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Adoption Advocate No. 43: 2012 Policy Priorities and Adoption-Related Legislation

Published January 2012 by Megan Lindsey

Nicole Callahan, Editor
Chuck Johnson, Editor

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Introduction

Since 1980, the National Council For Adoption (NCFA) has served as a strong voice for adopted children, birthparents, and adoptive families. Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of NCFA, has said, “Adoption transcends biology and blood, and is the perfect merging of love and law to make a real family.” NCFA believes that every adoptive family has the right to thrive and succeed, and in order to do so they require the help and support of good laws, policies, and practices.

This issue of the Adoption Advocate presents NCFA’s specific adoption policy priorities for 2012, as well as an overview of adoption-related legislation in the 112th Congress. NCFA rarely endorses specific legislation, but instead prioritizes advocating for those policies and practices that will provide essential help and the best possible support for children, birthparents, and adoptive families.

ADOPTION TAX CREDIT AND OTHER FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

Issue Overview

The Adoption Tax Credit was established in 1997 to help alleviate the high cost of adoption for adoptive parents by allowing their adoption-related expenses to be deductible and, more recently, refundable. In 2011, the maximum adoption tax credit that can be claimed by income-eligible families is $13,170. The Affordable Health Care For America Act (Public Law 111-148) included a provision that increased the adoption tax credit by $1,000 and made it refundable for adoptive families, as well as extending the tax credit through 2011. The passage of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-312) further extended the adoption tax credit through the end of 2012.

The adoption tax credit is not a permanent part of the tax code. Unless Congress acts, the credit will not be refundable in 2012. As currently enacted, after 2012, the amount will be reduced to $6,000, and would apply only to the adoption of children with special needs.

Current Related Legislation

H.R. 184: Adoption Tax Relief Guarantee Act of 2011 introduced on January 5, 2011 by Rep. Joe Wilson. Would repeal the sunset of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which expanded the adoption tax credit to all adopted persons and provides expanded adoption assistance programs.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on January 5, 2011.1

S. 82: Tax Relief Guarantee Act introduced on January 25, 2011 by Sen. Mike Johanns on behalf of Sens. Burr, Casey, Cochran, Gillibrand, Hutchison, Johnson, Klobuchar, Roberts, and Thune. Would repeal, in part, the sunset of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, including the increased dollar amounts for the adoption tax credit. This bill would also allow the adoption tax credit to be claimed in the year in which adoption expenses were incurred instead of the year an adoption is finalized.

Status: Read twice and referred to Senate Committee on Finance on January 25, 2011.

S. 336 and H.R. 696: Tax Relief Certainty Act of 2011 introduced on February 14, 2011 by Sen. Jim DeMint in the Senate and Rep. Mike Pence in the House. These matching bills would eliminate the termination date of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, and would extend the excess of the adoption tax credit allowing it to be carried to the succeeding tax year and added to the credit allowable for that year.

Status: Read twice and referred to Senate Committee on Finance on February 14, 2011. Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on February 14, 2011.

H.R. 878: To Amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a credit to individuals for legal expenses with respect to establishing guardianship of a disabled individual introduced on March 2, 2011 by Rep. Ted Deutch on behalf of Reps. Brown, Doggett, Doyle, Hastings, Maloney, McKinley, Meeks, and Sessions. Would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide a tax credit of $5,000 for legal expenses paid in order to establish guardianship of a disabled individual.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on March 2, 2011.

H.R. 616: Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2011 introduced on January 25, 2011 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, with 25 cosponsors. Would allow federal employees to use any available paid or unpaid leave for the birth of a child or foster/adoptive placement of a child with the eligible employee.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on House Administration, for a period to be determined by the Speaker, in each case for the consideration of provisions that fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.

H.R. 1576: Dave Thomas Adoption Act of 2011 introduced on April 15, 2011 by Rep. Peter King. Would allow withdrawals to be made without penalty for adoption-related expenses.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on April 15, 2011.

H.R. 2346: Balancing Act of 2011 introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey on June 23, 2011. Would support families through a number of proposed measures, including paid leave for new parents that are eligible employees of covered employers. Leave would include family and medical leave for 12 work weeks of leave during any 12-month program. Title I, Part I, Section 113 lists paid leave for adoption or foster care parents.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education on September 8, 2011.

NCFA Position

NCFA has been a longtime supporter of the adoption tax credit and other programs that help defray the financial burden of adoption. The high cost of some adoptions could prevent children from finding their way to otherwise willing families. NCFA commends the federal government for its support of permanency for children through the adoption tax credit, and looks forward to working with Members of Congress to ensure the continuation of the adoption tax credit in 2012 and beyond. It is our hope that the adoption credit will remain refundable, continue to increase with inflation and the rising costs of adoption, and become a permanent part of the tax code. We will continue to support the adoption credit as well as any other reasonable policies offering financial support to families that seek to provide love, safety, and permanency to children through adoption.

NATIONAL PUTATIVE FATHER REGISTRY

Issue Overview

 In recent years, with the increase in nonmarital births, the rights of putative fathers have received more attention. Currently, 35 states have recognized the rights of putative – or presumed – fathers by creating putative father registries, and similar registries are under consideration by the legislatures of other states.2

The rights of putative fathers vary from state to state. A state registry offers men the opportunity to register in order to receive the proper notice and rights afforded by the state when adoption proceedings are taking place. Depending on the specific terms of the state law, this registration may give fathers the opportunity to participate in a variety of ways, including requesting to parent or participating in adoption planning. State putative father registries represent a positive step towards not only protecting fathers’ rights, but also promoting permanency and stability for adopted children. If an unmarried birthmother makes an adoption plan for her child and the father is not properly notified, the adoption may later be contested, potentially leading to the removal of the child from his adoptive family.

State registries are important, but alone they cannot protect every father’s rights or offer the complete assurance of stability for adopted children. Currently, a man can register with his state’s registry but fail to be notified if a birthmother placed the child for adoption in another state. A national putative father registry would help remedy this problem by giving participating states the ability to access the names of putative fathers registered in all participating states.

NCFA Position

Currently, there is no legislation pending in the 112th Congress on this issue. Legislation to establish a national putative father registry was introduced in the 111th Congress by Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Laura Richardson as S. 969 and H.R. 6298, respectively. These bills were considered, but unfortunately not passed before the close of the 111th session. NCFA hopes that national putative father registry legislation will be reintroduced in the House and Senate in early 2012.

NCFA believes that, whenever possible, best practice requires making every available effort to include birthfathers in the adoption process. See NCFA’s Adoption Advocate No. 37 (July 2011): “Fathers, Families and Friends: Involving and Prioritizing a Pregnant Client’s Support System” (https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/adoption-advocate-no-37.html).  Putative father registries should not be the only means used to reach a father, but are an important option to include as a safeguard for fathers and children. We believe a fully implemented national putative father registry will significantly enhance the usefulness of state registries, making participation more valuable for fathers and providing more security for children. NCFA has long been engaged with congressional offices advocating for a national putative father registry, and has assisted in educating policymakers and drafting recommendations for legislation to create a national registry.

For additional information on this issue, see NCFA’s Adoption Advocate No. 14 (June 2009): “On the Benefits of a National Putative Father Registry” (https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/adoption-advocate-no14.html). 

POST-ADOPTION SERVICES AND SUPPORT

Issue Overview

 A great deal of attention is rightfully given to the process of finding permanent, loving adoptive families for children. Yet finding ways to help these families succeed after their adoptions are finalized is of vital importance as well. There is increasing interest in determining how many adoptive placements are disrupted, how many adoptions are dissolved, and why these unfortunate situations occur. New and better data will help to provide evidence-based examples of services that will not only help children find their way into permanent, loving families, but also ensure that families and adopted children receive the support and resources they need to succeed together.

Current Related Legislation

S. 1318: Supporting Adoptive Families Act introduced on June 30, 2011 by Sen. Amy Klobuchar on behalf of herself and Sens. Blunt, Johnson, and Landrieu. Seeks to improve pre- and post-adoption services for families of children adopted both internationally and domestically. The bill would create new programs and enhance existing training, resources, and research to encourage and support permanency in adoptive families.

Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on June 30, 2011.

NCFA Position

At the request of Sen. Klobuchar, NCFA offered a letter of support for this legislation, and one of our Member Agencies participated in an event announcing the introduction of this bill by explaining the necessity of adoption services in order to help children and adoptive families thrive. NCFA believes that best practice requires not only an ethical, transparent adoption process, but also preparation for the birthparents and adoptive families and continued support to ensure their success. The Supporting Adoptive Families Act promotes comprehensive resources for families, provides more services for them, and encourages research to determine which types of support are best and most needed.

ADOPTION FROM FOSTER CARE

Issue Overview

Of the 408,425 children currently in U.S. foster care, over 107,000 are waiting to be adopted.3  The foster care system saw significant reforms as a result of The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which mandated many improvements focused on promoting permanency and positive outcomes for children in foster care. However, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers agree that significant reforms are still needed. For additional information, please see NCFA’s Adoption Advocate No. 12, “A Statement on the Nation’s Foster Care System” (https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/adoption-advocate-no12.html).

Current Related Legislation

H.R. 1194: To renew the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to approve demonstration projects designed to test innovative strategies in State child welfare programs introduced on March 17, 2011 by Rep. Jim McDermott on behalf of himself and Rep. Geoff Davis. Amends Title XI of the Social Security Act to allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to authorize states to conduct child welfare program demonstration projects likely to promote the objectives of Child and Family Services or Foster Care and Adoption Assistance of Title IV of the Social Security Act. This bill would allow the extension of demonstration projects through fiscal year 2016.

Status: Passed the House of Representatives on May 31, 2011. Sent to the Senate, read twice, and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on June 6, 2011.

H.R. 1681 and S. 1770 Every Child Deserves a Family Act introduced on May 3, 2011 and November 1, 2011 respectively, by Rep. Pete Stark and Sen. Klobuchar with 88 cosponsors in the House and 8 in the Senate. Prohibits an entity that receives federal assistance and is involved in adoption or foster care placements from discriminating against prospective adoptive or foster parents solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status or on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on May 3, 2011 and read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on November 1, 2011.

S. 1013: State Child Welfare Innovation Act introduced on May 17, 2011 by Sen. Max Baucus for himself and ten cosponsors. Amends Title XI of the Social Security Act to renew the authority of the Secretary of Health and Humans Services to authorize states to conduct child welfare program demonstration projects likely to promote the objectives of Child and Family Services or Foster Care and Adoption Assistance of Title IV of the Social Security Act. This would allow the extension of demonstration projects through fiscal year 2014.

Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance on May 17, 2011.

H.R. 2022: To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on the recruitment and retention of foster parents in the United States introduced on May 26, 2011 by Rep. Charles Bass. Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on the recruitment and retention of foster parents in the United States.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on May 26, 2011. Referred to the Subcommittee on Human Resources on June 6, 2011.

S. 1509: Promoting Accountability and Excellence in Child Welfare Act of 2011 introduced on August 2, 2011 by Sen. Ron Wyden. Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a child welfare innovation grant program providing flexibility and financial incentives to implement comprehensive reforms to existing child welfare programs for Child and Family Services and Foster Care and Adoption Assistance in order to achieve significant results that improve the well-being of all children in the child welfare system, incorporate higher standards of accountability for state and local agencies and organizations, and provide better child welfare services.

Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance on August 2, 2011.

H.R. 2790: Child and Family Services Extension and Enhancement Act introduced on August 2, 2011 by Rep. Geoff Davis for himself and five cosponsors. Extends child and family services programs from Part B of Title IV of the Social Security Act through fiscal year 2016, requests that states describe their efforts to reduce the length of time children under age five are without a permanent family placement and address these children’s developmental needs, and monitors the treatment of emotional trauma and use of psychotropic medications in children. Also amends the Social Security Act Title IV Part E, Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to study recruitment of and support for families caring for children served by Part E, including foster parents, adoptive parents, and kin guardians.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on August 2, 2011. Referred to the Subcommittee on Human Resources on August 5, 2011.

H.R. 2883 and S. 1542: Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act introduced by Rep. Geoff Davis in the House and Sen. Max Baucus in the Senate. Identical companion bills extend the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program through fiscal year 2016; remove the specification of methamphetamines for grants to children affected by substance abuse; require grants to the highest state courts through the Court Improvement Program to increase and improve engagement of the entire family in court processes relating to child welfare, family preservation, family reunification, and adoption; require state case review systems to ensure that every child in foster care aged 16 or over receives a free copy of any consumer report pertaining to the child each year until they are no longer in care; requires states to ensure that at least 90% of the children in foster care are visited by their caseworkers monthly; renews the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to authorize states to conduct child welfare program demonstration projects through fiscal year 2014.

Status: Passed the House and Senate and become Public Law 112-34 upon signature by the President on September 30, 2011.

NCFA Position

Expanding support and opportunities and promoting permanency for the 107,011 children in foster care currently available and waiting to be adopted is a top policy priority of NCFA. As such, we strongly support any legislation that increases permanency outcomes for children in foster care. We are keenly aware of the hardships faced by children who age out of foster care without permanent families, including decreased high school graduation rates and low college attendance rates. While legislation supporting youth who age out of foster care is vitally important, NCFA believes that the best way to prevent the challenges and difficult outcomes they face is to work towards giving every child the permanency of a safe, loving family, through which they are most likely to find the lifelong commitment and support that they both need and deserve.

NCFA supports the right of every child to a safe, stable, and loving family. We take no position for or against an individual agency’s policies regarding adoptive parents sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status. NCFA Member Agencies include many that make placements with single parents and/or LGBTQ parents and those that do not, and all of our Member Agencies ultimately benefit children by finding loving, caring families for them. NCFA believes it is important to emphasize that the focus of adoption policy should not be on the right of any particular individual or couple to adopt, but on the right of every child to find a permanent family. NCFA believes an exemption should exist to protect religious agencies who provide adoption and foster care services, and that not allowing such an exemption may be detrimental to adoption and, by extension, the needs of children waiting to be adopted. It could lead to agencies closing when their religious beliefs prevent them from complying with a law, eliminating their ability to provide foster care and adoption services, provide birthparent and adoptive family counseling, and find homes for children.

DOMESTIC INFANT ADOPTION 

Issue Overview

Approximately 18,000 infant adoptions took place in 2011, representing a continued decline in infant adoption in the United States. This decline may be attributable to a number of factors. There is less of a stigma than there once was against unmarried parents, and accordingly, many single parents now choose to parent their children instead of making an adoption plan when facing an unintended pregnancy. Alternatively, many women also choose to terminate their pregnancies instead of making adoption plans. Although these are both common choices, it is also possible that the decline in the number of infant adoptions is due in part to a lack of awareness about adoption as an option. It is also possible that birthparents may still feel that they are not positively or universally accepted in public opinion, leading expectant parents to feel concerned about the perceptions of others should they choose to make an adoption plan.

NCFA Position

Although there is no federal legislation currently pending regarding infant adoption, it remains a key policy priority for NCFA. Through the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program, a training program funded by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NCFA trains pregnancy counselors and other professionals to share the option of adoption with clients who are facing an unintended pregnancy. The Infant Adoption Revival Program uses a similar curriculum to reach other audiences throughout the United States.

NCFA’s iChooseAdoption.org website and accompanying public service announcements also grew out of NCFA’s longtime commitment to supporting infant adoption and birthparents. NCFA believes that expectant parents deserve to be fully informed of all pregnancy options, including the option of adoption, and they should be respectfully supported and provided with accurate and helpful information about adoption no matter what their pregnancy decision ultimately is. While adoption may not be the right decision for everyone, it is a good option for many, and all women facing unintended pregnancy deserve to make a fully informed decision for or against adoption.

Furthermore, NCFA believes that birthparents who choose adoption for their children should have the opportunity to receive counseling and support for as long as needed in order to successfully move forward with the difficult decision they have made. NCFA will continue to advocate for the rights of birthparents, children, and adoptive families in order to ensure that domestic infant adoption remains a positive option for all involved.

INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION

Issue Overview

Intercountry adoption, by which an individual or family adopts a child or children from another country, has strong support among the citizens of the United States as well as its government. The U.S. is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which establishes international standards of practice for intercountry adoption amongst all countries that are signatories. The Hague Convention standards were created to safeguard children, and parents adopting from a Hague participating country also benefit from the protections of the Convention. Intercountry adoption agreements also exist between the United States and other countries that are not Hague Convention signatories.4

Despite the worldwide orphan crisis and Americans’ rising interest in and commitment to intercountry adoption, the number of intercountry adoptions taking place in the U.S. has been steadily declining over the past several years. Intercountry adoption peaked in 2004, when American families adopted over 22,000 children from around the world. American families adopted only 9,320 foreign-born children in 2011, which represents an approximately 58% decrease since 2004, and about a 15% decrease since 2010.5

Many challenges remain to be addressed in the area of intercountry adoption policy. Federal legislation could simplify and expedite the intercountry adoption process while maintaining and promoting safeguards for children and families. Additionally, the immigration process for children entering the U.S. through intercountry adoption requires some children to be readopted when they enter the U.S., while others acquire citizenship automatically. A system that treats all children equally would simplify the process and provide the equality deserved by these children of American citizens.

NCFA Position

Currently, there is little legislation pending regarding intercountry adoption. However, federal legislation, diplomacy, and leadership could greatly assist in increasing opportunities for children around the world in need of families of their own.

Intercountry adoption advocacy is a key policy priority for NCFA. By building and maintaining relationships with U.S. and foreign officials and legislators, serving as a resource to them as needed, and advocating the many benefits provided to children who find homes through intercountry adoption, NCFA seeks to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children throughout the world.

According to NCFA president and CEO Chuck Johnson, the continued decrease in intercountry adoptions “is not right, and it is not good for children. Given the increasing number of orphaned children worldwide, the continued decline in intercountry adoptions means that children’s most basic needs and rights are being denied and, as a result, children remain in institutions and temporary care situations, aging out without ever securing their basic right to a permanent, loving family of their own.”

Research has clearly shown that institutionalization and temporary care situations lead to bad outcomes for children, and NCFA prioritizes advocacy ensuring that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for children that cannot find permanency in their own country. While abuse and fraud in the adoption process are legitimate concerns, and should always be condemned and efforts made to eradicate them, adoption process abuses are the exception, representing only a very small minority of cases. Legitimate concerns about abuse or corruption should not be exaggerated at the expense of the millions of orphaned children around the world who await love, safety, and permanency.6

In addition to ensuring that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for orphaned and vulnerable children around the world, NCFA considers it a priority to work towards equal treatment for all children adopted by U.S. citizens. Currently, depending on the type of visa with which a child enters the United States, she may receive automatic U.S. citizenship or enter as only a Legal Permanent Resident and will need to apply for U.S. citizenship. NCFA believes that adopted children should be treated the same as biological children of U.S. citizens under the law, and that all adopted children should receive automatic U.S. citizenship when their adoptions are finalized in their respective countries of origin. This needed reform in immigration law would promote equality amongst all American children born and adopted, create a simpler and more affordable process for adoptive families, and provide a direct and more transparent route to citizenship for internationally adopted children. As a member of the Executive Committee of the Families for Orphans Coalition, NCFA supported the Foreign Adopted Children Equality Act (FACE) in the 111th Congress, and will continue to advocate for policies that promote citizenship equality for adopted children.7

 


1 Further information on all legislation referred to in this article is available from the Library of Congress at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.

2 To learn more about state putative father registries and their requirements, see Adoption Factbook V, Section 9: Putative Father Registries (National Council For Adoption, 2011).

3 United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, “The AFCARS Report 18.” Available online at:http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report18.htm.

4 To learn more about a specific countries intercountry adoption practices see the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Intercountry Adoption Country Information. Upated information available online at:http://adoption.state.gov/country_information.php.

5 U.S. Department of State. (2011). FY 2011 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption. November 2011. Available online at:http://adoption.state.gov/content/pdf/fy2011_annual_report.pdf.

6 For more information on the decrease in the number of intercountry adoptions, see NCFA’s press release: Continued Decline in Intercountry Adoptions “Not Right, Not Good for Children” (November 17, 2011). Available online at:https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/images/stories/2011-11-17_Intercountry_Adoption_Decline_Not_Right_Not_Good_For_Children.pdf.

7 For additional information, see NCFA’s Adoption Advocate No. 40, “Protecting the Rights of Intercountry Adoptees: Steps to Ensure the Right of Citizenship for Every Adopted Individual.” Available online at:https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/adoption-advocate-no-40.html.

 

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