September 20, 2006
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
A push to get more children adopted out of state foster care is paying off - literally.
Connecticut is one of 21 states receiving federal bonuses for surpassing their adoption goals in 2005. The state's $520,000 grant will be used to supplement existing adoption programs.
The state Department of Children and Families reported that 561 abused and neglected children were adopted in the 2005 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2005. That was up from 434 adoptions the previous year.
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said the number of adoptions finalized within two years more than tripled from March 2004 to June 2006.
The faster adoptions are due in large part to a handful of initiatives proposed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and adopted by the legislature. Now, families adopting children from state foster care: receive state assistance for the children's college tuition; receive the same financial subsidies for adopted children as they would if the children remained in foster care (the state used to reduce the stipend once children were adopted); and have access to free counseling and therapy for themselves and their children.
"The state has worked hard to speed up the adoption process," Rell said Tuesday. "This is absolutely critical for the emotional well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn. It is gratifying to see positive results for kids who have been through so much."
There were still more than 130 children waiting for adoption in Connecticut Tuesday. And they represent just a small fraction of the approximately 6,000 children in state foster care at any given time.
Kleeblatt said about half of the state's foster children will get reunited with their parents. Of the rest, many are older teens and special needs children, some with significant medical or emotional problems, who may never be adopted and will age out of the state foster care without ever finding a permanent home.
It is those children who concern advocates such as Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Virginia, who says states rely too heavily on foster care. The federal government instead should give states bonuses for keeping families together and for helping them deal with such issues as poverty and substance abuse that more often lead to children being placed in foster care than serious abuse or neglect, Wexler says.
The federal government pays states $4,000 for every child adopted above a targeted goal, plus $4,000 for every child age 9 or older who is adopted and $2,000 for every special-needs child adopted.
"There is no financial incentive for returning children safely to their homes, or keeping them there in the first place," Wexler said. He said the incentives also encourage "quick-and-dirty" placements because if an adoption home fails, the state still gets the bonus while it looks for another home, despite the trauma such relocations pose for children.
Kleeblatt said social workers don't receive personal financial bonuses for adopted children and there is no set policy for encouraging fast adoptions to boost the federal grant. He said the $520,000 grant, while sizable, is just a minuscule portion of the agency's $800 million annual budget.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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