Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. 5.1 Administrative Data on Adoptions


Our understanding of the relationship between adoption subsidies and other post-adoption services is limited. Administrative data and surveys indicate that adoption subsidies are commonly used. As noted earlier, data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) indicate that 88 percent of children adopted in 2000 were receiving subsidies (DHHS, 2001c). Preliminary AFCARS data from 2001 suggest that the number of children receiving subsidies is rising in tandem with the number of adoptions (Penelope Maza, personal communication, August 26, 2002). Many families that could qualify for subsidies, however, do not receive them (Sedlak and Broadhurst, 1993).

Little is known about pathways on and off subsidies or the reasons for, or timing of, changes in subsidy levels. Given the many children now receiving subsidies, there is a need to examine these transitions. A key issue is the transition from a deferred (or very low) subsidy to a higher subsidy, suggesting that the family has developed the need for additional services.

States and localities vary in their subsidy policies and provisions, and in the organization of administrative data.

States and localities are likely to vary in the assumptions that underlie the design of their subsidy programs (Bower and Laws, 2002). Some consider that subsidies should be set at a rate sufficient to provide general support for needed services. Others set subsidy amounts at a level that can only support the basic care for a child, unless there are time-limited requests for subsidy funds to address specific problems. States also vary in terms of Medicaid access for state eligible children, payments for special services, augmented rates for particularly challenging children, and payment for respite or residential care.

There is no consistency in the organization and maintenance of adoption subsidy data. Depending on the system, data may be maintained at the county level or state level; data may be integrated with the financial system used to make foster care payments or maintained in a stand-alone system; and reasons for subsidy changes may be documented well or not at all.

Administrative data do not expressly address disruption, dissolution, or displacement of adoption. Most studies of these events have relied on case record reviews and interviews  labor intensive, costly approaches that are difficult to replicate for comparison over time. An exception is the Illinois study in which Goerge, Howard, and Yu (1996) were able to match children entering foster care to children who had previously exited foster care to adoption. They identified both previously adopted children experiencing a dissolution (about 4 percent) and those placed for adoption but reentering foster care without ever having completed the adoption (about 14 percent). This effort provided a prototype for our work with North Carolina data.

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