Understanding Adoption Subsidies: An Analysis of AFCARS Data. Research Questions


The goal of the analyses is to describe patterns of subsidy receipt by adoptive families and to explore how receipt and amount of subsidy may be related to adoption outcomes. Specific questions of interest include:

  • What are the characteristics of adoptive children and families that may affect subsidy patterns?
  • Does receipt of adoption subsidy vary by children's characteristics or foster care experiences?
  • Does the amount of adoption subsidy vary by children's characteristics or foster care experiences?
  • To what extent do states vary in their practices regarding adoption subsidies?
  • Do adoption subsidies affect the timing or likelihood of adoption?

Figure 1-1 shows possible relationships among individual and state-level factors that may influence subsidy receipt and amount, and how subsidies may in turn affect the likelihood and timing of adoption. In the absence of previous analyses in this area, these hypothesized relationships were identified through discussions with federal and state agency staff.

Figure 1-1. Hypothesized Influences on Subsidy Practices and Adoption Outcomes

Figure 1-1. Hypothesized Influences on Subsidy Practices and Adoption Outcomes.

Reading from right to left, the model proposes that adoptions of foster children, and the timeliness of these adoptions, may be influenced by both the likelihood that the family will receive a subsidy and the amount of the subsidy. The most likely determinants of subsidy receipt are the characteristics of adopted children, including age, race/ethnicity, special needs and membership in sibling groups. In addition children who are eligible for federal support under Title IV-E, based on special needs and income, may be more likely to receive subsidies since federal support would decrease the cost of the subsidy to the state.

Subsidy amount is also influenced by the child's characteristics. In addition, states may also adjust subsidy amount (but not whether a subsidy is given) based on the circumstances of the adoptive parents. Since most foster children are adopted by foster parents, the amount of the adoption subsidy may be related to the level of support received by the foster parent prior to adoption. However, Title IV-E adoption subsidies cannot exceed the foster care payment amounts. Finally, states with higher FMAP rates may be able to offer higher subsidies than other states, since the federal share of the subsidy's cost will be greater.

Many of these relationships cannot be thoroughly assessed using AFCARS data, for two reasons. First the data elements included in the data set provide limited information about factors such as children's special needs and adoptive parent characteristics. In addition, the structure of the data set does not allow linking information about children's experiences in foster care (such as time in care) to information about their adoption (such as subsidy receipt and amount). However, the comprehensive nature of the data set, including all children adopted from foster care during the year, offers an important opportunity to describe national trends and variations among states with respect to adoption subsidies.

This project was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Research was conducted by RTI International.

AFCARS data used in this publication were made available by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, and have been used with permission. AFCARS data were originally collected by the Children's Bureau. AFCARS is supported by the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The collector of the original data, the funder, the Archive, Cornell University and their agents or employees bear no responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here.

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