Understanding Adoption Subsidies: An Analysis of AFCARS Data. Data Source


National data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) provide child-level information on children in foster care and children adopted from foster care during a one year reporting period. Foster care and adoption data reside in two separate data files. No identifying information links these two sets of data, nor is there identifying information linking data from one year to another.

All 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, submitted usable adoption and foster care data to AFCARS for each of the years (1999-2001) reported on in this report. States are required to report data on all children in out-of-home care for whom the state child welfare agency has the responsibility for placement, care, or supervision. The adoption data file contains one record for each child who was adopted during a reporting period; the foster care data file contains one record for each child who was in out-of-home care during the reporting period, including children who entered and exited care during this period. The majority of analyses were conducted using the adoption file, although selected analyses use 2001 foster care data in conjunction with the adoption data.

The following variables of interest are included in the adoption file:

  • Child's characteristics (e.g., age, sex, race, ethnicity, special needs classification);
  • Adoptive family's characteristics (e.g., family structure; preadoptive parent-child relationship; mother's age, race and ethnicity; father's age, race, and ethnicity);
  • Subsidy data (e.g., source of subsidy, subsidy amount); and
  • Case characteristics (e.g., months from termination of parental rights (TPR) to adoption, reporting state, reporting period).

The following variables of interest are included in the foster care file:

  • Child's characteristics (e.g., age);
  • Foster care payment and adoption subsidy data (e.g., source of subsidy, subsidy amount); and
  • Case characteristics (e.g., date of most recent entry into out-of-home care, discharge reason and date, reporting state, reporting period).

AFCARS data are cross-sectional, meaning that they represent data at a single point in time. Cross-sectional adoption data provide a valuable snapshot of the children who were adopted during the reporting period while the foster care data provide a snapshot of children who were in out-of-home care during at least part of the reporting period.

The analysis population for the adoption file comprised children who were less than 18 years of age at the time of their adoption; the foster care analysis population comprised children who were less than 18 at the end of the reporting period.

While the AFCARS data elements are straightforward, the analysis took into account potential concerns regarding the reliability of specific variables. Appendix tables note items for which more than 10 percent of cases have missing or invalid data for the variable of interest. Additional steps to prepare the analysis files included identifying outliers for continuous variables that appear to be data errors and setting them to missing. For example, there were several cases where the monthly subsidy amount was reported as greater than $10,000. Although this amount may be valid for a small number of cases, the patterns we observed led us to believe that many of these were due to errors in the states' data reporting. Staff from DHHS assisted in identifying and resolving other issues that might obscure the interpretation of these data and suggesting, as much as possible, ways of using the data to narrow the range of interpretations.

These analyses use the most recent available AFCARS data set to describe patterns of adoption subsidy receipt and amount and compare these data with foster care data. Subsidy amounts in relation to child characteristics, adoptive parent characteristics, and adoption timeliness are described. Of particular interest are patterns of variation among states and factors that may explain these. We also describe patterns of subsidy receipt and amount for the three most recent years for which we have data (1999-2001). The analysis files excluded 57 children who resided in another country and were not a United States citizen prior to the adoptive placement. A small number of included cases were reported to be placed by an independent person or birth parent (146 cases in 2001), 90 cases were missing the placing entity information, and 904 were placed by a private agency. The analyses include both District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with the state-level data.

The analyses are conducted at two data levels:

  1. National data are summarized for most of the analyses.
  2. State-level data are presented in tabular form (i.e., listing of all states with their data).

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