Understanding Adoption Subsidies: An Analysis of AFCARS Data. Special Needs Classification

01/01/2005

Nearly 88 percent of adopted children were classified as having special needs with respect to adoption. The lowest proportion of children with special needs was found in the youngest age group; 84.5 percent among those less than 6 years of age. The 6 to 12 and 13 to 17 age groups had similar proportions (90.5 percent and 90.6 percent, respectively).

Table A-2 shows the proportion of children meeting the state's special needs criteria for each age group and for each state. Among the larger states the proportions of children with special needs ranged from a low of 55.1 percent (Pennsylvania) up to 99.9 percent in Ohio. These differences may be due to state policy and practice in how they define their criteria for special needs within federal guidelines.

To assess whether variation in the proportion of children classified as special needs is associated with state policy, we compared the proportion of children classified as special needs with a recent analysis of state special needs definitions (Bower and Laws, 2002). We hypothesized that states with stringent definitions would classify a smaller proportion of their children as special needs while states who defined special needs in broader terms would have higher proportions of children classified as special needs. The analysis classified states as having narrow, moderate or broad special needs definitions based on how categories are defined within federal guidelines and on the inclusion of additional categories such as children who have experienced prior adoptive disruptions.

This analysis found that the relationship between special needs definitions and the proportion of children classified as having special needs was not clear. The median percentage of children classified as special needs among states with narrow, moderate, and broad special needs definitions was 90, 90, and 94 percent, respectively. Both Pennsylvania and Ohio(4) were among the states with the broadest special needs definitions; however, these two states were at the lower and upper range, respectively, among large states with respect to the proportion of children with special needs.

Although AFCARS includes a field for the primary factor or condition that meets the special needs definition, states vary in how they apply criteria for determining which factor they report in AFCARS. For example, if a child meets multiple special needs criteria, some states prioritize the criteria and report the first one that applies while other states may not be as stringent.(5) Therefore, analysis of these data are not presented in this report.

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