The Adoption and Legal Guardianship Incentives released earlier this year provided just $24 million in incentive funding for states that placed children in adoptive families or in legal subsidized guardianship during 2020. In recent years the awards have exceeded over $60 million.  In fact, in recent appropriations, Congress has appropriated additional funding ($75 million) so that HHS could make up for a shortfall in payments to states paid for the previous years number of adoptions and guardianships. Before FY 2018 Congress had only appropriated $39 million a year which fell short each year of what states earned.

The incentive fund was originally passed as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), and it has been reauthorized several times with adjustments to the target number of adoptions a state places to earn an incentive. In 2015 it was changed to also reward subsidized guardianships.

The awards were adjusted in terms of categories of adoptions/guardianship placements so that $5,000 is earned per increased adoptions; $4,000 is earned for overall kinship placements; $7,500 is earned per pre-adolescent (ages 9-14) adoption/guardianship placements; and $10,000 is earned per increase in in older adoption/kinship placements (ages 14 and older).

The awards as always are based on an increase over the previous year, but this formula (since 2014) is based on a rate increase instead a specific increase in the number of adoptions. That is intended to allow states that have been reducing their foster care population (thus reducing the pool of children waiting for adoption) to receive an award for positive permanency policies.

For FY 2021 the data is based FY 2020—the pandemic year.  For FY 2021 states earned $9.4 million for increased overall adoptions; $4.4 million for overall subsidized guardianship; $7.1 million for older child adoptions and $3.3 million from previous year’s awards. Since FY 1998 states have been awarded $840 million in incentive funds with Texas receiving the most at over $96 million far ahead of California’s $69 million.

Only 57,881 children were adopted from foster care a significant drop from the 66,208 the year before. It is the lowest total since FY 2016 and the reduction of more than 8,300 may be the biggest year to year drop since adoptions have been tracked since the 1997 ASFA. Only nine states saw an increase in adoptions and all these states received an incentive payment:

Alabama          738—816

Idaho                328—353

Iowa                 1228—1266

Oregon             792—877

South Carolina 529—551

Tennessee         1166—1186

Vermont            260—263

Virginia             769—844

Wisconsin          711—748

While adoption dropped so did the number of children waiting to be adopted decreasing from 123,809 (2019) down to 117,470 (2020). Of children waiting to be adopted the numbers of terminations of parental rights in this group went down from 71,860 down to 63,815—the lowest number in six years.