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CAMBRIDGE MA. -- A new Working Paper prepared by scholars from Harvard and American Universities and Listening to Parents, recommends a set of nationwide reforms to improve foster care and adoption outcomes in America. "Eliminating Barriers to the Adoption of Children in Foster Care" summarizes the findings of discussions and research presented at an Executive Session held at Harvard Kennedy School in March 2011.
The Executive Session attracted 18 academics, advocates, government officials, foundation leaders, former frontline caseworkers, and adoptive parents from around the country with the intention of identifying the barriers blocking adoption and informing policy decisions moving forward.
"In every year for the past decade, waiting children have outnumbered adopted children by about 2 to 1," the report states. "Providing permanent, loving homes to all children in foster care is essential for these individual youth. All children deserve to have a family that loves them, cares for them, and can provide support throughout their lives."
The report cites a number of obstacles inhibiting child adoption in America, including heavy caseloads for frontline workers; insufficient post-adoption services and support; the lack of nationalized adoption standards and practices; and disincentives for interstate adoptions, all of which combined, the authors argue, clog the system at several points, harming both children and their prospective adoptive parents.
"There are far more people willing to adopt children from foster care than there are children in need of adoptive families," the authors argue, "yet each year almost 100,000 children wait in foster care to be adopted and about 30,000 youth 'age out' of foster care."
The report recommends a number of congressionally enacted policy reforms, including:
• Eliminating long-term foster care as a goal;
• Establishing a national standard for home studies and for descriptions of waiting children;
• Rewarding both sending and receiving states for creating interstate adoptions;
• Increasing and emphasizing funding for post-adoption services; and
• Encouraging the development of a robust practice model of adoption from foster care.
"Because of the unique relationship between the federal government and the states, Congress is best-positioned to create incentives to improve and standardize adoption practice within each state and to facilitate adoptions across state lines," the authors conclude.
The report was prepared by Elaine C. Kamarck, lecturer in public policy, HKS; Julie Boatright Wilson, Harry Kahn Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, HKS; Mary Eschelbach Hansen, associate professor of economics and adoption researcher, American University; and Jeff Katz, founder, Listening to Parents.