Understanding Adoption Subsidies: An Analysis of AFCARS Data. Introduction


Adoption subsidies are perhaps the single most powerful tool by which the child welfare system can encourage adoption and support adoptive families. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data indicate that 88 percent of children adopted from public welfare agencies in 2001 received subsidies (DHHS, 2003). Yet our understanding of the patterns of adoption subsidies is limited. Little is known about factors associated with the receipt and amount of subsidy at the time of adoption. Although some evidence suggests that subsidies are associated with greater adoption stability (Barth, 1993), the extent to which subsidy receipt and amount influence the number and timing of adoption finalization among children free for adoption is unknown.

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA) was enacted in 1980 to ensure that families who want to adopt children with special needs could do so without reducing or exhausting their resources. Building on concepts implemented at the state level, AACWA created a federal adoption subsidy program that would entitle all families caring for children with special needs, who could not meet their needs, to obtain subsidy support. Federal expenditures for adoption subsidy expenditures have grown more than 2000 times in the last two decades, from less than $400,000 in fiscal year 1981 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2002, and are expected to approach $2.5 billion by FY 2008 (U.S. House of Representatives, 2004).

Researchers project that the rate of growth in the average monthly number of children under age 18 who have been adopted from foster care will exceed the rate of growth of the foster care population for at least the next two decades (Wulczyn & Hislop, 2002). Similarly, the Congressional Research Service projects that, within the Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program, the adoption population nationwide will have exceeded the number of children in foster care by 2003 (Spar & Devere, 2001).

AFCARS data offer an opportunity to examine how states use adoption subsidies to help achieve goals of permanency and well-being for children. Of particular interest to this analysis are patterns of subsidy receipt, the role of federal support for adoption subsidies under Title IV-E, and the relationship between adoption subsidies and the number and timeliness of adoptions from foster care.

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