Foster Care's "Perverse Incentives" Harmful To Kids, Stall Adoptions

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than half a million American children are in government-run foster care. A report issued today by the National Center for Policy Analysis criticized the current system as a government holding tank and a biased monopoly that frustrates attempts at placing many of those children with new families.

While thousands of families are waiting to adopt children, fewer than half the eligible foster children were adopted in 1996, according to the Dallas-based public policy institute.

"The federal government reimburses states for foster care on a per-day, per-child basis, said NCPA president Dr. John C. Goodman. This creates a perverse incentive that rewards states for keeping children in foster care whether it's the best thing for them or not.

Conna Craig of the Institute for Children, and author of the new study, pointed out other flaws in the current system, including:

  • The bias toward reunifying children with biological parents, no matter how abusive.
  • The bias against interracial adoption, despite Congressional efforts to eliminate it.
  • The strong state monopoly on the adoption process in all but a few states.
  • The absence of a federal law requiring states to actively seek adoptive homes for all available children, who are often assigned instead to long-term foster care.

"Every child is adoptable, Craig said. You can ask private agencies all around the country. They're recruiting families for children of all racial backgrounds and ages, children with every type of disability.

"Responding to this issue demands an unusual combination of personal empathy and public policy, said Dr. Merrill Matthews, NCPA vice president for domestic policy. Long-term foster children have a high incidence of winding up on public assistance or winding up in jail. Then, the system almost goes out of its way to reunite them with biological families that are, if anything, worse than the foster environment. We make the best solution, adoption, the hardest.

Among the reforms recommended by the NCPA and the Institute for Children:

  • Reimburse states based on program efficacy and end funding that creates incentives to keep children in foster care for longer than 12 months.
  • Require states to report publicly each year the number of foster children in state care, the number free to be adopted but not in pre-adoptive placements and the number of state-approved adoptive families.
  • Give more control over foster care to the states to encourage more initiatives in the private, voluntary sector.
  • Prohibit race-based delays in adoption.
  • Grant biological parents no more than 12 months to prove their fitness to resume custody of their children.