On Friday, September 23, New York City was the setting for an adoption symposium called “Broken Adoption Beyond Permanency: Challenges for Foster Youth.” The one-day session sponsored by the Children’s Law Center focused on strategies to address those adoptions from foster care that “fail” or as they labeled such instance, “broken adoptions.” In other words, return to placements after subsidized adoptions.  The forum drew 46 states and countries through attendance or a limited web broadcast. As was noted at one point in the discussion, the session was “not about bashing one form of permanency over another because it’s about a spectrum of permanency options.” The discussion focused on learning from data, the revolving door of some children returning to foster care, the role of sibling visitation, understanding the adoption subsidy and improvements through law reform.

In terms of national data there is limited information on the number of adoptions from foster care that ultimately fail or are broken. Legislation passed last year will eventually yield some national numbers but for now we are limited to studies and local information. The discussion focused attention on data culled from New York City adoptions.  Information presented based on data from 1993 through 2014 (as studied through 2015) the city has placed 51,810 children in adoptions from foster care and 2435 or approximately 5% have come back into the system at some point later. The biggest percentage of return to placements took place at approximately four to five years after being adopted with the average age being 13 through 15 years.  The reason for return included child abuse and neglect, in need of services, placement into juvenile justice and voluntary placement by the parents.

Panelists involved with legal representation and legal services in support of children found that a majority of children voluntarily placed into foster care were placed by adoptive parents and that in these instances a majority of those parents do not expect a return of the child to their home and family. An additional major reason for placement was the death or infirmity of the adoptive parent, often a relative. Based on a review of legal caseload the key reasons for placement back into care (with some overlap) included: 19 percent parental behavior, 6 percent a medical health problem of the parent, 6 percent child neglect, 35 percent death or infirmity of parent, 79 percent child behavioral issues, and 47 percent the child’ mental health.

Additional points for discussion involved the services that are lacking for post adoption placements with these services in their greatest need four or five years after the adoption. Additionally, there was extensive discussion of the role and importance of ongoing sibling connections and visits.  States vary in their policies (if they have policy) in regard to directing courts to consider sibling arrangements in adoption placements with some states allowing courts to order visitations even after adoptions.  There was agreement that continued connections to siblings even after the sibling was not adopted in the same family could be an important element for child development in the stability of the adoption.

A closing issue and discussion focused on the role of adoption subsidies and that in some of these broken adoptions the subsidy may actually continue because states are limited in their ability cut off funding unless the parent gives up the subsidy. There was a consensus that the current Title IV-E language under adoption assistance is written in a way that restricts states ability to suspend or end the subsidy even when the child no longer is living or being cared for by the adoptive parent. HHS had asked for comments on this matter earlier this year.

Participants also heard from three young people who had been in foster care before being adopted and who had experienced a broken adoption.  They discuss their experiences what could’ve helped them and what more is needed in terms of addressing these adoptions. Much of it dealt with better screening and better casework before the adoption with participants being adopted to a foster care family.

For viewing of te web broadcast go to Beyond Permanency