care in FY2010, and, for each child who was adopted during the year, two children with a goal of adoption continued to wait in foster care. Research shows that there are more than enough families interested in adopting children from foster care, but that only one in 28 people who contacts a child welfare agency actually adopts a child. Today there are more than 100,000 children waiting in foster care in large part because of barriers in the adoption system that could be eliminated through changes in policy and practice. To probe ways to eliminate these barriers, Listening to Parents convened an Executive Session of eighteen experts in adoption and family policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on March 25, 2011. Participants included academics, advocates, government officials, foundation leaders, former frontline caseworkers, and adoptive parents.

Barriers to adoption from foster care identified by participants in the Executive Session include:

  • financial disincentives for creating interstate adoptions;
  • lack of standardized information about families seeking to adopt and about children waiting to be adopted;
  • insufficient post-adoption support compared to support for youth aging out; and
  • absence of a robust model for creating adoptions, including effective recruitment of adoptive families; appropriate caseloads, training, and supervision for workers; and significant youth involvement.

Congress is best-positioned to create incentives to improve and standardize adoption practice within each state and to facilitate adoptions across state lines. To increase the number of adoptions, Congress should:

  1. Reward both sending and receiving states for creating interstate adoptions.
  2. Establish national standards for home studies and for descriptions of waiting children.
  3. Eliminate long-term foster care as a goal.
  4. Emphasize funding for post-adoption services.
  5. Encourage development of a robust, comprehensive practice model of adoptions from foster care.