Adoption of Children in State Foster Care

Report of the
Connecticut Law Revision Commission
to the
Judiciary Committee and Human Services Committee
of the Connecticut General Assembly

Prepared by David D. Biklen

February 17, 1999

Connecticut Law Revision Commission
State Capitol
Room 509A
Hartford, CT 06106

 Tel.: 860-240-0220
FAX: 860-240-0322
Email: lrc@po.state.ct.us

btzblueline.gif (1841 bytes)

Adoption of Children in State Foster Care

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND

Funding For Terminating Parental Rights Has Increased

Benefits Of Foster Care And Adoptive Homes

Foster Care System Under Stress

Public and Private Agency Adoptions

Private Adoption Agencies Handle Most Adoptions

Legal Risk Placements

Probate Court

Children In Foster Care Eligible For Adoption

Parents Who Adopt Children In Foster Care

Subsidies For Adoptions

Post-Adoption Services For Adoptive Families

Health Care For Adoptive Children And The Impact Of The Federal 1997
    Adoption And Safe Families Act

Subsidized Guardianship Program

Long-Term Foster Care Is Appropriate For Some Children

Disruption Of Adoption

DCF Consent Decree

PROBLEMS AND CONCERNS (AND POSSIBLE STRATEGIES)

Foster Care System Is Beleaguered

Fifty Percent Increase In Foster Care Caseload From 1994-97, Petitions
    For Termination Will Nearly Triple Over Next Eighteen Months

High Turnover Among Foster Parents Reduces Adoptive Parent Pool

Adoption Is Less Expensive Than Foster Care

Registry for Putative Fathers

Long-Term Foster Care

Adoption Recruitment, Placement, And Support Appear To Have Been
    De-Emphasized At The CT Department Of Children And Families

DCF Adoption Resource Exchange De-emphasized

Staffing

"One Child/One Church" Adoption Recruitment Program

Lack Of Continuity Of Effort

Perception Of DCF In Community

Permanent Placement Service Program

Adoption Recruitment Contract

Recruiting Two Homes for Each DCF Child

Insufficient Post-Placement and Post-Adoption Services Are Currently
    Available

Program Evaluation

Disincentives To Adopting A Child From DCF

Connecticut Has Second Worst Record In The United States For
    Adopting Children in Foster Care

Financial Disincentives For Foster Parents To Adopt

Future Financial Risk

New DCF Investigation Process Of Prospective Adoptive Parents

Juvenile Court Role In Addressing The Problem

Court Order To Allow Nonprofit Agency To Place Child In Adoption

Prospective Adoptive Family

Concurrent Planning

Expedite Process Of Adoption Applications

Require Timely Action By Juvenile Court

Information From Nonprofit Agencies

Keeping Siblings Together

Modification of Post-Adoption Services

Permit Juvenile Court To Complete DCF Adoptions

Case Status Conferences – Mediation

Expedited Procedure When Adoption Disrupts

CONCLUSION

btzblueline.gif (1841 bytes)

Adoption of Children in State Foster Care

Report of the
Connecticut Law Revision Commission

February 17, 1999

INTRODUCTION                                                                                                        Top

By letter dated August 5, 1998, the House Co-Chairmen of the Judiciary Committee asked the Connecticut Law Revision Commission to review the adoption process in Connecticut and to make recommendations about how to streamline the process and how to lower barriers to adoption. Although the Judiciary Committee request is to streamline the adoption process generally, the Judiciary Committee is especially concerned about children in foster care who are under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) whose birth parents have had their parental rights terminated and who are available for adoption. This report focuses on children committed to DCF who are eligible for adoption and reflects information gathered in a Law Revision Commission review of this matter.

Recent legislation in Connecticut (PA 98-241) and by the federal government (The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997) attempts to decrease the amount of time children spend in state-sponsored foster care and to prevent children from being reunited with parents who do not safely care for them. The Adoption and Safe Families Act requires DCF to make it a priority to find a permanent home for every child. Permanency is desperately needed for those foster children who, in too many cases, have been shuffled from foster home to foster home for several years. The federal legislation recognizes that a child's health and safety are paramount in decisions regarding a child's removal from, or return to, her or his home. For many children in state care, the state is required to accelerate decisions to terminate parental rights. Once a child enters foster care, the state is also required to accelerate planning for permanent placement: reunion with the child's family, adoption, or some other permanent placement such as long-term foster care. Incentives are provided for adoption or other permanent placement.

This policy change is expected to increase dramatically the number of petitions to terminate parental rights and the number of children under DCF care who will become available for adoption. The Judiciary Committee is concerned that state statutes, policies, processes, and resources may not be sufficient to place for adoption the increased number of children who will become available for adoption.

The information gathered to date supports the Judiciary Committee's cause for concern. For example:

Only 278 children in DCF care had their adoptions finalized in the twelve months ending June 30, 1997. Over the past eight years, DCF has placed between 140-300 children per year.

Because of the new emphasis on terminating parental rights, DCF conservatively estimates that at least 598 children will need adoptive parents for the period October, 1998 - September, 2000. The number of children waiting for adoption could increase to as high as 1,000 children during fiscal year 1998-1999.

DCF reports that, in June 1998, 346 children under its care were waiting for adoption, up from 149 children waiting for adoption in 1997.

DCF reports in June 1998 that, with 346 children waiting for adoption, only 86 prospective adoptive families were registered with DCF and waiting to adopt.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, Connecticut ranks next to last of all states in its rate of adoption of children in out-of-home care. Only Georgia has a lower rate of adoption. Massachusetts places children for adoption at a rate nearly four times higher than Connecticut.

Children enter foster care because of abuse or neglect, with poverty most often being the key factor in their lives. Children in the foster care system available for adoption traditionally take longer to place than do infants. The majority of the children have special needs: many have been physically, sexually, or otherwise abused, or have had alcohol abuse or other drug abuse present in their lives; most are older (over 5 years of age); many have been in the foster care system for several years, often at two or more foster homes; and they may have siblings also in need of permanent placement. Poverty and unstable sources of family income have been significant factors in the lives of these children.

Generally, adoption in a stable, secure, and nurturing family is better for children than is extended foster care or multiple foster care sites. Children require a stable, safe, and trusting home environment to realize their full potential. Families offer children relationships intended to last a lifetime. Permanency affords the stability and security that children must have for building competency and self-reliance and for maximizing their physical, emotional, social, educational, and cultural growth.

These are among Connecticut's most vulnerable citizens. When a child has been committed to DCF care, the state has assumed the role of parent, hopefully on a temporary basis only. The focus should be on getting children out of "foster care drift" and into permanent homes that provide stability for children.

Not only is adoption better for children, but adoption is less costly for the state than is extended foster care. Foster care requires continuing DCF case management services, social worker and other support services and often a lengthy court hearing process. A completed adoption discontinues most of these demands on state resources.

As a result of the federal legislation, many states are now reviewing their adoption processes, attempting to adopt practices and provide resources that make adoption or other permanent placement a priority for children in state foster care.

BACKGROUND                                                                                                      Top

Funding For Terminating Parental Rights Has Increased: The passage of PA 98-241 will dramatically increase the number of termination of parental rights cases. To implement this legislation, the state budget in FY 1998-99 provided for $3,175,566 in additional funding, allocated to several state agencies: DCF received $449,020 to hire eight additional attorneys to draft termination petitions and support staff; the Attorney General’s Office received $933,692 for 18 additional staff to handle the increase in termination cases; the Judicial Department received $1,498,923 for four new judges in the juvenile court and 12 support staff; and the County Sheriffs' Offices received $293,921 for additional special deputy sheriffs.

No corresponding increase in resources or legislative incentives has been initiated to place children in adoptive homes. DCF does not have a plan in place that can realistically and significantly increase the number of adoptions. Without significant legislative incentives, the supply of adoptive homes will continue to lag seriously behind in relation to demand. There will be a growing backlog of children who will be waiting to be adopted or will no longer be considered to be eligible for adoption. The success of the 1998 initiative will require resources in FY 1999-2000 and improved processes to place these children quickly into adoptive homes.

Top

Benefits Of Foster Care And Adoptive Homes: Removing children from harmful and abusive settings and placing them into foster homes has demonstrated remedial effects on their medical status and psychological function. Foster care is not, however, intended to be long term for most children. Children with long-term experiences in foster care and multiple placements often experience difficulties in school and work and may not develop a healthy sense of self. Often, long-term social service support and criminal justice intervention is necessary when these children become adults. Maintaining a child in foster care is also more expensive (about $5000 per year per child) than having the child placed with an adoptive family. When a child is no longer is foster care, expenditures for DCF case management and the judicial process are no longer necessary.

The goal of foster care is family reunification and, if that is not possible, placement into a permanent home, most often by adoption. Moving children from foster care into a permanent setting is "permanency planning." Compared with foster care, adoption has better potential for reversing the effects of difficult earlier experiences. Positive effects are seen in physical health and in psychological and academic functioning.

Top

Foster Care System Under Stress: The current foster care system is stressed and the impending dramatic increase in the number of children who will be in DCF foster care and available for adoption will place additional stress on the system. These stresses appear in several ways and the odds against children in foster care being adopted are about to get much worse.

In Connecticut, nearly 60% of the DCF adoptions are by foster parents. Unfortunately, however, the median period that a foster parent in Connecticut retains a license is only 2.7 years. This high turnover rate significantly reduces the pool of foster parents available to recruit for adopting a child. For every new foster family recruited, a foster family leaves the system.

Furthermore, the adoption process is notorious for long delay, delay that discourages potential adoptive families. The data is clear; the longer children wait for adoption, the longer they will continue to wait.

Although foster care is intended to be a temporary solution, nationally, one in four children in foster care remain in foster care for more than four years and one in ten stays in foster care for more than seven years. Many of these children have medical problems including HIV infection, asthma and anemia; mental health or emotional problems, as well as delayed growth or development; and developmental disabilities such as speech, hearing or vision problems.

Top

Public And Private Agency Adoptions: Public adoptions involve children in the DCF system who are placed in permanent homes by DCF or private adoption agencies under contract with DCF. Private agency adoptions involve children placed through the services of a non-profit or for-profit agency licensed by the state. Regardless of whether it is a public or private adoption agency, the adoption process can be cumbersome and require an excessive length of time.

Top

Private Adoption Agencies Handle Most Adoptions: Most adoptions do not involve children committed to a child protection agency such as DCF. Nationally, only 15.5% of all adoptions were public agency adoptions of children in the foster care system. Private adoption agencies place 37.5% of all children. The remainder (42%) are primarily adoptions by step-parents or other relatives. The focus of this report is not on all adoptions, but rather on those children committed to DCF who are legally eligible for adoption.

Top

Legal Risk Placements: DCF uses "legal risk placements" to place a child with prospective adoptive parents who are willing to accept the risk that the adoption of the child may not be finalized or completed with those prospective parents. Children may be placed in a pre-adoptive home at legal risk if (1) the birth parents have consented to a termination of their parental rights and a court decision is pending ordering the termination of parental rights; (2) one birth parent has consented to termination and consent from the other birth parent is pending; (3) the child was abandoned; (4) if an order terminating parental rights is under appeal to a higher court; or (5) a petition to terminate parental rights has been filed in court without the consent of the birth parents.

Top

Probate Court: The probate courts also have jurisdiction over cases for termination of parental rights. In 1997, the probate courts handled 548 termination applications. Pursuant to CGS section 45a-724 et seq., adoption applications are filed in probate court. Under DCF regulations, a study of the home of the prospective adoptive parents (a home study) must be completed within ninety days. The Probate court then conducts a hearing on the adoption application.

Top

Children In Foster Care Eligible For Adoption:

Age and Gender: Nationally, 20% of all children in foster care are eligible for adoption and at least 50-80% of these children in foster care are supported with federal funds. Four per cent are under age 1; 29% are age 1-5; 27% are 6 to 10 years of age; 25% are 11 to 15; and 14% are 16-18. Only 2% are in pre-adoptive homes; 42% are in foster care with a non-relative; 37% are in foster care with a relative; and 15% are in group homes or institutions. In Connecticut, 184 children were male and 162 were female. As of June 30, 1998, 47% (164) of DCF children eligible to be adopted were ages 0-5; 36% (124) children were ages 6-10; and 16% (58) children were 11 and older. It is expected that these numbers will increase dramatically. The question is what will happen to these children.

Time Waiting in Foster Care: Nationally, children in foster care who are legally free for adoption wait more than three years to be placed in permanent homes. Fewer than one third of the children whose goal is adoption are actually placed in a home each year. Furthermore, the adoption process is notorious for long delay, delay that discourages potential adoptive families. Delay occurs, for example, in establishing that a foster child is free for adoption and in the DCF process for approving potential adoptive families. Delay also harms children. The chances for adoption are reduced as a foster child becomes older or develops behavioral problems.

Race: In Connecticut, children of color represent 71% of all children eligible for adoption. As of June 30, 1998, 346 children committed to DCF care were registered and waiting for adoption. One hundred fifty-four were African-American children; 93 Hispanic children; and 99 Caucasian children.

The number of prospective adoptive homes among African-American and Hispanic families is acutely lacking. This shortage is about to get significantly worse. Over 1,000 African-American and 500 Latino adoptive homes will be needed to be identified over the next year. This is an unprecedented challenge to a DCF adoption system already experiencing extreme stress.

Top

Parents Who Adopt Children In Foster Care: Generally, children in foster care are adopted by three types of families: former foster parents, relatives of the foster children, and persons unrelated to the children. Nationally, just under half the children are adopted by former foster parents (in 1997, 58% of the adoptions of Connecticut foster children were by foster parents), just over 40% are adopted by unrelated persons, and the remainder are adopted by relatives.

The largest pool of persons likely to adopt a foster child are foster parents. Because Connecticut, like other states, has a shortage of foster families, recruitment efforts have been markedly increased. Unfortunately, the increased effort has been insufficient to meet the need for foster families. With more children being placed in foster care and with only limited success in increasing the number of foster families, reliance on an increased pool of foster families may not be sufficient to address the dramatic increase in the need for adoptive parents.

Adoption by unrelated persons, the other large pool of persons who traditionally adopt foster children, will need to increase. Connecticut falls well below the national average in recruiting unrelated persons to become adoptive parents. In 1997, 175 out of 305 Connecticut adoptions (58%) were by foster parents. Nationally, approximately 47% of children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents. Only 7% are adopted by relatives and 41% are adopted by people who are unrelated to them. It also appears that families with children are more likely to adopt older children (the largest group of DCF children) than families without other children.

Adoptive parents using a public agency generally have lower levels of education and income than do adoptive parents using non-profit adoption agencies. Nationally, since 1989, public agencies are less likely to place children in families earning $50,000 or more, and more likely to place children in families earning $30,000 or less. Among all adoptions, however, nearly two-thirds of adoptive families earn $50,000 or more.

The income figures for Connecticut adoptive families of foster children is not available. Foster family income, however, is available. Because nearly 60% of DCF adoptions are by foster families, foster family income levels are instructive about income levels of adoptive families. In Connecticut, as of 1995, the annual income of 68% of all foster parents was below $50,000. Only 18% made between $50,000 and $74,999 and only 9% made more than $75,000.

It appears that an income disparity exists between families who adopt children in DCF care and families who adopt through private non-profit agencies. This disparity suggests that DCF and prospective adoptive parents who are seeking to adopt through private non-profit agencies need to be better informed of each other's interest in placing a child and in adopting a child.

In 1997, 60% of the available potential adoptive homes in Connecticut were white, 40% were families of color. An increased number of potential adoptive homes in families of color is clearly needed.

Double or even triple the number of new families will need to be recruited as potential adoptive parents to accommodate the adoption needs of the children that will become available for adoption over the next year.

Top

Subsidies For Adoptions: Connecticut provides subsidies for adoptions in two circumstances: one for children with special needs, the other for the medical expenses of disabled children. A special needs child is one who is more difficult to place in adoption because of a variety of conditions including age, race, or ethnic origin that may present a barrier to adoption, physical or mental disability, or serious emotional maladjustment. A child who is a member of a sibling group that should be placed together or who has significant emotional ties with foster parents who are the prospective adoptive parents is also classified as a child with special needs. CGS section 17a-116 defines "special needs."

Families who adopt children with special needs are eligible for either a lump sum adoption subsidy or a periodic subsidy until the child reaches 18. As of June 30, 1998, 2,353 children were in the subsidized adoption program. Nearly 90% of the DCF children awaiting adoption are eligible to receive adoption subsidies. The rates are currently set at $622 per month for a child up to age five; $642 for a child age six to eleven; and $708 for a child age twelve and above, with higher rates for some special needs children. The periodic subsidy can be up to $1200 month for some special needs children and may be reduced by income from other sources such as social security. Adopting families for disabled children are eligible for 100% medical subsidy under the state Medicaid program (HUSKY Plan Part A). If the child had Medicaid benefits prior to adoption, those benefits can continue to age 21 if the child remains a dependent of the adoptive family.

Top

Post-Adoption Services For Adoptive Families: Many foster children who are adopted through the DCF system have experienced severe trauma in their birth home. These hardships often lead to psychological problems that present serious challenges to adoptive parents. Children who have experienced neglect, physical and sexual abuse, frequent disruptions to residence and personal relationships may, at the time of adoption or during later childhood, manifest emotional problems, attachment disorders, and academic and developmental problems. After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parent and child often need the services of mental health practitioners and social service providers and communication with other adoptive parents facing similar challenges. Practitioners consistently point to the availability of post-adoption support and services as critical to ensuring both the availability and the stability of adoptive families for children in foster care. Currently, DCF offers post-adoption services only to a small percentage of the families needing the services. The lack of post-adoption services may be a key factor in DCF's inability to recruit a sufficient number of prospective adoptive families.

DCF has proposed using federal funds from the Adoption and Safe Families Act to establish five adoption centers over the next two years. These adoptions centers would be based on the "Crossroads" model from Massachusetts. The adoption centers would provide: respite services, education and long-term advocacy efforts, intensive and long-term family services, and training for mental health professionals. Five adoption centers costing $225,000 each are called for under a recent DCF proposal. Connecticut Department of Children and Families, Plan for the Development and Retention of Adoptive and Foster Family Resources, December 16, 1998.

Top

Health Care For Adoptive Children And The Impact Of The Federal 1997 Adoption And Safe Families Act: The Adoption and Safe Families Act aims to decrease the amount of time a child spends in foster care by encouraging permanence in placement decisions. The lack of health care coverage, however, has prevented many suitable parents from adopting children from the foster care system. Providing health care coverage is a key tool to secure and sustain permanent families for children in foster care.

The federal Act addresses the need for health insurance. In effect, the Act requires that the HUSKY Plan (the Connecticut health insurance program for uninsured children) be provided to children with "special needs for medical or rehabilitative care." Up until now, such coverage has been optional. Connecticut has provided coverage for children not eligible for benefits under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. This state coverage previously could be discontinued if the adoptive child were to move out of state. Coverage is now required for children with non-IV-E state adoptions subsidies for medical, physical, developmental or emotional problems. Connecticut must provide this health insurance coverage to special needs adopted children to receive federal grants in Fiscal Years 2000-01 and 2001-02. This is probably the most significant adoption assistance provision in the Act.

Under the federal Act, Connecticut is also eligible to apply for one of the 10 demonstration projects granted per year if Connecticut provides HUSKY Plan coverage to special needs children with IV-E and non IV-E adoption assistance agreements. The demonstration projects address barriers that result in delays to adoptive placements and kinship care.

The federal Act also gives Connecticut a bonus if it increases the number of adoptions of foster children. The base rate year for Fiscal Year 1998 will be the average number of foster care and special need adoptions in Fiscal Years 1995-1997. Connecticut can receive $4,000 for each foster care adoption over our "base rate" and $6,000 for each additional special needs adoption. Connecticut would have to use the bonus funds to provide any service available through Titles IV-B and IV-E including post-adoption services. The Connecticut legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that this bonus could be approximately $200,000-300,000 in Fiscal Year 1998-99. The state is given a clear financial incentive to increase its rate of adoption placements.

Top

Subsidized Guardianship Program: Connecticut has recently begun a subsidized guardianship program (PA 97-272). Under the program, a relative who is the caregiver for a child under DCF custody is appointed guardian of the child. Foster care support and adoption subsidies continue for the child, but DCF closes the foster care case. The program is designed for grandparents who are often foster parents to their own grandchildren. The program enables the grandparent to assume a higher level of responsibility for parenting a grandchild without having to participate in terminating the parental rights of their own child.

It has been estimated that subsidized guardianships can provide a permanency planning option for one-fifth of the state's current foster children, reducing the number of children for whom petitions for termination of parental rights would need to be filed and adoptive placements would need to be identified.

Top

Long-Term Foster Care Is Appropriate For Some Children: Many states statutorily favor adoption. Only when a child cannot be adopted for legal or other reasons, is long-term foster care properly considered. The DCF Consent Decree calls for such a policy. For a variety of reasons, however, some children cannot live with their birth parents or relatives, and cannot be adopted. These children need long-term foster care with foster parents who have received specialized training.

Casey Family Services operates a program of enhanced services for approximately 200 children in their Hartford and Bridgeport long-term foster care programs. Ninety-three per cent of the children have remained in their first long-term foster home. The average age of referral from DCF is age eleven. The stability provided by these programs allows these children to experience consistent schooling and continuity of family life and community activities. DCF pays the foster care subsidy directly to Casey Family Services and they, in turn, subsidize the long-term foster parent at a higher rate, using funding from the Anne E. Casey Foundation.

In some instances, treatment foster care is provided for severely emotionally-challenged children. Treatment foster care is for children who would otherwise be in an institutional setting and who have difficulty trusting adults and developing healthy attachments to caregivers. Treatment foster parents provide in-home treatment strategies developed by a multidisciplinary team of professionals. Intensive treatment in a foster home setting can reduce the need for institutionalization and provide better care at lower long-term costs.

Top

Disruption Of Adoption: The total number of adoptions that "disrupt" or fail is modest. Nationally, less that 1% of infant adoptions disrupt; 10% of adoptions of children aged 3 to 12 disrupt. For adoption of children with special needs, regardless of age, the disruption rate is 14%. The four nonprofit agencies with DCF contracts have a disruption rate of nearly zero. They attribute this low rate to pre-adoption planning to learn about the child so than an appropriate adoptive family can be found. This nominal disruption rate at nonprofit agencies is for DCF children with the some of the most difficult special needs.

It appears that DCF uses an extended decision process for adoption placements to assure a low disruption rate after placement. Adoption disruption data, however, is not available for DCF adoption placements. Thus, any beneficial impact of a long, deliberative DCF placement process on disruption cannot be determined.

Regardless of the impact on disruption, delay in placing children may be more harmful than an unknown threat of disruption. Children who, without the benefit of permanent homes and stable caregivers, may be more likely to develop emotional, intellectual, or physical problems. That is the principal problem, not the number of adoptions that disrupt. The overwhelming number of adoptions succeed, including special needs children in foster care. Too few, however, are ever adopted and those that are adopted are unnecessarily delayed by the adoption process. Clearly, adoption at an earlier age is desirable and the vast majority of adoptions do not disrupt.

Top

DCF Consent Decree: In 1991, DCF entered into a consent decree in the United States District Court in Connecticut regarding all areas of policy, management, procedures, and operations of DCF. Under the consent decree, if it is determined that a child cannot return home, the goal is adoption except in the following circumstances: (1) an adolescent child does not wish to be adopted; (2) adoption is not feasible because the child has demonstrated over a period of time the inability to function in a community setting; (3) the child is over twelve and the foster parent is not willing to adopt but is willing to sign a long-term care agreement; (4) the child is placed with a relative who is not willing to adopt but agrees to care for the child through his minority; or (5) the child has exceptional special needs that would make adoptive placement very difficult.

Top

PROBLEMS AND CONCERNS (AND POSSIBLE STRATEGIES)                          Top

Interviews have been conducted with representatives of DCF, the Connecticut Judicial Department, and several private adoption agencies in Connecticut. Also interviewed have been foster and adoptive parents and other adoption experts both in Connecticut and Massachusetts. In addition, data, literature, and statutes and regulations in Connecticut and several other states have been reviewed. This review has pointed to the following concerns about the adoption process in Connecticut and possible strategies that deserve further exploration.

Top

Foster Care System Is Beleaguered

The current foster care system is stressed and the impending dramatic increase in children who will be in DCF foster care and available for adoption will place additional stress on the system. These stresses appear in several ways and the odds against foster care children being adopted are about to get much worse.

Fifty Percent Increase in Foster Care Caseload From 1994-97; Petitions for Termination Will Nearly Triple Over the Next Eighteen Months: DCF reports that, as of June 30, 1998, 4,248 children were in foster care and 1,014 were in relative care. The caseload for foster care increased by 54% from 1994 to 1997. This dramatic increase has overloaded the foster care system. The state has only 1,840 licensed foster care homes to serve these children, with only 1,564 homes actually available to provide care. Generally, foster homes are licensed for 1-3 beds.

In a 1995 report, the CT Legislative Program and Investigations Committee described the foster care system as being "fragmentary and disorganized" with children drifting from home to home and with social workers rarely having time for the families they were supposed to help. Despite a recent effort to increase the number of foster homes, only 128 more homes are licensed in 1998 than in 1997. DCF has had better success at certifying relative homes with 1,480 as of December 1997, up from 953 as of June 1996. The shortage of foster care homes has contributed to the existing system where children are moved from home to home. For example, only 32% of all foster children remain in a single placement; the rest experience several successive placements requiring the involvement of DCF.

The number of termination of parental rights cases began to increase significantly in 1997. DCF projects that the number of termination cases in the Juvenile court will increase even further in 1998-99 (from 548 to 1,500-1,700 children over the next 12-18 months). As pointed out earlier, the legislature dedicated significant resources to implement the legislation to accelerate the process of terminating parental rights and to increase the number of such cases.

Recently, DCF has had difficulty placing for adoption a significant number of the children in its care. For example, as of January 1, 1996, 589 children in the custody of DCF were legally free for adoption, all of whom had been in an out-of-home placement for more than six consecutive months. The long-range permanent placement goal status of 484 of these children was adoption. For the additional 1,115 children committed to DCF, the long range goal was foster parent adoption if they should become eligible for adoption. Only 178 of these 1,115 children were actually in a pre-adoption or "legal risk" placement. Even these children had already been, on average, in an out-of-home placement for 2.36 years. Given current experience, adoption for most of these children will require a long wait. For many it will never happen, unless there is a dramatic change in the current system. Thus, given the increased number of children who will become available for adoption and the current programming and lack of new resources devoted to adoption, it will be even more difficult for DCF to find a sufficient number of adoptive homes.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Enhanced recruitment efforts should focus on retention of existing foster parents and on foster care service support. Financial incentives and post-adoption services should be considered to attract a larger number of families to foster care and adoption.

Top

High Turnover Among Foster Parents Reduces Adoptive Parent Pool: Nearly 60% of the DCF adoptions are by foster parents. Thus, the first step in recruiting foster parents to become adoptive parents should be retention of those already licensed. Unfortunately, the median period that a foster parent in Connecticut retains a license is only 2.7 years. This high turnover rate significantly reduces the pool of foster parents available to recruit for adopting a child. The Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents has recently begun interviewing a sample of families leaving the foster care system to determine why they are leaving the program.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Continue to conduct exit interviews with foster parents to determine frustrations and what works. Based on that information, develop and implement strategies to encourage people to remain foster parents for a longer period. Strategies should include both pre and post-adoption services.

Top

Adoption Is Less Expensive Than Foster Care: Foster care is more expensive to the state than is adoption, even subsidized adoptions. As of 1995, Connecticut spent in excess of $64 million to place children in foster care homes. This is more than double the $25.6 million expended by the state in 1994. Foster care involves DCF supervision, periodic case review and judicial hearings, all costly services rendered unnecessary once the child is adopted. Increasing the number of adoptions of children in foster care can reduce foster care costs.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Increase adoption financial assistance and create a more fully developed and coordinated system of recruitment and post-adoption services by contracting with nonprofit adoption agencies.

Top

Registry for Putative Fathers: Unlike many other states, Connecticut has no registry for putative fathers. Such a registry ensures that an unmarried father's parental rights are not terminated without his knowledge. The registry also facilitates the process of terminating parental rights by giving courts information of the existence and location of a putative father. Additionally, the registry protects adoptive families from birth fathers appearing years later to challenge an adoption. Such a registry would be consistent with Department of Social Services policy of identifying birth fathers. A registry for putative fathers could reduce the cost of foster care as well as the cost of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Establish a putative fathers registry in Connecticut. Clarify that rapists do not have paternity rights to a child born of the rape. Ohio provides that the consent of the father to a child to adoption is not required in cases of rape. Minnesota also exempts consent for rape.

Top

Long-Term Foster Care: When DCF contracts with an agency to arrange for and supervise long-term foster care, multiple social workers are involved with one family. Miscommunication, divided responsibilities, and inconsistent direction result.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Explore expanding enhanced long-term foster care where needed and review whether to expand subsidized guardianships. When contracting with a nonprofit agency to supervise long-term foster care, DCF should end the practice of assigning social workers to the case and instead, provide for a contract monitor for the program

Top

Adoption Recruitment, Placement, And Support Appear To Have Been De-Emphasized At The CT Department Of Children And Families

Adoptive families are recruited primarily from foster families and unrelated persons. Recruitment efforts require an active program to locate prospective families and adequate financial and programmatic support, both pre and post-adoption. Such support is essential to give prospective adoptive parents the confidence that they will be able to adequately parent these highly vulnerable children.

The critical need is to marshal sufficient numbers of adoptive families who are able to provide highly vulnerable children with the permanency they need. This requires recruitment, preparation, and pre-placement and post-placement support of adoptive families. Efforts to use private adoption agencies should be enhanced to find adoptive homes for children in foster care homes and to find families who traditionally have not been recruited for the adoption of children with special needs. This will require a change in policy at DCF from an emphasis on screening out prospective adoptive families to developing partnerships with private adoption agencies and potential parents and by streamlining and expediting the adoption process.

As of January 1991, prior to the consent decree, DCF had 364 social workers. As of June 30, 1998, DCF has 970 social workers. In the context of these significant increases in resources, it appears, nevertheless, that DCF has reduced its support services to help find and support adoptive homes for their children. This change in priorities is manifested in several ways:

DCF Adoption Resource Exchange De-emphasized: Until 1996, the Adoption Resource Exchange, a DCF unit, published a statewide registry of all children eligible for adoption. A photograph and background material about a child were submitted to the Exchange which then shared the information with adoption agencies and other interested parties on a statewide basis and with states on the East Coast. Such a registry is a critical tool for publicizing the availability of children to prospective parents, social workers, and adoption agencies. It also notifies the public at large that DCF and the adoption agencies under contract with DCF are actively placing children for adoption.

Not only did the unit publish the registry, it also promoted adoption of children in other ways, coordinated recruitment and support of prospective adoptive parents, prepared home studies, licensed adoptive families, and prepared materials for subsidized adoptions.

DCF has since de-emphasized the unit: A statewide registry no longer exists. Even though DCF now has 346 children waiting for adoption, DCF's current publication, "Today’s Child," recently listed only 30 children. As of September 1, 1998, DCF had an Internet "Adoption Photolisting" with only 23 children.

In interviews, parents in one adoption support group who had adopted children through private agencies said that they were unaware that DCF placed children for adoption and that they would have considered the DCF option had they known about it at the time they were adopting.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Some states, such as South Carolina, statutorily require such a statewide registry. Sometimes. as in Massachusetts, the statewide registry is published under contract by a private agency. Some states require the child protection agency to register each appropriate child within thirty days of the child becoming eligible for adoption. To expedite matching of parents and children, the statewide registry could also include a coded list of parents who have completed a home study and are waiting for a referral of a child. Such a list is included in the Illinois statewide registry.

Top

Staffing: DCF central office coordination and promotion of adoption has been severely cut. A number of staff have been transferred to other duties, with their adoption responsibilities eliminated or reduced in emphasis.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Adoption recruitment and pre and post-adoptive services should receive necessary emphasis and resources.

Top

"One Child/One Church" Adoption Recruitment Program: The "One Child/One Church" national adoption initiative focuses on finding homes for African-American children through leaders and congregations of black churches. In Connecticut, the program is run in-house by DCF. It has only three recruiters for the five state DCF regions. It is unclear how many children are placed each year under this program in Connecticut. Some social workers outside of DCF observed that the program has failed to develop good community-based contacts and therefore has minimal success in recruiting parents willing to adopt. However, this program has proven effective elsewhere, especially in Chicago.

DCF recently proposed using federal Adoption and Safe Families funding to establish Community Collaborative Teams in four cities over the next two years. According to DCF, these Community Collaborative Teams would involve local parent groups, private agencies, DCF, the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Families, child advocacy groups, business and advertising groups, foundations, United Ways, neighborhood and civic groups, services organizations, the religious community, and local government. Approximately $135,000 in federal funding would be used to operate these four centers.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Successful programs elsewhere should be reviewed. Operating the program through local organizations should be considered. Recruitment and placement of children could be handled by non-profit adoption agencies in the community.

Top

Lack Of Continuity Of Effort: An on-going commitment to recruit adoptive families is lacking. The DCF Adoption Recruitment Grant with four private adoption agencies was terminated by DCF in September of 1997 and a recruitment grant was not awarded again until the spring of 1998. In the interim, the four private adoption agencies had to lay off staff trained to recruit and prepare adoptive families. Private adoption agencies need a multi-year commitment from DCF to maintain program continuity, to maintain recruitment efforts, and to keep trained staff employed.

Under the Permanent Placement Service Program (PPSP), DCF uses private adoption agencies to provide some adoption services, such as recruitment, home studies, and training. DCF use of PPSP has varied greatly by region and has generally diminished over the past several years. Consequently, some private adoption agencies have discontinued contracting with DCF for adoption services.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: DCF should enter into multi-year contracts with private agencies to provide needed services to DCF and for children. Funding could be appropriated as a separate line item to ensure availability of funding on a continuous basis.

Top

Perception Of DCF In Community: On numerous occasions during interviews, the DCF Adoption and Foster Care Unit was characterized by private adoption agencies as being either "defunct" or "severely broken down" for all practical purposes. This perception is unfortunate since DCF is a critical link in the adoption process chain. DCF needs to commit to comprehensive programming that supports adoption. Comprehensive programming gives prospective adoptive parents confidence that, if they adopt, they will receive necessary adoption support and services from the DCF system. In the early 1990s, DCF had a central adoption unit with five adoption specialists assigned to the state DCF regions. As one social worker said, "this all fell apart when DCF changed its priorities and resources to a strict foster care initiative." Another social worker said, "any sense of partnership between DCF and adoption agencies and community organizations is absent now." Still another social worker said that the DCF special needs adoption program has been allowed to "die on the vine over the past several years."

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Adoption recruitment and pre and post-adoptive services should receive enhanced emphasis and resources. Most adoption services should be contracted out to private adoption agencies.

Top

Permanent Placement Service Program: The Permanent Placement Services Program (PPSP) is a DCF program that contracts with non-profit adoption agencies for a wide range of services. The services are reimbursed on an hourly rate. The program is supposed to reimburse adoption agencies for pre-placement planning; recruitment and screening of adoptive parents; home study; placement planning; post-placement supervision for up to 12 months; and post-finalization support. However, the number of hours for each service is capped. DCF has drastically reduced the number of cases referred under this program. While DCF spends $137 million on foster care, only $100,000 was appropriated to PPSP. Several social workers with long-time experience with this program characterized DCF as having phased down and, in some regions, nearly phased out this program. In some DCF regions, no DCF supervisor can be found who will give authorization to use PPSP. Some adoption agencies have dropped out or reduced their participation under PPSP because of this lack of continuity of referral and commitment of DCF to adoption placement.

Under the DCF Adoption Manual, if, within a year after termination of parental rights, the child has not been adopted due solely to the lack of home resources, DCF is required to use private agencies or other resources to speed up adoption finalization. Currently, fewer than 40 of the 346 children in DCF care eligible for adoption have been referred to four private adoption agencies in Connecticut. It appears that DCF is out of compliance with its policy manual. Why haven't all appropriate children who have been eligible for adoption for twelve months actually been referred to a private adoption agency? Why wait twelve months?

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Refer a child for PPSP services if the child hasn't been adopted in 30 days. Increase PPSP appropriation.

Top

Adoption Recruitment Contract: In addition to the PPSP contract, DCF has also contracted with four non-profit adoption agencies for the recruitment of adoptive families. The contracts were terminated in the fall of 1997. Generally, DCF refers some of the most problematic adoption cases to these adoption agencies. Between October 1996 and September 1997 these four agencies placed 46 children for adoption. Eighty-four additional families for adoption were recruited and were waiting for a child to be referred by DCF when the contracts ended. It is uncertain whether these 84 families ever had children placed with them by DCF. The contracts were then renegotiated in the spring of 1998 with the Village for Families & Children in Hartford; Jewish Family Services of New Haven, Inc; Family & Children’s Agency in Norwalk; and the Child Adoption Resource Association in New London.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Long-term DCF planning and contract continuity is needed with non-profit adoption agencies. Adoption agencies hire and train staff for these contracts, but during contractual hiatus, the agencies have had to then reduce staffing. Private agencies need predictability and continuity rather than peaks and valleys of activity with DCF. A better on-going partnership between DCF and non-profit adoption agencies is needed.

Top

Recruiting Two Homes For Each DCF Child: DCF has a goal of recruiting two homes for each child eligible for adoption so that they have a pool from which to make placement determinations.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Given the expected dramatic increase in children eligible for adoption, this goal is not necessary or realistic.

Top

Insufficient Post-Placement and Post-Adoption Services Are Currently Available: The lack of adequate post-placement and post-adoption services is another disincentive to adoption. To adopt requires a leap of faith. Support services provide a needed safety net. Under the PPSP program, DCF can contract for post-placement and post-adoption services from private adoption agencies. DCF limits post-placement services to 60 hours and post-adoption services to 50 hours for only twelve months after adoption. A cap of 150 hours for all services (pre-placement planning, recruitment and screening of adoptive parents, homestudy, placement planning, post-placement-services, and post-adoption services) for each case in also imposed. Currently, Casey Family Services, located in Hartford and Bridgeport, the Village for Families and Children in Hartford, and Jewish Family Services in New Haven provide post-adoption services to a small number of families. These services include comprehensive counseling, support groups, case management and educational and advocacy services to families who have adopted children and need treatment and support to strengthen and preserve the family. However, adopting parents are at long-range financial risk should their child later require significant medical or mental health services or residential services. This risk needs to be addressed. Parents need some assurance that they can get help for major problems, help the child would receive were the child to remain in the DCF foster care system.

DCF, the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents, and Casey Family Services in Bridgeport recently received a $150,000 federal grant under the "Adoption Opportunities Program." This grant recognizes that "there are minimal post-legal adoption services available at the present time in Connecticut and the number of clients served is limited." The four-year grant is for post-adoption services for special needs adoptions.

The grant will fund a demonstration project in the Greater Bridgeport area to provide intensive support services to a maximum caseload of twenty high-risk families per year who have adopted children with special needs and foster parents who are in the process of adopting children with special needs. Each family support liaison would serve ten families per year and for approximately one year. The grant would be monitored and evaluated by the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Intensive services would include regular home visits, referrals to individual and group counseling and support groups, educational service, and respite services such as support for families who need brief rest or relief from their responsibilities.

The grant recognizes that gaps exist in current post-adoption services. The grant program will gather information about the long-term effects of abuse and neglect and address the lack of cultural relevance of many services and the lack of a system to collect data on adoption disruptions. The grant also recognizes the need to define the role of the public child protection worker in the provision of post-adoptive services. This grant will, however, provide post-adoptive services to far too few children and families in only one city. A much larger effort is essential.

Post adoption services address problems before they become crises. New Jersey, Illinois and South Carolina have established networks of adoption service providers. New Jersey’s twelve Post-Adoption Centers (PACs) offer services to both adoption workers and families. They train professionals in the needs of adoptive families and provide a referral list of trained professionals to adoptive families. PACs provide three to four months of in-home family therapy, group therapy for both parents and children and respite care.

Illinois has eleven post-adoption service sites. Caseworkers serve a maximum of 14 families at a time and most families receive six months of services. Children who receive services have, on average, lived in their adoptive home for almost nine years. Some of the most serious issues addressed include weak mother–child attachment; unresolved problems with separation and attachment; conduct disorders such as oppositional behavior and aggression; post-traumatic stress disorder; fetal alcohol syndrome; and genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.

South Carolina contracts with five agencies to provide parents with fourteen days of respite care such as a family retreat for training. The agencies also provide support groups for children and parents, maintain a lending library about adoption, and operate short-term residential treatment for approximately 30 adopted children who are generally between the ages of 10-14 and have experienced abuse during early childhood.

As previously noted, DCF has recently proposed to use federal funding to establish five adoption centers. These adoption centers are intended to provide services such as respite services, education, intensive and long-term family services, and training for mental health professionals.

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES:

(1) Develop a comprehensive, long-term program statewide of post-placement and post-adoption support services for all adoptive families. Increase the cap for post-placement and post-adoption services under PPSP contract and allow for a waiver of the 150 hour cap on all services.

(2) Review proposed budget and scope of services for proposed adoption centers and compare with network of post-adoption services available in New Jersey, Illinois, or South Carolina.

Top

Program Evaluation: Connecticut needs systematic program evaluation data. Evaluation information would identify the relative success or failure of an effort and would identify unintended outcomes. Comparison groups or quality pre-initiative data is also needed. An evaluation should include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) age of child when adopted; (2) time in care; (3) race; (4) gender; (5) geographic location; (6) services that the child and family received; (7) timeliness of services; (8) comparison of international adoptions and children in DCF custody who were adopted; (9) frequency and onset of disruption; (10) factors that contribute to disruption; (11) number of children who were returned to the child welfare system and their placements; (12) assessments of characteristics of the children and families whose placements disrupted compared with those who did not. The evaluation included in the Bridgeport grant, while a good start, is clearly insufficient.

DCF has proposed establishing a statewide adoption steering committee to provide quality assurance. The proposal is for twenty-five individuals to be appointed by DCF to serve on the committee which would meet on a quarterly basis. DCF proposed to use $8,650 in federal funding to support the operation (for marketing material and meeting expenses) of this committee. No funding is proposed to develop data, to establish clear standards for services, or to conduct an external review.

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES:

(1) Contract with the Center for Adoption Research and Policy at the University of Massachusetts to develop clear standards for services. Develop data from which to examine and measure program practices and outcomes for children.

(2) Amend the DCF annual reporting requirement to provide for submission of statewide specific performance targets, for decreasing the time to adopt, and for increasing the number of adoptions. The plan should include baseline measures and timetables for accomplishment of the goals and include specific legislative, budgetary, or administrative recommendations to implement the plan. The plan should document specific accomplishments in meeting the prior year's goals and objectives and proposed revisions to the plan.

(3) Conduct an external review of new adoption initiatives, using a separate appropriation. The study should determine the actual and average cost of raising a child, compared to foster care and adoption subsidy, and evaluate a new concurrent permanency planning program including fiscal impact and impact on out-of-home placements.

Top

Disincentives To Adopting A Child From DCF                     Top

Hundreds of new families will need to be recruited as potential adoptive parents to accommodate the adoption needs of the children that are expected to become available for adoption. Adoptive families are expected to make significant emotional and financial investments in adopting a child. A well-coordinated system of adoption recruitment, adoption preparation and planning, and pre and post-adoption support services is necessary to attract the adoptive parents these children so desperately need. However, Connecticut's current system of recruitment and support of potential adoptive parents is woefully inadequate.

Connecticut Has Second Worst Record In The United States For Adopting Children In Foster Care: As reported by the Child Welfare League of America, Connecticut and Georgia have the worst records of all the states for finding adoptive parents for children in foster care. Massachusetts places children at a rate nearly four times that of Connecticut.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Increase adoption financial assistance and create a more fully developed and coordinated system of recruitment and post-adoption services and support to give more foster parents the financial ability to, and confidence that they can, successfully adopt.

Top

Financial Disincentives For Foster Parents To Adopt: Connecticut does not provide foster parents a financial incentive to adopt a foster child. This is because Connecticut’s assistance rate for foster care and for assisted adoptions is the same. Thus, the foster care rates function as a payment ceiling for the adoption subsidy program in Connecticut.

Other states provide a financial incentive to adopt. Seven states have adoption assistance payment schedules that exceed foster care rates, particularly for children age 9 to 16 who, traditionally are the more problematic for adoption. In 1997, for example, New Hampshire, the foster care rate for a nine-year-old was $342 but the adoption assistance rate for a nine-year-old was $514. In New York City the foster care rate for a nine-year-old was $473 but the adoption assistance rate for a nine-year-old was $537. Other similar states include Alaska, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland and Michigan.

The federal government and twelve states provide tax credits or deductions for adoption. A new federal tax credit of up to $5,000 is now available for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. The credit can be as much as $6,000 of expenses for the adoption of a child with special needs. New Mexico and South Carolina provide a tax deduction on a continuing basis for an adopted special needs child. Tax credits vary from $2,500 in California; $5,000 in Missouri; and $10,000 in Mississippi. Deductions range from $1,000 in North Dakota and Utah; $2,000 in South Carolina and Maryland; and $3,000 in Idaho.

Other financial disincentives exist. For example, DCF will pay for the college education of a child in foster care. However, if the child were adopted by her or his foster parents, college education support is not available from DCF.

According to 1996 USDA estimates, the annual cost of raising a child, 9 to 11 years old, was $562 for a two-parent family with an annual income less than $34,700; $675 for families with income between $34,700 and $58,300; and $983 for families with income of over $58,300. For many families, the adoption assistance does not cover the cost of raising the child, particularly when the average cost of raising a special needs child can be considerably greater than that of raising a child with no significant medical or emotional problems.

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES:

(1) Review Massachusetts requirement of full disclosure of facts to prospective adoptive family concerning adoptive child and continuing DCF responsibility to provide services if DCF failed to support disclose needs.

(2) Make adoption subsidies higher than foster care subsidies, perhaps 110%-120% of current foster care rate. Consider standards when DCF can grant adoption subsidies even after an adoption is finalized. Consider Minnesota requirement that DCF complete adoption subsidy agreement within 30-45 days.

(3) Provide a Connecticut tax credit or deduction for persons who adopt children in foster care. Piggyback on the federal tax credit.

(4) Provide state employee incentives to adopt such as enhanced vacation and sick time and waive tuition and expenses at state colleges.

(5) Parents who adopt or who provide foster care should receive leave benefits. Provide child care support to parents who adopt DCF children.

(6) Provide state college tuition waiver for DCF children who are adopted.

(7) Consider exempting relatives who are adopting from certain DCF licensing requirements similar to the practice now done for relatives providing foster care.

Top

Future Financial Risk: Foster parents can rely on DCF for financial and professional help should their foster child become disruptive or develop special needs. The adoptive parent of the same child can not rely on that support from DCF. This fact is a formidable barrier to adoption. Without access to future assistance for special needs, the adoptive family is at both financial and emotional risk. And, if the foster parent is no longer able to care for the child, the foster parent can replace the child in the care of DCF. That option is not available to adoptive families.

Adoptive parents of DCF foster children realize that parenting many of these children will not be a smooth, uncomplicated matter. Adoptive parents need some assurance that if things get tough and very expensive, their children will have access to necessary services.

Social workers from several adoption agencies said, over and over, that potential adoptive parents fear being "out there alone" without adequate financial or professional support "if things really get bad." This fear is a principal barrier to adoption of these children. Parents ask, "what if the child needs residential treatment or extensive mental health services? We could lose our house or our savings for college for our other children." "As a foster parent, I can call for support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who do I call for help if I adopt the child?"

Some states limit civil liability of foster and adoptive parents. Illinois indemnifies foster parents and private agencies and provides third-party insurance coverage for acts of children in foster care. Court-appointed counsel and guardians acting in good faith are immune from liability in Illinois.

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES:

(1) Allow subsidy agreements to be reviewed in juvenile court on a showing of changed conditions and implement a coordinated, comprehensive program of post-adoption services.

(2) Provide liability insurance to subsidized adoptive parents and foster parents and liability coverage for non-profit adoption agencies under contract with DCF. Clarify that foster parents are not liable for torts of their foster children under section 52-572.

Top

New DCF Investigation Process Of Prospective Adoptive Parents: Under present procedures, a criminal background check is conducted of prospective adoptive parents, an extensive homestudy is prepared, and the financial ability to parent is confirmed. DCF recently implemented a new, high-intensity investigation scheme of prospective adoptive parents. Neighbors are interviewed and information such as school records, college reports, employment personnel records, and credit reports are collected. The new investigation is done, not by trained social workers, but by retired state police officers.

The new investigation is much too intrusive, discouraging current foster families and prospective adoptive families from participating with DCF. Why should neighbors, present and past employers, college officials, and creditors be told that the prospective foster and adoptive parents are considering adoption? The proposed benefits have not been documented, may be illusory, and, when weighed against the effect of delay and driving off prospective parents, are inappropriate. Because of widespread objections, DCF is now reviewing the policy.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Scrap the new procedures immediately. Conduct criminal background checks in a manner similar to that of child care providers.

Top

Juvenile Court Role In Addressing The Problem                             Top

To expedite adoptions, many states give courts authority to take an active role in the placement process.

Court Order To Allow Nonprofit Agency To Place Child In Adoption: It appears that DCF, because of demands placed on the agency for child protection does not have the resources or time adequately to address adoption needs. Minnesota allows the court to designate a nonprofit agency to place a child, with reimbursement to the agency.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Give the juvenile court the option of designating a nonprofit agency, for a specific period of time, to make the adoption placement and to supervise finalization of the adoption in court.

Top

Prospective Adoptive Family: An expedited process is needed for families who intend to adopt a child who is not yet legally free for adoption. Some states allow the court to order transfer of custody of a child from a guardian, foster parent, or DCF to a prospective adoptive home. In Minnesota, a motion for temporary pre-adoptive custody is considered by the court ex parte without a hearing and decided within thirty days. Ohio has a similar procedure.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Establish the prospective adoptive family concept in Connecticut by allowing the court to transfer custody of a child to a prospective adoptive home without that home having to become licensed as a foster home. Perhaps amend section 17a-114 to allow an expedited certification process for prospective adoptive parents, similar to the existing expedited process for relatives who become foster parents.

Top

Concurrent Planning: Often, DCF does not start actively planning for adoption until the child is legally free for adoption. To expedite the adoption process, some states (New York, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota) begin planning for some adoptions while the termination of parental rights case proceeds (concurrent planning).

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Allow the filing of a petition to adopt a child who is the subject of a termination of parental rights proceeding. Adoption planning could then proceed while the termination process is being completed.

Top

Expedite Process Of Adoption Applications: Some states have attempted to address the delay in the adoption application process. In Minnesota, foster care licensing reports may now be used as a home study if foster parents seek to adopt a child. Home studies are no longer required for many adoptions by relatives. Rather than a home study, children placed in prospective adoptive homes in Minnesota can have a post-placement assessment. In Connecticut, obtaining a foster home license can take up to six months, but the home study can be completed in one month.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Consider adopting Minnesota processes such as using foster care licensing reports as a home study, granting exemptions for relatives who adopt, and using post-placement assessment instead of a home study for some adoptive families.

Top

Require Timely Action By Juvenile Court: Ohio expedited the adoption process by eliminating various administrative steps and by setting mandatory timelines for the adoption process. For example, Ohio required the juvenile court to commence hearings on motions not later than 120 days after a motion is filed. Wisconsin also has shortened time frames for the court to act.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Require court review of the adoption process at specified intervals rather than when the adoption agency requests a court action.

Top

Information In Court From Nonprofit Agencies: Often, DCF contracts with nonprofit agencies for services for children under DCF care. The agencies can become quite familiar with the child and the child's needs, often more familiar than is DCF. Occasionally, information about the child from these contracted nonprofit agencies is not made available to the court when placement and service decisions are made.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: If DCF has contracted with a nonprofit agency to provide services to a foster child, DCF should be required to provide notice to the nonprofit agency of any court proceedings involving that child. DCF should be required to notify the court and the nonprofit agency as part of the Motion to Review Plan for TPR or at some other appropriate time during the termination proceedings. DCF should submit the report of the servicing nonprofit agency so that the court and parties can decide if they wish a representative from the nonprofit agency to testify at court.

Top

Keeping Siblings Together: Adoption subsidies are provided to promote keeping siblings together and adopted by the same family. Most child welfare experts agree that this is the best policy for most siblings in DCF care.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: To assure that the juvenile court is aware of sibling groups, DCF should be required, when submitting a petition to commit a child to DCF, to disclose to the court whether DCF has ever contracted with a nonprofit agency to provide services to that child or any other siblings in that family. Any party in interest or judge could then have access to this information. The court would then be informed of the option of reuniting the child with a sibling who had previously been placed for adoption.

To facilitate adoption of siblings, consider enhancement of adoption subsidies for these children and heighten services and support (such a more extensive child care) to such an adoptive family.

Top

Modification Of Post-Adoption Services: Adoptive parents can seek modification of adoption assistance agreements to provide for post-adoption services for significant needs. Such a request for modification can, however, be denied by the DCF Subsidy Review Board. It is unclear whether an appeal can be taken from such a denial. Adoptive parents need to know that if significant needs arise unexpectedly, support and services will be available.

Wisconsin sets standards for a substantial change in circumstances under which adoptive parents may request an increase in adoption assistance.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Adopt standards for increases in adoption assistance or establish a deferred adoption assistance agreement to allow for increasing assistance when circumstances substantially change. Assure juvenile court review of denial of requests for increased assistance.

Top

Permit Juvenile Court To Complete DCF Adoptions: In Connecticut, the probate courts have jurisdiction over all adoption, with DCF adoptions making up about 15% of the adoptions. Both the probate court and the juvenile court have jurisdiction to hear petitions to terminate parental rights. Most DCF petitions for terminating parental rights are heard in the juvenile court. With the expected increase in the number of children available for adoption, the probate courts will be under increased pressure to facilitate adoptions.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Permit DCF adoptions to be handled either in the juvenile court or the probate court.

Top

Case Status Conferences - Mediation: When DCF removes a child from a birth home and attempts to terminate parental rights, DCF's relationship with the birth parents is, in many cases, understandably confrontational. To ease those tensions and facilitate disposition of the cases, the juvenile court has a mediation program to work with birth parents to permit non-confrontational permanency planning, including voluntary termination of parental rights. Birth parent input into permanency planning is encouraged. Mediation assists the termination process for a significant number of cases by shortening the time a child is in foster care; expediting the adoption of the child, and reducing the number of adversarial hearings that involuntary terminations otherwise require. The participation of parents, foster parents, and relatives in the mediation process needs to be clarified. The mediation program has been used in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Waterbury for a number of years. The Judicial Department plans to expand the program statewide.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Provide resources to the court mediation program to meet the current demands statewide. Assure that nonprofit agencies who provide services to the child are included in the mediation.

Top

Expedited Procedure When Adoption Disrupts: If a child is removed from a pre-adoptive or adoptive home in Minnesota during the first year of placement, the Minnesota court must hold a hearing within ten days to determine where the child should be placed and to approve a new permanency plan.

POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Consider such an expedited process in Connecticut courts.

Top

CONCLUSION

Federal and state legislation that accelerates permanency plans for children in foster care will release an increasing number of children for adoption in the next few years. Current systems and resources in Connecticut appear woefully inadequate to handle the expected influx of new cases. Unless the legislature, DCF, the foster care and adoption communities, and the general public recognize the problem, these children will continue to be damaged by multiple and unnecessarily long foster care placements.

Other states have taken a number of successful initiatives to reduce delay and to improve permanency planning for children in foster care. These strategies include nonprofit agency partnerships to handle the bulk of adoption services for children in state care, concurrent planning, expedited court procedures, enhanced recruitment efforts, increased financial incentives for prospective adoptive families, and comprehensive programs of pre and post-adoption services.

Connecticut has the opportunity to build on these successes in other states to create a system in Connecticut that will give homes to these most vulnerable children. "Childhood is short and children should not have to wait to be parented….Remember the child." Joyce Pavao, The Family of Adoption.

Top        Public Act 99-166   Public Act 99-252