Child Removal for Adoption

As a Financial “Solution” Versus Humane and Cost Effective Remedies

I’ll tell you what [we] really need to do with these illegitimate families on welfare — give all the kids up for adoption and execute the parents.

This is the solution proposed recently by Clifford Russell, a Mitt Romney staffer in the Bedford, Virginia campaign office in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Why should we be paying for people’s mistakes and bad choices? All these illegitimate families just adding to the population, making all these bad decisions, then asking us to pay for it? It’s time to cut them off,” Russell told Christopher D. Cook.

In case there was any lack of clarity, Mr. Russell repeated, “Yes, I mean it. Get rid of all of them, give the kids up for adoption, execute the parents, and you get rid of the problem.” And he elaborates, “put the children up for adoption and execute the parents, and word would get out soon” that poor people shouldn’t have kids.

He later clarified that he meant only “illegitimate” children, but defined that term far broader than the children of the unmarried (though I wouldn’t doubt he also favors a return to the past practice of stamping the word “illegitimate” on birth certificates).

Execution is decidedly over the top and not likely to be taken seriously. But many Americans agree with Governor Mitt Romney that children are better of in two-parent – preferably mother and father – homes “because,” as Presidential candidate Romney told us during the second debate, “if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.”

While the right promotes adoption for single mothers (read poor single mothers), the left is equally pro-adoption as an act of altruism and because they view the right of single mothers (read career women) and same sex couples to be parents is part of reproductive rights.

The U.S. continues to encourage and promote adoption as a solution while in Australia they have instituted policies that support all families, reduced domestic adoptions, and issued an apology for forced adoptions that resulted from past social polices – just as we had in the U.S. pre 1970s  – that were punitive and non-accepting of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Canada is exploring similar apologies for policies that encouraged unnecessary family separations and adoption placements based solely on the mothers’ age, marital status, or finances without allegations of abuse or neglect.

Many conservative policies favor taking from the poor and giving to the rich. But “Reverse Robinhoodism“, as I have written, is particularly heinous when what you are taking and giving (read selling) are people’s human flesh and blood offspring. The poor of the world are exploited, their children confiscated to meet a seemingly endless consumer demand, all of it shrouded in the altruism of “rescuing” allegedly “unwanted” “orphans.” Mothers worldwide are coerced and duped, their children stolen, kidnapped and trafficked, all to supply the huge demand of those willing to pay tens of thousands per child.

Here at home, children are removed from mothers for the slightest infraction, such as not having a week’s worth of groceries in the house, or not providing adequate day care while trying to earn a living.  Many mothers in crisis would rather go hungry than seek food stamps. They report being fearful of seeking food stamps or housing help because it places them in a position of high scrutiny and risk of having their children removed as a “solution.”

With the economy as it is, this not only affects single parent households, but two-parent families as well. Any family who loses their home and takes temporary shelter in a homeless facility runs the risk of losing their younger children. Babies under a year, more sought after by adopters, are at greatest risk when a family falls on hard times and seeks social services. The fact that often the older children are left with the family is clear indication that social service agents are not acting in the best interest of all of the children. Older children who are seized by child protective services, or so-called family services, are sent to foster care, which is widely recognized as dangerous, and unreasonably burdens taxpayers by subsidizing strangers with dollars that could instead be going to help the original families in many cases.

Dollars and Sense

Looking at adoption in a pragmatic manner in terms of reducing the tax burden for supporting indigent families, we need to look at the fact that nearly all adoptions from foster care earn adopters ongoing government subsidies to care for children labeled “special needs,” sometimes simply because of their age. Some foster parents take in enough children to earn their entire income from doing just that. We are spending the same dollars, just distributing differently, as no such subsidies are offered to help families remain intact or to assist grandparents, or extended kin, to care for their own.

Joe Kroll, North American Council on Adoptable Children, speaking at an Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conference entitled Money, Power and Accountability, the “Business” of Adoption, in 1999, said, “We pay caregivers more the further they are from the child’s family. What does this say about social policy?”

Additional federal dollars are allocated to pay incentives to states to increase and speed up adoptions from foster care. Yet despite all those funds, adoptions from foster care represented just 15.5 percent (19,753) of all U.S. adoptions in 1992. This ratio remained constant through 2004 as Americans adopt more than half of all international children worldwide.

Separating children from their families, even temporarily, is traumatic and children whose families are investigated for abuse or neglect are likely to do better in life if they stay with their families than if they go into foster care, according to a study by Joseph Doyle. An economics professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who studies social policy, Doyle tracked at least 15,000 kids from 1990 to 2002. This, the largest study to look at the effects of foster care, provides “the first viable, empirical evidence” of the benefits of keeping kids with their families, says Gary Stangler, Executive Director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a foundation for foster teens. Stangler says the study looked at kids over a longer period of time than had other studies. “It confirms what experience and observation tell us: Kids who can remain in their homes do better than in foster care.” He says some kids, for their own safety, need to be removed from their families, but in marginal cases of abuse, more should be done to keep them together

More Cost-Effective Solutions for Current and Future Generations

In 1974 family preservation was begun in Tacoma, Washington with a program called Homebuilders. Eighty percent of the families served by the six week intervention program remained together a year after services had ended, thereby saving the state eighty percent of a potential foster care burden. The program spread to twelve of Washington’s thirty-nine counties.

According to the National Family Preservation network, “every dollar invested in keeping families together saves $2-$3 on placement services.” Family Preservation Services (IFPS) used in reunification cases were highly successful. One year after services, 77% of the treatment children were at home compared with 49% of the children in the control group.

In many states each child in foster care is being handled by as many as fifteen to twenty paid workers.  In-home care allows children to remain in their home with one social worker handling the whole case. Because it requires fewer caseworkers, it results in tremendous savings and better outcomes. The social worker visits daily and serves as the eligibility worker, arranging services to support the family, and the family goes into therapy together. Counseling for parents while children are in foster homes may work temporarily, but often families tend to relapse into their old dysfunctional patterns when reunited; thus, families who have their children removed and returned may lose them again. Keeping families together, with services provided to them as a unit, achieves superior results. With in-home services, as few as ten percent of families have their children removed again.

University of Florida researchers found that even infants born with cocaine in their systems do better when left with their mothers than they do in foster care, and often being with her baby is a great incentive for a mother’s recovery from addiction. These programs also break the cycle of fewer generations of foster children later having their children removed. An added bonus is manageable caseloads for social workers, and because of the better outcomes, far fewer social workers burn out.

The Illinois child welfare system has become a national model for reducing the foster care population from more than fifty thousand in 1997 to fewer than eighteen thousand by using in-home care. They did this not by encouraging family disruptions and out of family placements, but by placing children into foster care at one of the lowest rates in the country while improving child safety as determined by independent court-appointed monitors.

When families receive the support they need to remain together, fewer children need foster care placements, which are known to be high-risk. Tax-payer dollars spent on foster care can go instead to child care, allowing mothers to work and preventing families from being needlessly torn apart. It also can provide funds for substance rehabilitation.

Another innovative program is Family Finding, developed by Kevin Campbell, which works to locate and engage relatives of children living in out of home care. Utilizing Red Cross’ family-tracing protocols and Internet search technology, the goal is to find extended biological family for children in the foster care system. One such search revealed one hundred family members, including a U.S. Senator, for a 17-year-old with mental illness who had been in foster care for a decade. The average child finds double-digit relatives who can offer support.

Finally, in 2008, it became a federal law to search for family members within 30 days of a child’s removal. <  Sadly, however, most states do not conduct such searches until the child is ready to “age out” of foster care instead of doing it at the front end.

A Taxing Situation

Mr. Russell and others concerned about trimming government costs need to examine federal policy that encourages adoptions through generous tax credits.

The federal adoption tax credit, which has continued to increase each year, is “feel good” legislation that legislators on neither side of the aisle have bothered to investigate the actual effectiveness of, but dare not oppose because it is very popular with constituents who adopt and pro-lifers. Thus, despite belt tightening in other areas the credit is significant, currently providing up to $13,360 per adoption for 2011. A tax credit is far more beneficial than a tax deduction, leading one blogger to call it “free money.”  Since the passage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010, the credit is fully refundable in the form of a check from the IRS. Those who adopt are also entitled to an additional tax credit of $1000 every year the child is a dependent in their home, and an additional $3,300 for each person in the family. Those in a 25% tax bracket, receive a reduction of $825 (25% of $3,300).

This payback to adopters was initiated to encourage adoption from foster care and if left unapproved, would provide $6,000 only to those families who have “authorized” expenses relating to special needs.  But is instead being used to support private infant and international adoptions by those who chose not to adopt from foster care. Nearly all international adoptions are supported by the tax credit, while only one in four foster care adoptions are. Very little of it, in fact, is used as it was intended: to promote adoption from foster care and thus lighten the tax burden.

Joe Kroll, NACAC’s Executive Director, wrote in “The Adoption Tax Credit: An Ethical Dilemma” Fall 2007 Adoptalk, “Today’s reality is that the original intent of the adoption tax credit legislation has been turned upside down. Those who most need support to adopt (lower-income families who are adopting children from foster care) are receiving the least benefit, and those for whom the financial outlay is not a barrier to adoption benefit the most.”

Elizabeth Samuels found that “federal tax benefits for adopters generally provide greater benefits to families involved in more expensive healthy newborn and international adoptions, although the benefits are promoted as a means to increase adoptions of children out of foster care”(Elizabeth J. Samuels, 2005. Time To Decide? The Laws Governing Mothers’ Consents To The Adoption Of Their Newborn Infants. 72 Tenn. L. Rev. 509, p. 523).

The U.S. Treasury Department reveals:

•    The vast majority of adoption tax credit recipients completed private or foreign adoptions rather than adoptions from foster care.

•    The tax credit disproportionately supports higher-income families.

•    The tax credit primarily supports the adoption of younger children.

In 2004 just 18 percent of children supported by the credit and 17 percent of money spent assisted children from foster care. In 2005, nearly 90 percent of filers with incomes above $100,000 adopted internationally or privately, and 71 percent of all families adopted children under age five. Only about 10 percent of higher-income families adopted from foster care, and very few adopted older children.

Punishing Poverty

All of this spending is not reducing the number of foster placements nor resulting in increased adoptions from foster care. Instead foster children are being used as pawns for congressmen to appease their constituents and lobbyists who represent the multi-billion dollar industry of adoption which reaps in an average of $40,000 per adoption, paying the salaries of middlemen at for-profit and not-for-profit adoption agency businesses. Every year congress approves the continuation and increase of the tax credit, adoption agencies raise their fees proportionately as they explain the rebate to clients, leaving the renowned research think tank, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, to ask if it is “ethical that intermediaries and those least in need benefit the most from these tax credits?”

Meanwhile, of the half million children currently in state care, more than 100,000 can never be reunified with their parents because their parental rights have been permanently terminated. These children are, however, by and large, being ignored by those seeking to adopt despite incentives and subsidies. In 2002 it was estimated that nearly forty percent of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in five hundred had adopted from foster care, all of the children in foster care waiting for adoption would have found permanent families, according to the National Adoption Attitudes Survey, but the fact is that those adopting, most as a result of infertility, prefer younger infants and also prefer not to be encumbered with the specter of a birth relative being able to make any claim.

The fact conveniently being ignored is that all adoptions are not equal. Currently, the greatest number of children available for adoption are in foster care; however, as the United Nations (The Special Rapporteur, UN Commission on Human Rights, 2003) notes, the emphasis of child adoption “has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child.” The huge demand for children to adopt has resulted in exploitation of the poor worldwide, coercion of mothers and scandals including kidnapping and trafficking of children in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa all aided and abetted by our tax dollars.

The poor simply make for good political blaming and grandstanding by both parties and unwed moms have been a longstanding convenient bipartisan distraction to deflect public scrutiny from the corporate welfare that takes a far greater bite than all the welfare mothers in the nation combined ever will. And the more affluent get the tax breaks.

The poor are also easy victims. If Russell had suggested executing all the (insert race) or all gays, he’d have been lambasted and forced to apologize. But welfare and undocumented immigrant moms have no civil rights organizations to come to their defense, making them vulnerable targets and fair game for criticism, vitriolic rhetoric, and lies about so-called solutions.

Instead of assisting those in poverty with help that might get them out of their situations by providing affordable health care, day care and jobs, those like Russell and Romney prefer Draconian “solutions” that shame, blame, and punish those in financial crisis by taking away their children, just as the “sin of out of wedlock fornication” was punished in past decades. Take the children of the poor, pretending there are loving families eager to adopt them while those who adopt and shop around for the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to obtain the youngest healthiest child with prices based on these factors as well as race.

At the same time voters are seduced with the misconception that doing so will save taxpayer dollars when, in fact, it is merely a shell game, taking funds from effective and humane programs for families in need, and giving those same funds to less needy stranger foster and adopter voters and campaign donors.

Mirah Riben is an activist/author/lecturer. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.