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Renegotiation and Modification of Adoption Subsidy Agreements

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With its enactment of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272) over twenty years ago, the United States Congress began promoting special needs adoption by providing federal reimbursement for adoption assistance payments made to families that adopt special needs children. In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act which reaffirmed P.L. 96-272's urgency for promoting special needs adoption.

Under P.L. 96-272, states must establish adoption assistance programs that provide maintenance payments, Medicaid coverage, selected social services, and reimbursements for nonrecurring adoption costs to families adopting eligible children.

In many cases, families need to renegotiate or modify their child(ren)'s subsidy agreement. The federal language states that these agreements can be readjusted periodically depending upon changes in a family's circumstances (i.e., losing a job, relocation to another state, changes in the child's condition).

According to ¤473(a)(3) of the Social Security Act:

The amount of the payments to be made in any case under clauses (i) and (ii) of paragraph (1)(B) shall be determined through agreement between the adoptive parents and the State or local agency administering the program under this section, which shall take into consideration the circumstances of the adopting parents and the needs of the child being adopted, and may be readjusted periodically, with the concurrence of the adopting parents (which may be specified in the adoption assistance agreement), depending upon changes in such circumstances. However, in no case may the amount of the adoption assistance payment made under clause (ii) of paragraph (1)(B) exceed the foster care maintenance payment which would have been paid during the period if the child with respect to whom the adoption assistance agreement is made had been in a foster family home.

Though federal guidelines are silent on the topic of recertifications, many states require parents to recertify the agreement annually. However, parents can request a modification at any time. No state agency can tell a parent that they cannot renegotiate the agreement because the date at which the parent requested the modification does not fall within the proper timeline.

Helpful Hints

Parents should have all pertinent documentation regarding the child's special needs at the time the request for a modification/review is made. Obtaining necessary letters from doctors and/or other professionals can take months, so be sure to give yourself enough time.

It may be helpful to create a family budget and document what resources are going directly to the special needs child, but the state cannot require receipts from adoptive parents. Obviously, a monthly subsidy is not going to cover all the child's needs, but going through the process of determining the costs associated with raising the child will help when talking with agency personnel during the modification/review meeting.

Appropriate Rates

When families ask the agency to renegotiate the rate on behalf of their child, the highest rate for which a child qualifies is what the child received in family foster care. Under the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual, families can look to current foster family rates for guidance. For instance, if your child qualified for a Level 1 foster care rate last year, but qualifies for a Level 2 rate this year, the Level 2 rate would be the ceiling up to which an adoptive family could negotiate the rate.

States also have the ability to renegotiate rates:

*that automatically allow for adjustments to the adoption assistance payment when there is an increase in the foster care board rate;
*for services that would have been paid on behalf of the child if he/she were still in foster care;
*that include higher level-of-care rates paid across-the-board for certain children, if the State's foster care payment schedule includes these rates and the specific child would have received the higher level-of-care rate while in foster care; and
*that includes across-the-board higher foster care rates for working foster parents to pay for child care, or includes provisions for periodic across-the-board increases for such items as seasonal clothing, if the State's foster care payment schedule includes these higher rates.

Rates Not Allowed

Special allowances that may be made on behalf of an individual child in certain situations in foster care, such as child care or clothing allowances, are not permitted as an allowable additional reimbursement in the adoption assistance program.

Further, special allowances for individual children that are over and above the State's foster care payment standard cannot be included in the amount negotiated in the adoption assistance agreement since the adoption assistance payment cannot exceed the foster care maintenance payment rate for the child.
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