Foster Care: Increases in Adoption Rates

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-04-20.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Health, Education, and
      Human Services Division


      April 20, 1999

      The Honorable Nancy L. Johnson
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources
      Committee on Ways and Means
      House of Representatives

      Foster Care: Increases in Adontion Rates                                                                        I

      Dear Madam Chairman:

      The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) authorizes incentive payments to states
      for increasing the number of foster child adoptions in fiscal years 1998 through 2002. States
      may receive up to $6,000 for each finalized adoption of a foster child over a state’s base
      number for a fiscal year. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is
      responsible for determining the base number of foster child adoptions that. a state must
      exceed in order to be eligible for incentive payments. To determine each state’s base
      numbers for fiscal year 1998, HHS averaged that state’s number of finalized foster care
      adoptions for federal fiscal years 1995,1996, and 1997. Recently, the North American Council
      on Adoptable Children (NACAC) reported that, of the 42 states that provided estimates for
      the survey, at least 36,000 foster children were adopted in fiscal year 1998, which represents
      an increase of 7,859 over the base numbers.’

      This letter responds to your request that we determine the source of information states used
      to derive both the fiscal year 1998 and the base numbers of finalized foster care adoptions,
      and to identify factors that contributed to the increases in foster care adoptions. You were
      interested in the increases reported in finalized adoptions of foster children in five states-
      Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, .Iowa, and Texas. These five states estimated increases in
      finalized foster care adoptions for fiscal year 1998 of at least 50 percent over their base
      numbers. In responding to your request, we conducted interviews with state child welfare
      officials in March 1999.


      Officials in four of the five states we reviewed told us that they derived the fiscal year 1998
      and base numbers of finalized foster care adoptions reported by NACAC from their state child
      welfare databases. These databases contain child-specific records of a state’s foster care
      population and are the source of data submitted by these states to the federal Adoption and

      ‘Joe Kroll, “1998 U.S. Adoptions From Foster Care Projected to Exceed 36,000,”bdootalk (Winter 1999),pp. 1-2.

                                               /4&/J f                       GAO/HEHS-99-114R          Foster Care Adoptions

Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.’ The fifth state conducted a manual count of
finalized adoptions; although that state included the name of each foster child in the
tabulation of fiscal year 1998 adoptions, it did not do so for the earlier base numbers. Thus,
with the exception of the base numbers for one state, all five states could identify the
individual children included in their counts.

Table 1: State Estimates of Finalized Foster Care Adoptions in Fiscal Year 1998

                                                   Fiscal year 1998
State                    Baseline total                                        Number change
                                                   estimated total

Source: Adontalk (Winter 1999), p. 2.


The emphasis on adoption in ASFA was among several factors that state officials cited as
contributing to an increase in fiscal year 1998 foster care adoptions over the base numbers.
Other factors included administrative reform, such as assigning additional staff to efforts to
move children toward permanent placement; increased recruitment efforts, such as state
funding for recruitment of adoptive parents for children with special needs; and court-related
changes, such as an increase in the number of staff attorneys to help caseworkers prepare
cases for court reviews.

The federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) is the primary source of federal administrative
data about foster care and adoption. It allows HHS to perform research on and evaluate state foster care and adoption programs,
and it assists HHS in targeting technical assistance efforts, among other uses.

 2                                                                       GAO/HEHS-99-114R          Foster   Care Adoptions

Table 2: Factors Cited bv State Officials as Contributing to Increased Foster Care Adontions

Factors                                                                       Number of states       I/
Increased emphasis on adoption in federal or state laws

Changes in internal processes or administrative reform

Increased emphasis on recruitment of adoptive parents

Streamlined court process or increased court-related personnel

An official in one state told us that she expects the number of adoptions to continue to
increase. Officials in two other states expected the number of adoptions in that state to
remain high but to not increase above the level estimated for fiscal year 1998. Officials in the
remaining two states did not offer estimates of future adoption levels.


We requested that HHS review a draft of this letter. HHS provided no substantive comments.

As we arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we wilI
make no further distribution of this correspondence until April 22,1999. At that time, we will
send copies to other relevant congressional parties and to the Honorable Donna E. Shalala,
the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

If you have any questions about this information, please contact me on (202) 512-7215. Major
contributors to this correspondence were David D. Bellis, Kerry Gail Dunn, and Ann T.

Sincerely yours,

Cynthia M. Fagnoni
Director, Education, Workforce,
 and Income Security Issues


3                                                      GAODHS-99-114R      Foster   Care Adoptions
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