Understanding Adoption Subsidies: An Analysis of AFCARS Data - Research Brief. Findings


At the national level, subsidy practice shows some clear patterns in relation to characteristics of adopted children and adoptive families. However, the variations among states are also striking. The following key findings represent both national patterns and variations among states:

  • Nearly all children adopted from foster care in recent years received an adoption subsidy.  Nationally, 88 percent of children adopted in FY 2001 received an adoption subsidy, with subsidy receipt ranging from 13 percent to 100 percent across states. Nearly all adopted children (88 percent) were identified as having special needs, the primary bases for providing a subsidy. The special needs definition used in adoption varies by state, but includes both disabilities and other factors, such as age, that make finding an adoptive home more challenging.
  • The median monthly subsidy amount was $444 per month.  At the state level, median subsidies ranged from $171 to $876 monthly. Although states have the option of offering payment agreements that don't start immediately, providing the basis to award a subsidy in the future if the child's needs change, very few adopted children were shown as having an adoption assistance agreement with what appeared to be a placeholder payment of $0 or $1.
  • Among newly adopted children receiving subsidies, 84 percent received federal adoption assistance through Title IV-E.  States with higher rates of Title IV-E eligibility provided subsidies to more children. Multivariate analyses found associations between Title IV-E eligibility and subsidy receipt and amount. States with higher federal matching rates (indicating lower state per capita income) offered lower subsidy amounts, suggesting that even augmented federal contributions did not offset limited financial resources within these states.
  • Children's age and special needs status influenced subsidy receipt and amount.  Older children were more likely to receive subsidies, and to receive larger subsidies; race and ethnicity did not influence subsidies. Boys received slightly higher subsidies than did girls.
  • Pre-adoptive relationship and other characteristics of adoptive families influenced children's subsidies.  Children adopted by foster parents were more likely to receive subsidies than others. They also received higher subsidies than children adopted by relatives. Children adopted by single females received higher subsidies than those adopted by married couples.
  • Analyses found some support for associations between subsidies and adoption outcomes.  State-level analyses show a significant correlation between subsidy receipt and the percent of each state's eligible children who are adopted. Multivariate analysis found that children living in states where the median time to adoption was longer were more likely to receive subsidies, and received higher subsidies. Possibly, states are using subsidies strategically to address the backlog of waiting children in foster care and meet their adoption goals.

The limitations of the AFCARS data set suggest that more compelling analyses may be possible using state administrative databases, with greater opportunities to compare children's foster care and adoption experiences. These analyses, however, make use of AFCARS to provide an overview of how adoption subsidies are used to encourage permanency for children.

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