Adoption Advocate No. 79Posted Jan 01, 2015
NCFA’s 2015 Policy Priorities and Adoption-Related Legislation
By: Megan Lindsey and Erin Bayles
Since 1980, National Council For Adoption (NCFA) has served as a strong advocate for children outside of family care, adopted individuals, adoptive families, birth parents, and the public at-large. This year, we proudly celebrate 35 years of principled education and advocacy for adoption. Motivated by the belief that every child deserves to thrive in a loving, safe, and permanent home, NCFA will continue to support laws, policies, and practices to help promote permanency for the many thousands of children worldwide in need of families.
Our January Adoption Advocate is always dedicated to presenting NCFA’s policy priorities and related legislation. NCFA rarely endorses specific legislation, but instead prioritizes educating key legislators and policymakers on the policies and practices that will provide essential services and the best possible support for children outside permanent family care, adopted individuals, birth parents, and adoptive families.
At present, as a new Congress is about to begin, very limited current legislation exists. In this article, some sample legislation from the previous Congress may be referenced to help exemplify the ways in which legislators could respond to adoption and child welfare-related policy priorities.
Permanency for Youth in Foster Care
According to the most recent statistics, approximately 101,840 of the 402,378 children in foster care are eligible and waiting for adoption.1 The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 brought significant reforms to the foster care system, mandating policies focused on promoting permanency and positive long-term outcomes for youth in care. However, child welfare experts agree there is still a great need to ensure that all children in foster care find the family permanency that is their right.
In 2014, H.R. 4980 (introduced by Rep. Dave Camp), which became Public Law 113-183: Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, changed the formula for state adoption incentives to include permanent guardianship options. It also changed the incentive calculation formula so that states benefit when children spend less time waiting and older children are placed for adoption or guardianship. The law also requires reporting on children who return to foster care after a placement for adoption or guardianship. Further, it requires notification of parent(s) of a sibling if the parent(s) have legal custody of the sibling, so that, when possible and appropriate, siblings are cared for together.
One of NCFA’s top policy priorities is promoting permanency and expanding support and services for children waiting to be adopted. Youth who age out of foster care without permanent connections face extensive hardships, including decreased high school graduation rates, low college attendance and graduation rates, early pregnancy, and high incidences of homelessness and incarceration. Our children deserve better. NCFA believes the best way to prevent these troubling outcomes is to work diligently towards ensuring that every child has a family, where they are the most likely to find the lifelong commitment and support needed to reach their full potential. Whether this permanency is achieved through family reunification and preservation, kinship care, adoption, or some other alternative, permanency itself – and the safety and stability it provides – should be a timely priority for every child in foster care.
NCFA Goals and Past Relevant Legislation
Through public awareness campaigns, research, and legislative advocacy, NCFA seeks to find new and creative solutions to ensure that the best practices are in place to help find every child a permanent home. Child-focused recruitment, financial incentives for states that prioritize permanency for children, and clear, efficient systems for inter-state adoptions are essential to giving all children the forever families they deserve.
S. 1511: The Removing Barriers to Adoption and Supporting Family Act, introduced by Senators Casey and Rockefeller, sought to renew provisions of the Adoption Incentives Act and create a system of sharing the incentive between sending and receiving states in the case of an interstate adoption to encourage cooperation.
Post-Adoption Services and Support for All Children
Adoption experts and advocates put a significant amount of focus on finding permanent adoptive families for children, and rightly so. However, anecdotal evidence shows that more attention needs to be paid to supporting children and families after an adoption takes place. Reliable data regarding the exact number of adoptions that are disrupted or dissolved each year does not exist, and more research is needed to understand the reasons these disruptions occur. The Strengthening Families Act created a requirement that some data be collected on children adopted from foster care who return to the foster care system; due to this change, improved data may be available in the future. Now we know that between 1% and 10% of all adoptions dissolve or disrupt. Adoption professionals agree that more and better post-adoption services and support are necessary. Additional research is needed in order to better understand the exact type and extent of services that should be provided.
Although NCFA places a strong emphasis on finding families for children, we don’t believe the process should ever end there. Our goal is not only to find the right family for a child, but for that child to thrive in his or her family. Every child deserves a family particularly equipped to meet his or her unique needs. Adopted children often come from hard places and experiences and deserve all the support it takes for as long as it takes to ensure that they can succeed in their forever families.
Services and support can mean a variety of things depending on a child’s individual needs. Reasonable and flexible supports are necessary to ensure that we are not creating a system unable to serve a child’s unique experience and needs. One thing we have found to be valuable is the clear disclosure of a child’s needs and advance education and training for parents in order to meet those specific needs. Education that provides an advanced understanding of the impact of trauma on a child is also significant, but parents also need resources and training on how to parent a child who has faced trauma, as some more traditional parenting behaviors may be ineffective or even harmful to children from hard placed. Continued medical care, counseling, group therapy, and therapeutic support for children both independently and with family involvement are often also essential to help children reach their full potential.
Past Relevant Legislation
S. 1527: The Supporting Adoptive Families Act, introduced by Senators Klobuchar, Blunt, and Landrieu, seeks to extend adoption promotion and support services to better support adoptions from other countries as well as domestic adoptions. It also creates grant programs to develop and implement mental health service programs for all adopted children. Finally, it directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to amend its data collection system to collect and report information regarding the children who enter into state custody as a result of the disruption or dissolution of a domestic or intercountry adoption.
H.R. 3423: Legislation to Ensure the Safety and Wellbeing of Adopted Children, introduced by Representatives Langevin, Bass, Grimm, Maloney, Norton, Wilson, and Wittman, calls for identical provisions to S. 1527 and adds a request that the Government Accountability Office submit a report within one year investigating online advertisements of children and outcomes, how home studies vary depending on the type of adoption, how the type and amount of pre-adoptive training prospective adoptive parents receive varies, the current availability of quality support for families to meet the emotional and behavioral challenges faced by children, the reasons for adoption disruptions and dissolutions, and the reasons that some children are sent to live with new families without proper oversight or notice to appropriate authorities.
Intercountry Adoption for Children Outside Family Care
Precise counts do not exist, but we know that there are millions of children living outside of family care – in institutions, in temporary foster care, and sometimes on the streets. According to some estimates, there are approximately eight million children living in institutions worldwide. In 2013, U.S. families adopted only 7,092 children born from abroad, despite Americans’ continuing interest in and commitment to intercountry adoption. This marks a drastic and ongoing decline from the peak, ten years ago in 2004, at 22,991 intercountry adoptions.
As a signatory to The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the United States has established a commitment to international standards of practice with all nations that are Convention signatories. The Hague Convention aims to safeguard children, birth parents, and adoptive parents involved in the intercountry adoption process. The United States also has independent intercountry adoption agreements with some countries that have not signed The Hague Convention. The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act, which was signed into law in 2013, was fully implemented in July 2014. It created high standards of accreditation for all adoption service providers, regardless of whether or not they work in Hague Convention countries. This change increased safeguards for adopted children, and has narrowed the difference between Hague and non-Hague adoptions in the United States.
NCFA believes that intercountry adoption is one necessary and valuable part of a full spectrum of options appropriate for children living outside family care. It should be prioritized as a good option for children in institutions or temporary care settings. Any time that family preservation or reunification is not viable, and kinship care or in-country adoption options are not timely options, children should have the option of a permanent family instead of being left to languish in temporary or institutional care settings.
NCFA views the Universal Accreditation Act’s implementation as a positive step towards ensuring a high standard of care and protection for children, birth families, and adoptive families. All involved in the adoption process deserve ethical adoption service providers subject to a high standard of accountability. Although implementation of the Universal Accreditation Act has been initially a bit unclear in its practical requirements, we believe that ultimately it can help bring a greater assurance of ethical practice to intercountry adoption.
NCFA remains concerned about the decrease in intercountry adoptions, given the large number of waiting children. We believe that instances of abuse and fraud within the adoption process are never acceptable and should be aggressively addressed. However, these are limited cases and should be treated as such. Legitimate concerns about abuse or corruption should not be exaggerated at the expense of the millions of orphaned and vulnerable children around the world who await love, safety, and permanency.
Adoption is a human service. At its best, it helps move children from detrimental environments into family care, where they are far more likely to find love and support and reach their full potential. We believe it is a far greater crime to shut down an entire human service than to criminalize those who act outside of the ethical processes of adoption. We will continue to encourage U.S. and foreign governments to investigate cases that should be investigated, but refrain from shutting down entire systems that help many children find their way to appropriate care.
NCFA believes that post-adoption services are also crucial for children who join families through intercountry adoption. Further, we believe that families adopting internationally must be committed to helping their children learn about their cultures of origin and, in cases of transracial adoption, American families must also be prepared to address the challenges of parenting children of color in an society that has not overcome racial prejudice.
Past Relevant Legislation
S. 2475 and H.R. 4143: The Children in Families First Act of 2014, introduced on June 17, 2014 and March 4, 2014 by Senator Mary Landrieu and Representative Kay Granger, respectively, creates a focal point within the U.S. Department of State for vulnerable children and families that will become the foreign policy and diplomatic hub on international child welfare. The current Office of Children’s Issues, Adoption Division would be moved to the new office, and transformed into a new, stronger office in the human rights secretariat. The new office would be focused on children’s rights, staffed with experts, and dedicated to building the international capacity to implement effective child welfare systems (with a focus on family preservation and reunification as well as kinship care, domestic adoption, and intercountry adoption). The new bureau would remain the Central Authority on Intercountry Adoption within the Department of State, though some operational responsibilities would be transferred to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Further, this legislation would seek to streamline, simplify, and consolidate the responsibility for the processing of intercountry adoption cases in USCIS (except for final immigrant visa processing, which remains with the State Department).
The Children in Families First Act also proposes to establish a Center of Excellence within USAID, dedicated to the implementation of the 2012 National Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This would provide the necessary authority and oversight of resources to the USAID Senior Coordinator for Children in Adversity to implement programs in target countries.2
Adoption Tax Credit and Financial Assistance for Adoption
The adoption tax credit, introduced in 1997, offsets the cost of adoptions from foster care, domestic infant adoption, and intercountry adoption. It was extended multiple times through legislative vehicles such as the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, and the Tax Relief Act of 2010. In tax years 2010 and 2011, it was a refundable credit, which allowed families to reduce their federal income tax liability and possibly, in the case of lower-income families, use the remaining credits to offset adoption costs. After tax year 2011 closed, families could claim a maximum adoption tax credit of $12,650, but the credit was no longer refundable. Although the credit can be carried forward for five years, lower- and middle- income families cannot always receive the full benefit of the tax credit without refundability.
On January 1, 2013, the adoption tax credit was made a permanent part of the tax code through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which was signed into law on January 2, 2013. But on February 26, 2014, the Ways and Means Chairman, Representative David Camp, released a tax reform proposal outlining his plan to reform the American tax code. The Tax Reform Act of 2014 would end the adoption tax credit, consolidating it into an increased child credit and standard deduction. In June, the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group wrote a letter to the Chairman urging members of Congress not to eliminate the federal adoption tax credit, and instead improve and protect it so that more adoptive families can benefit from this essential resource.
NCFA supports the adoption tax credit and other programs that help defray the financial cost of adoption. Without it, many families would not be able to afford the high cost of some adoptions, which could prevent children from finding their way to families that would otherwise be willing and able to provide for their needs. NCFA is grateful for the federal government’s efforts to support adoption through the adoption tax credit, and was glad to see the credit made permanent in 2013. NCFA also believes that in order to provide financial support to the most relevant families, the credit should once again be made refundable. When the credit is refundable, families with lower incomes, who have the most significant need for financial assistance, will not be made ineligible due to lack of tax liability, and they also will not have to spread the cost out over multiple years in the case of low tax liability. Adoption costs and the costs of bringing a new child to a family and helping him or her thrive are not insignificant, and receiving the full benefit of the credit through refundability as close as possible to the time of adoption could especially help those low- to moderate-income families who are often excluded without refundability.
S. 1056 and H.R. 2144: The Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act, introduced in both houses on May 23, 2013 by Senators Blunt, Casey, and Landrieu and Representative Braley, would return the adoption tax credit to refundability. Low- to moderate-income families make up the highest percentage of families adopting, and this act would give them the full benefit of the credit in the tax year the adoption credit can be claimed.
H.R. 2332: Adoption Tax Credit Tribal Parity Act of 2013, introduced on June 12, 2013 by Representative Derek Kilmer (and mirror legislation S. 2570: Tribal Adoption Parity Act, introduced on July 9, 2014 by Senators Tim Johnson, James Inhofe, Heidi Heitkamp, and Lisa Murkowski), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide fair tax treatment to parents adopting American Indian and Alaskan Native children through tribal courts. Under the act, a tribal government would be permitted to designate an adopted Native child as having special needs, ensuring that families in Indian Country are provided the same financial relief that adoptive families currently receive across the nation. This bill addresses an oversight in our tax code by ensuring that adoptive parents throughout Indian Country receive fair tax treatment. Currently, parents who adopt children through a tribal court are prevented from accessing the financial relief that is provided to adoptive families in non-tribal areas.
H.R. 1476: Dave Thomas Adoption Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Peter King on April 10, 2013, amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow penalty-free withdrawals from individual retirement plans for adoption expenses up to $10,000 generally, and without limit for those adopting a child with special needs.
National Responsible Fatherhood Registry
Responsible Fatherhood Registries, often known as putative father registries, currently exist in 35 U.S. states, Washington, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They are often established as a result of highly publicized, contested adoption cases. These registries allow an unwed biological father who registers in a timely manner to receive notice of any pending or future adoption proceedings involving his putative (or possible) child. This gives the putative father the right to notice, as well as full participation in judicial proceedings if he so chooses. Providing this notice not only protects the biological father’s parental rights, but also decreases the likelihood that an adoption will be contested or disrupted, thereby ensuring greater stability for children. The registries are intended to create a system that grants responsibility to both biological parents: expectant mothers are not burdened with the full responsibility of notifying and seeking participation from expectant fathers, which may be especially important in cases in which it might not be safe or appropriate for the expectant parents to be in contact with one another.
State putative father registries can provide an important mechanism to protect the rights of expectant parents and provide stability for children. However, these registries often provide little or no support in the frequently occurring cases of adoptions across state lines. In such cases, paternity rights can be thwarted even if the father has filed with the Putative Father Registry in his state and/or the state of conception. In light of this problem, a national registry has been suggested, which would allow states with existing registries to voluntarily communicate with one another and encourage new registries to be created. It would also give putative fathers a means of registering in states that do not already have a registry.
NCFA believes every possible effort to include biological fathers in the adoption process should be prioritized. A registry system should not be the only means employed to attempt to reach a father, but it is an important option to include. NCFA believes that by creating a national registry whereby information could be passed between states, the process of finding and contacting biological fathers might be enhanced and simplified. It would also provide more security for all involved and help decrease the likelihood of a disrupted adoption.
Past Relevant Legislation
S. 1203: The Protecting Adoption and Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Act, introduced on June 20, 2013 by Senators Inhofe and Landrieu (and similar legislation in the House, H.R. 3549: The Protecting Adoption Act, introduced by Representatives Hartzler and McClane-Kuster on November 20, 2013), would establish a national responsible fatherhood registry and allow states to voluntarily participate in the exchange of fatherhood registry information. The bill would also allow participation by fathers in states without a registry, and encourage these states to create one and participate nationally.
Citizenship Equality in Intercountry Adoption
Under the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000, some foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizen parents can receive citizenship automatically upon entry into the United States. The CCA applies to persons who were/are under the age of 18 on or after the effective date of February 27, 2001. But the act failed to address two critical issues. First, depending upon the visa type with which the child travels, some children acquire citizenship automatically, while others do not until parents take further action upon arrival in the U.S. Typically, if a child travels with a full and final adoption (as opposed to guardianship with the intent to adopt), citizenship will automatically attach. Second, there are many adopted individuals who entered the U.S. as children either on a non-automatic visa type or before the CCA was enacted, and these individuals later discover that they are not U.S. citizens or have no proof of citizenship. When the discovery is made at a much later point, is a far more complicated process to acquire citizenship than it would have been had it been secured upon adoption.
NCFA believes that every child who is adopted by a U.S. citizen should be automatically granted U.S. citizenship. We believe that children adopted by U.S. citizens should have the same rights to citizenship that a biological child of a U.S. citizen has. We support changes that would clarify and expand the immigration process to include automatic citizenship for all internationally adopted individuals, and we also believe this should retroactively apply to all previously adopted children of U.S. citizens. Adoptees brought to the U.S. as children and raised as U.S. citizens should not lack the full protection, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship for any reason.
Past Relevant Legislation
S. 744: The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, introduced on April 16, 2013 and passed on June 27, 2013, included a unanimously accepted amendment at Section 2554 which amended the Child Citizenship Act to ensure that any individual who satisfied the requirements for naturalization would be granted citizenship. This provision would have ensured that many adopted individuals retroactively receive citizenship, and also would have changed the requirement allowing only one of two parents to personally see and observe the child in their country of origin in order for citizenship to be granted automatically. It would have provided for the naturalization of adopted individuals without a legal or physical presence in the United States.
While this amendment did pass the Senate on June 27, 2013, the bill in its entirety did not advance, and there is currently no corresponding legislation in the House of Representatives that would address this important issue for adoptees. Advocates, policymakers, and adopted individuals concerned about this issue are considering introducing the necessary legislation in another bill.
S. 1614: Accuracy for Adoptees Act amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to require that a certificate of citizenship or other federal document issued (or requested to be amended) reflect the child's name and date of birth as indicated on a state court order, birth certificate, certificate of foreign birth, certificate of birth abroad, or similar state vital records document issued by the child's U.S. state of residence after the child has been adopted or readopted in that state.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau (2014). AFCARS Report #21. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport21.pdf
- For more information on this issue and NCFA’s involvement, see childreninfamiliesfirst.org.