The Challenges of Adopting a Foster Child Across State Lines
It doesn't need to be so difficult to bring the joy of a family into the life of a foster child.
Several years ago, my cousin and her husband were foster parents to two young children. They knew the biological parents were deemed unfit parents by the state, so at some point the children would be available for adoption. My cousin never thought for a moment that they would have any trouble adopting these two children. They loved and cared for them for a little over a year. At about the time of their adoption eligibility, these foster parents needed to move quickly across the country to help care for her critically ill father.
They met with the foster care workers, thinking they could easily make arrangements to bring their soon-to-be adopted foster children with them. Their request was denied. The law would not allow these children to be taken across state lines. She said, “We had no choice but to return them to their aunt, who wanted us to adopt them because she had no way to care for them. It was a heart-wrenching task as the children clung to us (and we to them) and cried. We had been naive to think we could adopt so easily. We never saw them again. It was so sad.” She added, “But we told them to always remember us and how much we love them.”
It seems to be easier to adopt a child from a foreign country than it is to cross state lines to adopt a child in the US. In 2012, there were about 840 interstate adoptions; nearly a third of these were completed by grandparents or other relatives of the adopted child. In contrast, 8,868 children crossed international lines to be adopted by American parents. This is the case, partially, because there are senators and representatives who are fighting to open those international gates for orphan children needing parents.
Facts regarding interstate adoptions
1. In the United States, each state has its own welfare system. Costs, benefits, and regulations vary from state to state. One state cannot control or supercede the laws of another state. Therefore, it appears the simplest way for states to solve the problem is to not allow interstate adoptions. Children suffer as a result.
2. There are enough parents. In an article in the Huffington Post, Jeff Katz, adoption consultant, reported that “Despite common misperception, the problem is not the result of a lack of people wanting to adopt a child from foster care. Analysis of the most recent National Survey of Family Growth shows that 600,000 American women were actively trying to adopt a child. The vast majority were willing to adopt the kinds of foster children we label as “hard to place”–black and Hispanic kids, older kids, kids with disabilities. For every black child waiting in foster care to be adopted, there were 12 prospective parents. For every waiting child between six and 12, there were eight prospective parents.”
Katz went on to say, “Given the intensity of the need and the number of families that want to adopt, why is interstate adoption so rare? The primary reason is that we do not have a national adoption system. Instead, we have 50 different child welfare systems, each with its own process for adoption eligibility, recruitment, approval, and training.” (For more from Jeff Katz, read the complete editorial here.)
Children Need to Come First
I’m not advocating for federal control over adoptions, but it would benefit foster children needing a permanent home if states could work together for the good of the child. If states were to create laws that would allow for foster children to cross state lines—even county lines—more easily, many more children would have loving parents in a stable home environment.
Katz stated it well when he said, in the earlier referenced article, “It is a national scandal that 25,000 children age out of foster care each year while willing adoptive parents are ignored because they are in the wrong state or even the wrong county. It shouldn’t be harder for a New Jersey family to adopt a child from Manhattan than Moscow. We must change the incentives in our adoption system so that everyone wins when a hurt child finds a forever family.”
Here’s the Irony
Laws that allow for interstate adoption already exist, though they are often ignored. “Barriers to adoption across state lines … largely result from bureaucracy and unintentional disincentives,” said Katz in an article on TheMiddletownPress.com . Such barriers have been recognized for years; the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 included a provision that penalizes states that “denied or delayed the placement of a child for adoption when an approved family is available outside of the jurisdiction.”
You can find out more about adopting across state lines from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. On their website they posted: “Adopting children from other States requires the involvement of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), a legally binding agreement between States regulating the placement of children across State lines. All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the ICPC as statutory law in their respective jurisdictions.”
The North American Council on Adoptable Children provides information related to States’ responsibilities in providing adoption subsidies across State lines. More information can be found here.
Don’t Give Up
We encourage all people desiring to adopt a foster child to keep working at it. Look into the rights that may actually already be on the books. As you do the research in your state, it’s important to establish a friendly working relationship with your own county welfare agency dealing with foster care. And keep praying to be guided to an eligible child. There are so many children out there who need a loving home. They want to be adopted. They want permanency in their lives. It’s amazing what can happen right in your own state and county when you include God in your adoption desires. You can change the life of a child forever. You can be the parent they are so desperately seeking.
If you want to know how it feels to be a foster child, watch this.