Wiener Center Working Papers

Eliminating Barriers to the Adoption of Children in Foster Care
Prepared by Elaine C. Kamarck, Julie Boatright Wilson, Mary Eschelbach Hansen and Jeff Katz, June 2012

Eliminating Barriers to the Adoption of Children in Foster Care

ABSTRACT: For children in foster care who cannot be reunified with their families of origin, there is no question that adoption is preferable to “aging out”. Moreover, every dollar spent on adoption for a child from foster care yields three dollars in benefits. Yet, 27,854 youth aged out of foster care in FY2010, and, for each child who was adopted during the year, two children with a goal of adoption continued to wait in foster care. Research shows that there are more than enough families interested in adopting children from foster care, but that only one in 28 people who contacts a child welfare agency actually adopts a child. Today there are more than 100,000 children waiting in foster care in large part because of barriers in the adoption system that could be eliminated through changes in policy and practice. Read Working Paper (PDF)More

Stepping Up Or Stepping Back: Highly Disadavantaged Parents’ Responses To The Building Strong Families Program
Andrew Clarkwest, Alexandra Killewald, Robert G. Wood, June, 2012


ABSTRACT: The Building Strong Families (BSF) demonstration is a random assignment study of a group relationship skills education program for unmarried couples who are new or expecting parents. The study enrolled 5,102 couples across eight sites. Results 15 months after random assignment revealed a surprising set of negative program impacts on relationship status, relationship quality, and father involvement in the Baltimore site. That site enrolled a set of participants that was distinctly more disadvantaged than couples enrolled in other sites. In this chapter we develop possible explanations for why the BSF intervention might increase relationship instability among couples from highly disadvantaged backgrounds. The explanations include how program participation may lead fathers to change their definitions of the roles of father and partner in ways that they feel (and maybe are) unable to meet. Consistent with that explanation, we find that in Baltimore the BSF fathers were much more likely than control group fathers to fault themselves for break-ups. BSF Fathers were more likely to cite factors such as their inability to contribute enough financially and substance abuse as break-up causes, despite the fact that they were not any more likely than control group fathers in Baltimore to have low earnings or have abused drugs or alcohol. Thus assignment to the treatment apparently changed fathers’ perceptions of how well they were fulfilling their family roles, a change that may increase relationship instability in circumstances where fathers do not feel able to "step up" and meet those expectations. Read Working Paper (PDF)More

American Indian Self-Determination: The Political Economy of a Successful Policy

by Stephen Cornell and Joseph P. Kalt, October 2010


ABSTRACT: Since the 1970s, federal American Indian policy in the United States has been aimed at promoting self-determination through self-governance by federally-recognized tribes. This policy has proven to be the only policy that has worked to make significant progress in reversing otherwise distressed social, cultural and economic conditions in Native communities. The policy of self-determination reflects a political equilibrium which has held for four decades and which has withstood various shifts in the party control of Congress and the White House. While Republicans have provided relatively weak support for social spending on Indian issues when compared to Democrats, both parties' representatives have generally been supportive of self-determination and local self-rule for tribes. Analysis of thousands of sponsorships of federal legislation over 1970-present, however, finds the equilibrium under challenge. In particular, since the late 1990s, Republican congressional support for policies of self-determination has fallen off sharply and has not returned.  This calls into question the sustainability of self-determination through self-governance as a central principle of federal Indian policy. Read Working Paper (PDF)More

A Lot to Lose: A Call to Rethink What Constitutes “Evidence” in Finding Social Interventions That Work
by Katya Fels Smyth and Lisbeth B. Schorr, January 2009

KSG_TESTABSTRACT: A growing emphasis on accountability has led policy makers, funders, practitioners and researchers to demand greater evidence that program models “work” and that public and private dollars invested are generating relevant results that can be directly attributed to the given intervention.  The gold standard for making these judgments is presumed to be the experimental–design study.   In this paper, the authors suggest that the underlying assumption that everything that “works” can be judged with the same methodology has dramatic negative consequences for the field, for funders, and for those that desperately need high quality programs. The authors describe the characteristics of What It Takes organizations, which their work suggests support lasting change in the lives of highly marginalized and vulnerable people. They describe the ways that experimental methodology is a poor fit for judging the impact of these program models, while they find insufficient use of more appropriate ways of assessing their impact.  They identify the risks inherent in the continued privileging of experimental designs over all others, and suggest that the risks are heightened in periods of great economic stress, when the pressure for accountability is increased.  The authors suggest a set of starting points for rethinking evaluation to ensure greater accountability without reducing the chances that those who need help the most will have access to programs that support meaningful, lasting change. Read Working Paper (PDF)More

Listening to Parents: Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Children From Foster Care
by Julie Boatright Wilson, Jeff Katz & Rob Geen. January, 2005

ABSTRACT: The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) codified the right of children in foster care to achieve a safe and permanent home. Since its passage, there has been a 79 percent increase in the number of children adopted from foster care. Surprisingly, the vast majority of post-ASFA adoptions were by foster parents or relatives of the children in care. Why so few children are adopted by general applicants is an important question, particularly for the 131,000 waiting for permanent homes. We examined this question using federal data (AFCARS), a state survey, and case record reviews and interviews with parents and agency staff in three sites. We found a steep attrition rate as prospective families go from initial call to adoption, and identified two particularly crucial points in the process. The first is the prospective parents’ initial call to an agency. This information call can be an intensely emotional experience for the prospective adoptive parent, but agencies, faced with the challenge of balancing recruitment with screening, do not handle it as well as they might. The second is the placement process. In part his is a result of the inherent conflict between parents looking for the “right child” to complete their family and agencies looking for the “right home” for each child. But we also found great confusion about how the placement decision is made and what role the prospective adoptive parents should play in it. Among our recommendations are an early focus on recruitment rather than screening; documentation of the adoption process and qualifications for adopting; and, a separation of screening from training wherever possible. We also recommend a changing the way initial calls are handled and development of a buddy system paring prospective adoptive parents with experienced adoptive parents, and establishment of a process for soliciting, and incorporating feedback from prospective parents. If we want to find homes for waiting children, it is absolutely critical that child welfare agencies develop ways of listening to prospective parents throughout the adoption process and responding to their needs and concerns. Read Working Paper (PDF)More