Adoption Beat

June 11, 2008

Getting it right

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 1:50 am

When presenting a workshop on publication design, I illustrated my points about design elements by using examples of newsletters that contained major design flaws. One wiseacre asked if I had any samples of newsletters that featured good design. I did, I had planned to unveil them a little later in the presentation as I showed how the problem designs could be fixed. But the point was well taken.

So let me applaud an example of good reporting:

Barbara Hollingsworth, reporting for The Examiner, tells a story of good intentions gone sadly awry. What makes it even sadder is that adoption reform activists predicted this result before the law was even passed.

Congress, with the best of intention, passed the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, which allowed states to terminate parental rights of children who had been in foster care longer than 15 months. Child welfare officials have long been able to remove children from abusive homes and many of these children suffered the lack of a permanent home as a result. Although some parents were unable to get their act together and make a home for their children, they refused to sign away their parental rights so those children were sentenced to foster care until they aged out. While we know this is not in the best interests of the child, society has been reluctant to tear dysfunctional families apart as long as there was even a slim chance that they could be healed.

Foster care allowed, and encouraged, continued contact between children and their parents and their extended families. Most adoptees would probably advocate that child welfare locate blood relatives capable of stepping forward to provide that permanence. And only in the event that no such appropriate custodian could be found that placement with an adoptive family be considered.

The problem with that approach is that if you are truly committed to making every effort to heal families and reunite children with their family of origin is that you have to give the process time. And during that time, children grow quickly. Before you know it, they are not cuddly infants or cute toddlers but damaged and perhaps defiant adolescents. They are harder to place with an adoptive family. And they may also have sibling bonds that adoption could break

Unfortunately, Congress in its infinite wisdom felt that solution was to hurry this process and that money could solve the problem of long-term foster care. It is certainly helping to shorten the length of time that children spend in foster care but whether or not it is truly in the best interests of the child is debatable.

Because states receive a $4,000 cash bonus from the federal government for each child adopted from foster care (multiplied by the percentage that the state exceeds its adoption goal) it gives child welfare workers a powerful financial incentive to terminate parental rights.

According to the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) state child welfare agencies did so more than 79,000 times nationwide in 2006, legally separating children from their families of origin. “And since infants and toddlers are much easier to place in adoptive homes, they’re often targeted for removal by overzealous social workers based on flimsy or anonymous evidence of parental abuse or neglect,” Hollingsworth writes.

She reports that child welfare officials have a battery of tactics they can use to run out this 15-month clock that starts ticking as soon as a child goes into foster care. Among those are forced psychological testing, the filing of legal motions and other delaying tactics that give child welfare the clear advantage.

Bureaucrats have disproportionately more time and financial resources to wage a legal battle for custody against parents who “basically have to prove their own innocence.” She adds, “individuals and parents are considered guilty as charged by anonymous tipsters whose hidden motivations are never brought to light.”

They only have to outlast the natural parents by 15 months. That alone is sufficient legal justification to terminate parental rights.

Hollingsworth estimates child welfare agencies must lay out an average of $20,000 to keep a child in foster care compared to $8,000 to provide in-home services for troubled families. On the face of it, one wonders that the “bounty” paid to agencies that manage to wrest children away from their parents and place them for adoption manage to break even.

But the reality is that this process keeps a lot of professionals on the payroll – lawyers, social workers, therapists, psychologists – and they profit from families being torn apart. As anyone who has ever investigated adoption in any depth soon realizes, the way to report the phenomenon is to follow the money. It requires much more of an investment of time and money by the media to do that than to do the kind of reporting we so often see.

Hollingsworth concludes “although CPS’ stated goal is family reunification, the reality is that these agencies reap a second financial windfall when the forced separation between child and parent becomes permanent.”

I might add that although the stated goal of the media is to provide fair and balanced coverage of important societal issues, the reality is that one-sided stories about the trials and tribulations of couples longing to bring someone else’s child into their home or the occasional reunions of adoptees and birth relatives are easy to do, require few sources and if the media makes no attempt at providing balance, pretty cheap.






  1. […] Majed Athab wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt: “Congress, with the best of intention, passed the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, which allowed states to terminate parental rights of children who had been in foster care longer than 15 months. Child welfare officials have long […]”

    Pingback by Adoption Rules, Issues, and News » Blog Archive » Getting it right — June 11, 2008 @ 2:59 am | Reply

  2. I hope you don’t mind that added you to my blogroll

    Comment by euroasiangirl — September 27, 2008 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  3. Good point! Congress did have the best of intentions. The unwarranted separation of parents and children has been an unintended consequence as child welfare officials cannot help but feel pressure to terminate the rights of highly adoptable children because there is a monetary reward involved. I often wonder if sone of the children most in need of being separated from their natural parents get left behind because they do not have a profitable alternative.

    Comment by adoptionbeat — September 27, 2008 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  4. Thank you, Euroasian girl. I appreciate the link.

    I haven’t posted in some while due to a combination of technical and personal complications but aim to do better.

    Comment by adoptionbeat — September 27, 2008 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

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