Adoption Advocate No. 103Posted Jan 01, 2017
NCFA’s 2017 Policy Priorities
By: Megan Lestino and Erin Bayles
Since 1980, National Council For Adoption (NCFA) has served as a strong and principled advocate for children outside of family care, adopted individuals, birth parents, and adoptive families. We’ve worked to raise awareness and bring positive change to adoption because we believe every child deserves to thrive in a loving, safe, and permanent home.
NCFA continues to support laws, policies, and practices that help promote permanency for the many children – here in the United States and around the world – that live without permanent families. Our January Adoption Advocate is always dedicated to presenting NCFA’s current and ongoing policy priorities. Right now, we are about to begin the 115th Congress and don’t yet have pending legislation to discuss, but we do have policy priorities we believe will benefit children and families. So we decided to redesign this article to not just inform you, our readers and fellow adoption advocates, about policies we think will benefit children, but also to empower you to act on behalf of these needs.
Included in this article are several key issues – and each has a graphic that helps tell the story. You can use these to educate your Members of Congress and your community and share them on social media. Don’t just know the need; help us make a difference.
Adoption Tax Credit
The adoption tax credit offsets the high cost of adoptions from foster care, domestic infant adoption, and intercountry adoption. It was first introduced in 1997 and has been extended multiple times through legislation 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, the Tax Relief Act of 2010, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
The credit can be used in one tax year or spread over six years after the adoption is finalized, and applies to each child that is adopted. In tax years 2010 and 2011, it was a refundable credit, which allowed families to reduce their federal income tax liability and enabled lower-income families to use the credit to offset adoption costs when their limited tax liability might have otherwise prevented them from taking advantage of the full credit. In tax year 2011, the credit was extended, but was no longer refundable – which meant that families that adopted with limited to no tax liability lost the benefit of the credit.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 made the credit a permanent part of the tax code, extending the credit as it was in the 2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. While this was a victory, the credit was not made refundable, so many families adopting cannot receive the full benefit of the credit.
NCFA has been a champion of the Adoption Tax Credit for decades. The tax credit was made a permanent part of the tax code in 2012. Over the years, we have seen the great benefit of this credit and how it has helped many families afford some of the expenses related to adding a new member to their family. Returning refundability is a change we believe will help more families afford adoption. A refundable adoption tax credit makes the greatest impact for families with less tax liability, who might benefit most from these funds; 62 percent of families adopting from foster care, for example, do not receive the benefit of the full credit because they do not have high enough tax liability.1 When the tax credit was refundable, many families stated that it enabled them to pursue a second adoption right away after their first. And this investment is cost-effective for the government: The annual cost to maintain a child in foster care is estimated to be between $65,000 and $127,000 (depending on the state), and continues as long as the child remains in care. Compared to the one-time cost of $13,460 for families who get the full credit, this is a sound investment and contributes to the best outcomes for children. Children who are adopted are more likely than their peers who age out of care to complete college, be employed, and earn adequate income and support themselves upon reaching adulthood.
Citizenship for Every Internationally Adopted Person
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) granted some foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizen parents their U.S. citizenship automatically upon entry into the United States. The Act applied only to those under the age of 18 on or after the effective date of February 27, 2001. It had an immediate and meaningful positive impact, providing an automatic path to citizenship for many internationally adopted children. But this act excluded other international adoptees. Depending upon the visa type the child traveled with, some adoptees acquired citizenship automatically, but others on IR-4 or IH-4 visas did not until their parents readopted them upon return to the U.S. The CCA also does not apply to children who came to the U.S. before February 27, 2001.
Many adopted individuals who entered the U.S. as children, either on a non-automatic visa type or before the CCA was enacted, later discover they are not U.S. citizens or that they lack documentation to prove they are. This can prevent them from applying for passports, joining the armed services, or applying for federal student aid. For those who don’t discover this until they are adults, the process to acquire citizenship is far more complicated than for those adopted youth who have not yet come of age.
NCFA believes every child adopted by a U.S. citizen should be automatically granted citizenship. Internationally adopted individuals should have the same citizenship rights that any other child of a U.S. citizen is guaranteed. We support amending the CCA to ensure that all internationally adopted people have citizenship – regardless of time of adoption or visa type. If a person is legally adopted by a U.S. citizen, citizenship should be a guarantee. These adopted people have families, education, careers, and communities here in the U.S. They should always have the full protection, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship too.
Adoption Education and Support Services
In recent years, across all types of adoption, there has been an increased focus on going beyond putting children into families – we now recognize and emphasize the need for education and support services that allow children to thrive in those families. The types of services are varied – and should be, as they must meet the diverse needs of the children and families they support. These services include increased and improved parent education both before and during placements; trauma- and adoption-informed mental health services; medical support that is adoption-informed; and a variety of other recourse that help families find the help they need to succeed. Although there has been an increased awareness of the long-term needs of adopted children and their families, many families still lack the support and services they need to succeed.
A collection of studies of different populations show dissolution rates between 0.5% and 6.6%. Disruption rates are higher at 10 percent to 25 percent.2 Reliable data regarding the exact number of adoptions that are disrupted or dissolved each year does not yet exist, and more research is needed to understand all the reasons these disruptions occur. However, 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, at least for adoptions from foster care. Some studies show a higher rate of dissolution in adoption of adolescents; anecdotally, we see that children who have faced trauma over longer periods of time have an increased likelihood of facing an adoption disruption. We also know that parents who receive relevant pre-adoption education on childhood trauma and information about the availability of post-adoption support and resources are more likely to succeed.
NCFA places a strong emphasis on finding families for children, but does not believe the process should ever end with recruitment or placement. Our goal is for every child to find their way to a family where they can thrive. We know for that to happen, every child needs a family particularly equipped to meet their unique needs.
In all types of adoption, children have faced trauma. This is often especially true for children adopted from foster care or through intercountry adoption. They have already had to deal with traumatic, life-altering experiences – loss of birth family, trauma of institutional care, facing abuse or neglect, separation from culture, language barriers, and separation from siblings and other family members. Adoption requires yet another transition, but every effort should be made to ensure it is a healing transition and comes with long-term stability that brings positive change to children. Children deserve whatever supports and services it takes to make sure they can be healthy, whole, and reach their full potential. Services and support can mean a variety of things, depending on the unique needs of the child. One thing that is crucial is the clear disclosure of a child’s needs and training (in advance of placement, when possible) for parents in order to meet those specific needs well from the start. Education that provides an advanced understanding of the impact of trauma on children is significant.
Still, adoptive parents need more than information on the impact of trauma. We must also give them practical, useable resources on parenting techniques. We must work to ensure the knowledge is there when parents need it. 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.
Reports in recent years of inappropriate custody transfers after adoption, while small in number, are unacceptable. We believe that if families are well prepared, parents’ abilities are thoroughly assessed to meet the needs of the child they are matched with, and children and families are provided the resources they need to succeed, negative outcomes will occur far less often. Adoption professionals agree that more and better post-adoption services and support are necessary to prevent adoption dissolution and disruption. Professionals agree that the unsafe and illegal transfer of children outside of the established child welfare system is unacceptable. We must enforce existing laws and punish offenders whose decisions place children in harm’s way.
Serving Children Without Families Globally
Uncounted, we cannot know exactly how many children live outside family care globally. Experts disagree on who should be counted and how this count should be completed. We know the count is in the tens of millions, and includes children living in institutions, on the streets, and in temporary foster care or other settings. UNICEF reports 132 million children who have lost one or both parents. Thirteen million have lost both parents.3 Yet we know that these numbers largely come from household surveys, not accounting for the many children outside households in institutions and on the streets.
Lumos reports that there are at least eight million children in institutions. The true figure might be far higher, as there are many unregistered children’s homes.4 Estimates suggest more than 100 million children live on the streets worldwide.5 Some are with their families on the streets; some live alone. Currently, we lack comprehensive, reliable data that would help us understand who or how many children worldwide need housing, support services, or family care.
Without question, more must be done to help serve these millions of children. Every child has the human right to a safe, nurturing, permanent family. NCFA believes there are many good routes to permanent family care and the best one should be determined for each child, considering their unique needs and situation. Options of reunification, kinship care, local adoption, and intercountry adoption should be available to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and families through the option best fit to them. As adoption advocates, we encourage and support all these efforts, but focus our work on ensuring that domestic adoption improves or becomes a viable option in all countries. We also work to ensure that intercountry adoption always remains an option to serve the needs of children for whom local family care or a kinship placement won’t be available in a reasonable amount of time.
For those for whom adoption is the best and most timely option, NCFA wants to ensure the path to family care through domestic or intercountry adoption is safe and ethical for all involved. We should ensure it is an efficient process, so that children spend no more time languishing than necessary when willing, waiting families are available for them. Common sense has always told us that family is the best environment for children, and science backs that up. We know that there are long-term consequences to institutional care, particularly for children who experience it in their earliest developmental years; children in large institutions often face delays in growth, education, and social and emotional development. Inadequate care can also lead to isolation and lack of identity – which is developed in family and social relationships.6 When we allow children to languish in orphanages, we violate their human rights to family, safety, and health.
We must do more to bring change for these children living outside family care. NCFA is committed to raising awareness about the detriments of institutional care. We will advocate for a better understanding of how many children live in institutions so we can better understand the problem. We will continue to provide education and advocacy for the permanent family options of adoption and intercountry adoption all over the world for those children for whom it is the best option. And we will continue to work to ensure that these processes are safe, ethical, and efficient so children face as little time as possible in institutional and other damaging, impermanent care.
Responsible Fatherhood Registry
Responsible Fatherhood Registries – also known as putative father registries, paternity registries, or paternal claim registrars – allow an unmarried, uninvolved biological father who registers in a timely manner to receive notice of any pending or future adoption proceedings involving his putative (or possible) child. The state registries also establish a timeframe within which a possible father must register with an identified state agency to have any right to notice of proceedings to terminate parental rights or not to consent to placement of the child for adoption.
Registries serve several purposes:
- Protecting a biological father’s parental rights
- Providing greater stability for children by decreasing the chance of a disrupted adoption
- Giving extra assurance to adoptive parents that when a child is placed in their care, both biological parents have been allowed adequate opportunity to participate
- Creating a system that balances responsibility between both biological parents, as expectant mothers are not given the full responsibility of notifying and seeking participation from expectant fathers (this may be especially important in rare cases where it may not be safe or appropriate for the expectant parents to be in contact)
Right now, 34 states have a registry or some form of a registry. But adoptions often occur across state lines, and when to apply the rules of which state and how and where fathers should register can become quite confusing. A national registry would allow states to voluntarily participate, give fathers a place to register once for every state, and supply a more uniform system of information. A single, national registry would also provide professionals a mechanism to access more complete information from all participating states, helping to ensure that the best, most complete and ethical checks are completed before children are placed with adoptive families.
NCFA believes every possible effort should be made to include biological fathers in the decision to place a child for adoption. A putative registry is one of the best tools to help reach the birth father, but the current system is inadequate and confusing. Many states don’t even have one, and the states that do all have different processes, requirements, and varying timelines. It also creates an extra burden on social workers to search several states’ registries if the exact location where the birth father registered is unknown. Creating a national registry whereby information could be passed between states and shared on a single database would make the process of finding and contacting biological fathers easier and far less time-consuming. It would also reduce the chance of a disrupted adoption and would provide more security for all involved.
- Adoption Tax Credit Working Group. The Importance of the Adoption Tax Credit. Retrieved from: https://adoptiontaxcreditdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/atcfactsheet.pdf
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. Adoption Disruption and Dissolution. Retrieved from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/s_disrup.pdf
- UNICEF. Orphans. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html
- Lumos Foundation. Children in institutions: The global picture. Retrieved from: https://wearelumos.org/sites/default/files/1.Global%20Numbers_2_0.pdf
- CYC-Online. Street Children and homelessness. Retrieved from: http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0904-Homelessness.html
- Faith to Action. Children, Orphanages, and Families: A Summary of Research to Help Guide Faith-Based Action. Retrieved from: http://faithtoaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Faith2Action_ResearchGuide_V9_WEB.pdf