Although subsidies are widely used, we know little about them.
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. Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) indicate that 88 percent of children adopted in 2000 were receiving subsidies (AFCARS Report, 2001). 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).
Available data on adoption subsidy use are limited and somewhat inconsistent. Little is known about pathways on and off subsidies or the reasons for, or timing of, changes in subsidy levels. There is no analysis that we know of that looks at the transitions associated with receipt of adoption subsidies. These have been treated by scholars as fixed an assumption that is critical to examine given the many children who are now receiving them. For example, Avery (1998) has looked at the security of adoption subsidies and concluded that, "the life long commitment that accompanies adoption finalization does not necessarily come with the security of continued financial support from the state" (p. 52). Yet her policy analysis does not indicate the proportion of subsidies that decline in amount, over time, or the reasons that they decline. Information about changes in these amounts will help us to better understand the importance of the initial subsidy amount decision.
Many families that could get subsidies do not have them. According to Sedlak and Broadhurst (1993), 84 percent of the children who were adopted between 1983 and 1987 had special needs that would have potentially qualified them for an adoption subsidy (assuming that the adopting family did not have the means to meet those needs without compromising their own well-being), yet only 63 percent were receiving a subsidy at that time. (Much has changed since then, and the coverage of children who are eligible for adoptions has almost certainly increased, as indicated by the AFCARS data.)
Secondary data can also be used to understand the ways that subsidies are a part of the package of post-adoption services and support. A key issue in the use of subsidies 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 are likely to vary in the assumptions that underlie the design of their subsidy programs. 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. For example, according to a recent report from the North American Council on Adoptable Children, in four states the subsidy rate slightly exceeds the USDA rate needed to raise a child in a low-income family, yet in three states, the typical state subsidy is just half the USDA estimate (Bower and Laws, 2002). At the same time, some states are far more likely than others to grant a one-time payment or an augmented rate to help families purchase services that they need to better care for their children.
States vary in their subsidy policies and in the organization of subsidy data.
States vary in many other ways that affect the use of subsidies for post-adoption services. Among these are eligibility for Medicaid for state-eligible children, one-time or vendor payments for special services, an augmented "difficulty of care" rate for particularly challenging children, payment for respite care, and support of time-limited placement in residential treatment. In some states there must be quite specific documentation of planned or completed subsidy use. Yet in other states these subsidy expenditures need only be justified in more general terms. In some states, these problems have to be specified at the outset; in other states, there is a mechanism to request the addition of funds to address specific problems that arise later. These different practices certainly have a significant impact on families as well as on efforts to understand subsidy use. The more specific the categories for additional services or requirements for justifying the use of those services, the richer are the potential administrative data.
Adoption subsidy data may be maintained at the county level (in states that have state-supervised but county-administered adoption programs) or the state level (for state-administered systems), or both. In some cases, these data are integrated into the financial system used to make foster care payments, and in other cases the adoption subsidy data are maintained in a stand-alone system. In some states, we learned there is good documentation of the reasons for subsidy changes, and in other states these are not well documented.
"report.pdf" (pdf, 1.44Mb)