Permanency is New Placement Model

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PROVIDENCE -- No piece of the adoption terrain in America is shifting more rapidly, or more radically, than the public-welfare/foster-care system.

The decades-old philosophy of family reunification -- keeping children with their biological parents at almost any cost -- is being scrapped. In its place, state after state is adopting a permanency model in which the priority is the child's safety and well-being, even if it means a new home.

So within a specified period, ranging from a few months in some places to 18 months in Massachusetts, officials determine if a child will remain with his biological family or be made available for adoption.

This change already has increased the adoption rate for children in foster care, and experts expect it to soar in coming years.

``It's been a horror show until now,'' says Jeffrey Katz, executive director of the Rhode Island Adoption Exchange, a state agency that promotes adoption of children in state care. ``It's finally changing, though, and it's changing very fast.''

Rhode Island in 1994 was among the first states to move away from family reunification, which resulted in children bouncing back and forth for years between their birth parents and foster homes as social workers tried to teach parents not to be abusive, get them off drugs, or
otherwise rehabilitate them.

In Massachusetts, the adoption rate for children in foster care has skyrocketed by 70 percent in the five years since permanency became the goal, to about 1,200 in 1997.

The trend is likely to accelerate nationally because social workers believe this new tack best serves children; because politicians see it as a way to cut the $15,000-a-year cost of a child's foster care; and, significantly, because the federal government has decided that promoting adoption is a good thing.

President Clinton, who several years ago said he wanted to double the number of adoptions in this country by 2002, last November signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Its provisions include a $5,000-per-adoption tax credit and $100 million in incentives for states to boost adoption rates.

In the long term, that likely means adoptable children from the public system will be younger and have fewer problems. Some professionals believe that could spark more competition with the private system, driving down its costs.

Adopting one of the half-million children in foster care can cost nothing or at most entail a few thousand dollars in administrative fees. Even those costs are offset by the new $5,000 tax credit, and most states give the adoptive parents several hundred dollars in monthly subsidies until the child turns 18.

``Adoption isn't only becoming more and more acceptable, it's becoming a cool thing to do,'' says Maureen Hogan, executive director of Adopt a Special Kid in Washington, D.C. ``Now, finally, it looks like the foster system will share in some of the benefits.''

For more information, please contact:

Adam Pertman, Executive Director
Adoption Nation Education Initiative
617-332-8944 (work)

Credits: Adam Pertman

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