The structure of a federal program that provides monthly subsidies to promote the adoptions of special needs children in foster care may actually be delaying some adoptions, according to a new study by University of Notre Dame economist Kasey Buckles.And then what happens when the subsidy ends when the child reaches age 18? This New York Times article highlights the problem of failed adoptions where former foster kids are adopted and then dumped at age 18 when the subsidy runs out, leaving them homeless. . . .
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA), passed in 1980, provides an average of $670 per month for foster parents of special needs children, while adoptive parents of special needs children receive an average of $571 per month. “Special needs” refers to foster children who may be harder to place in permanent adoptive homes because of age, race, or mental or physical disability.
Forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources, Buckles’ study shows that the number of adoptions increases when children become eligible for an adoption subsidy, and most of the increase is from adoptions by foster parents. However, the age of subsidy eligibility for children varies by state since states can choose how they define a special needs child. As a result, children in some states become subsidy eligible at age 2, while others are not eligible until age 12.
“A foster parent who adopts a child who is not yet eligible for the adoption subsidy forfeits $670 per month, on average. This creates an incentive for foster parents to wait until their foster child is eligible by age to formally adopt.”
Subsidies as Incentives for Adoption