Politics and the pandemic are not the only topics to read about in the news these days. Stories concerning adoption are also popping up on the internet and in the newspaper. These kinds of stories provide insight into current issues within the adoption arena. Read all about a few of these issues here.

Adoptions from Foster Care – Wendy’s Wonderful Kids

A common perception about adoption is that the process involves placing a baby in a forever home. But adoptees do not only come from a hospital. Many children are adopted out of foster care. Just over 66,000 adoptions involving child welfare occurred during Fiscal Year 2019 according to data from the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). But with some 424,000 children in foster care at the end of the same fiscal year, the opportunity for many more such adoptions exists. 

Children adopted from foster care are likely to be older, have special needs, or are a part of a sibling group. Thus, finding a forever home for them is more difficult than for a newborn. Prospective adoptive parents are not flocking to state agencies seeking to adopt these types of children. More effort is required to find these children a permanent home. If a foster child does not gain a forever family, he may age out of the foster care system without the support and safety net of a loving family. In fact, over 20,000 young people leave foster care without a permanent family every year.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Children, a charitable organization started in 1992, has stepped in with some innovative ideas to assist in getting children in foster care adopted. Dave Thomas, of course, founded the fast-food restaurant chain Wendy’s and was himself an adoptee. The foundation’s signature program is Wendy’s Wonderful Kids which focuses on locating forever homes for children in foster care.

To achieve this aim, Wendy’s funds adoption professionals to act as recruiters to seek permanent homes for foster kids. These recruiters use a child-focused model to identify prospective adoptive parents for a specific child. Independent research reveals that this model is up to three times more effective in serving the needs of children who have remained in foster care the longest—teens, sibling groups, and those with special needs.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is not hands-on involved in the recruitment process. Instead, it provides funds in the form of grants to adoption agencies which allow them to hire recruiters for this purpose. Currently, over 475 recruiters are hard at work uncovering prospective adoptive homes which would meet the needs of a specific child. 

The philosophy of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is, “Unadoptable is unacceptable.” Recruiters have their work cut out for them though. When they receive referrals, 90% of the children are over age 8, 52% have been in foster care for four years or more, and 33% have been in six or more placements. 

To avoid an unacceptable outcome for a foster child, recruiters undertake intensive recruitment activities. The program operates on an evidence-based model and is the only program in the United States to use such a model. A recruiter initially focuses on the child’s immediate network, such as the familiar circle of friends, family, and neighbors. Private investigators may be hired to assist in finding relatives. A search would next target the child’s local community and those outside his/her inner circle. 

How effective is this approach? The numbers tell the tale. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recently announced it had exceeded 10,000 adoptions out of foster care from the efforts it has funded. This result means a permanent family now exists for over 10,000 children, and the lives of countless more families and friends have been touched by this positive outcome. 

Given these encouraging results, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids hopes to expand its outreach. It started with a multi-year business plan with the end goal to be operational in all fifty states. Phase I focused on 2017-2020 and operated in Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Washington. Phase II, slated for 2021-2026, aims to expand into at least ten more states.

To fund recruitment efforts, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids has raised $235 million since the inception of its program. Of that amount, over $15.5 million were raised in 2020 despite the ongoing pandemic. Because of the pandemic, some of its traditional fundraisers have been switched from a traditional format to a virtual one.

Headed to the Supreme Court? Appellate Case Considers ICWA

In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to address the large number of Native American children being taken from their homes and placed outside their communities. This law’s existence requires an inquiry as to whether the child being placed for adoption is an “Indian child” as defined by that Act. Why? Because a statutory preference for placement of such children in indigenous foster and adoptive homes may come into play.

Non-Native American families desiring to adopt Native American children have challenged the constitutionality of ICWA. They believe the statutory preference for Native American homes violates the equal protection clause. Native American tribes and groups have argued that the federal law is not based on race. Instead, they claim Native American children are treated disparately due to their political status as tribal citizens. 

The controversy culminated in a lawsuit brought by non-Native American families trying to adopt Native American children against various officials in the Department of the Interior. The states of Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana also joined with the plaintiff in this litigation. The case, known as Brackeen, was presided over by Judge Reed O’Connor, a federal district judge in Texas who, in October 2018, ultimately struck down ICWA as being unconstitutional. As expected, that decision was taken up on appeal. But the wheels of justice ground slowly in the appellate process. The case was argued a second time before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans in January 2020. Nevertheless, an en banc decision (meaning that all judges on the bench of that particular jurisdiction took part in it) was not issued until April 6, 2021, some fourteen months later. 

The length of time it took the Fifth Circuit to render a decision is understandable given that the court was extremely divided over the issues; the justices were evenly divided on some of the issues under consideration. They also produced a 325-page work to announce and explain its opinion. The result of the latest Brackeen decision left everyone unhappy and things clear as mud. The Court did recognize Congress’ authority to enact ICWA under the Commerce Clause. This ruling did not sit well with the plaintiffs. On the other hand, the Court was evenly divided on some issues, which upheld the lower court’s ruling that certain provisions were unconstitutional. Although some parts of ICWA were upheld, others were deemed to violate the “anti-commandeering” doctrine of the U.S. Constitution. This doctrine  forbids the states to command others to act in certain ways. In this case, commanding the placement of  Native American children in Native American foster homes and Native American adoptive families instead of other races was deemed unconstitutional.

The next step is likely an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has only addressed ICWA in two previous cases. The decisions in those cases were not favorable to the Native American parties. But the resolution by the Supreme Court of the issues raised in Brackeen will not occur speedily. In the meantime, the status of ICWA remains up in the air.

Adoption Scheme Nets Arizona Attorney Significant Prison Time

An illegal adoption scheme may result in 15 years of prison time for Arizona attorney and one-time Maricopa County tax assessor Paul Petersen. The former adoption practitioner devised a scheme involving pregnant women from the Pacific island nation of the Marshall Islands. Petersen was familiar with the Islands and the language, as he had participated in mission work there when he was younger. Petersen recruited and promised to give these women $10,000 to place their babies for adoption with families in the United States who paid approximately $40,000 per adoption. 

Marshall Islands citizens have been prohibited to travel to the United States for adoption purposes since 2003. Despite this prohibition, Petersen illegally paid Marshallese women to make placements in at least seventy adoption cases in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas. 

Charged with conspiracy to smuggle humans in Arkansas, Petersen received a six-year prison sentence. On March 21, 2021, Petersen was sentenced to five years in prison in Arizona for defrauding the Arizona Medicaid system. He sought taxpayer-funded coverage for his birth mothers even though he was aware they were not living in Arizona. Petersen pled guilty in Utah to three counts of human smuggling and one count of communications fraud. He was given a third prison sentence by the Utah court on April 21, 2021. Combined, these three sentences may result in Petersen, age 45, being in prison for a total of 15 years.

Dictionary Definition of “Wife” in Same-Sex Adoption Overturned

Adoption, as a legal process, has its share of legal terms the average citizen may not grasp. But one Nebraska couple’s adoption dreams were temporarily derailed when a judge denied their petition based on the dictionary definition of the common word “wife.” 

Two married women in Nebraska sought to adopt a 3-year-old child whom they had raised since birth. Their petition for adoption listed the spouses as wife and wife. The presiding judge pulled out his law dictionary to ascertain the definition of the term “wife.” Finding that “wife” means a woman with a lawful living husband, the judge ruled he had no jurisdiction to grant the couple’s request.

The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision at the end of March 2021. That appellate body determined that the statute book and not the dictionary was the proper literature to use in cases like these. It concluded Nebraska state adoption law clearly allows same-sex couples to adopt so the definition of “wife” found in a dictionary had no bearing. 

Foreign Adoptions Suspended in the Netherlands 

The perception that adoption is merely baby-selling was found to be true in the Netherlands based on the report of an investigative committee. The committee studied adoptions over the years from Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Indonesia and found a system of intercountry adoptions open to fraud and abuse. Specifically, the investigation uncovered evidence of corruption, child trafficking, baby farming, and coerced placements. 

The fault was found not only with actions taken in the adoptees’ country of origin but with the failures of the Dutch government. Reports from the Dutch media about abuses in foreign adoptions dating back to the 1960s fell on deaf government ears. However, as a result of these findings, the Dutch government has become more involved in the issue and has suspended all adoptions from foreign countries in February 2021. Adoptions already underway are being allowed to continue though.

Stories about adoption in the news are eye-opening and keep those affected by or interested in adoption abreast of what is going on in that area. Some of the news is good such as the active and deliberate efforts to find forever homes for children in foster care. Other news is bad such as illegal activities undertaken to produce some babies for adoption. Other news may be confusing such as the legal wrangling over who can adopt under state law and whether ICWA is constitutional. While it may not be possible to understand all of what is happening related to adoption, reading news stories about adoption does help citizens to be better informed. 

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.