Government Bonuses Accelerate Adoptions

December 8, 2003
Troy Anderson
Daily News

Bonuses that Los Angeles County and other government agencies get from the federal government for each foster child placed in an adoptive home act like bounties on the heads of children, critics say.

The 1997 Adoptions and Safe Families Act gave counties a $4,000 bonus for each child placed in an adoptive home and an additional $2,000 for a "special needs" child. On Dec. 2, President George W. Bush signed legislation increasing the bonus by $4,000 for children adopted at age 9 or older.

Since the program was implemented in 1997, the federal government has paid $445 million in adoption bonuses.

Critics say the law places a premium on putting children in foster care and accelerates the time frame for severing parental rights.

"I think it's black-market baby marketing," said Encino resident Diane Lynne Ellison, 59, who has served as a foster parent for more than a decade. "If they see a baby, they swoop in on it".

For foster children who cannot safely be returned to their families, county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said, adoption is the best way to provide them with a loving, stable family.

"If they don't have this love and support, the consequences of them being left in the world are staggering," he said. "More than two-thirds of them will end up in cemeteries or penal institutions. That is unacceptable."

David Sanders, the new head of the Department of Children and Family Services, agreed that children who can't safely be returned home need to be placed in adoptive homes, but he has his concerns.

"What you have now is an incentive to initially remove the child and an incentive to adopt them out," Sanders said. "I think when you put these two together, there is a problem."

A former DCFS Department of Children and Family Services child abuse investigator, who requested anonymity, said adoptions of children are "pushed through at all costs" even before adequate background checks are made of prospective adoptive parents, because DCFS officials want to get the federal adoption incentive.

Since 1997, when 530,000 children were in foster homes nationwide, more than 230,000 have been adopted. But more children have taken their place, and 540,000 are in foster homes now.

California has seen adoptions of nearly 20,000 children since 1999 - a 140 percent increase over the levels in the preceding several years - and received $18 million in federal Adoptions Incentive funds, the most of any state in the nation. It received $4.4 million this year.

Los Angeles County has placed more than 11,000 children in adoptive homes since 1998, and collected $3 million in adoption bonuses in 2001-02, the most of any county in the state.

Some critics say the adoption incentives have only served to fuel the needless removal of children from their parents, pointing to a nearly threefold increase in adoptions in the county in the first few years after ASFA passed, although the number of adoptions has dropped from 2,900 in 2001 to 2,121 last year.

Adoptive parents receive $424-$1,337 per child a month, depending on whether the child has special needs. About 75 percent of children in foster care are now labeled as ``special needs,'' qualifying their caretakers for the higher payments, experts say.

Adoptive parents can receive even higher payments - $1,800-$5,000 a month - for disabled children.

The average amount of time it takes to adopt a child in Los Angeles County is one of the longest in the nation at 5.2 years compared to 3.9 years in New York City . The state of Illinois averages 11 months from the time parental rights are terminated.

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