Ohio offers a model for adoption reform
Gov. Sam Brownback once made adoptions a public priority. Yet few major changes to Kansas' broken adoption system have been enacted since he declared November 2011 as Kansas Adoption Month. In Ohio, by contrast, a movement is underway to make adoption easier, and Brownback would be very wise to pay attention to it.
I have written in this space before about the horribly broken system of domestic adoption in the U.S. and particularly in Kansas. As an adopted child and the father of one (with another on the way) myself, I have experienced the highs and lows of a system that has its heart in the right place -- but breaks hearts due to outdated thinking and restrictive regulation. Excessive paperwork, extreme costs, delays and the opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advantage of potential adoptive parents prevent many from even considering the process seriously or forcing the committed to shift to international adoptions.
The need is staggering. More than 400,000 children in the United States, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, are living without forever families. Worldwide, there are more than 150 million orphans. Another 27,000 children "age out" of domestic foster care every year, having never been placed with a family who legally adopted them. All of the statistics are getting increasingly worse as time goes on, with domestic strictures sending thousands of parents abroad to expand their families rather than completing them at home. But even international adoptions are under threat.
International adoption has become almost as prevalent as domestic adoption, with international adoptions reaching a high of more than 45,000 in 2004. Ever since, the number of international adoptions has shrunk by half, to under 24,000 in 2011. As international adoptions become ever harder to procure, prospective adoptive parents are left with almost no options. The time is now to reverse the trend of fewer domestic adoptions and give children who need forever families their opportunity.
The Ohio proposal significantly would shorten the adoption process. Adoption decrees could be finalized by a court 60 days after birth instead of waiting the current standard of 12 months. Further, the proposal would shorten how long biological fathers have to put their name on the state's putative father registry from 30 days after the birth of a child to seven. Under the proposed law, the state's tax credit would jump to $10,000 from the existing $1,500, and allow recipients to take the refund over the course of four years.
To reduce fraudulent abuse of adoptive parents who help with pregnancy care, payments of up to $3,000 which adoptive parents can provide to pregnant mothers for living expenses no longer would go directly to the birth mother. Adoption agencies or attorneys in the adoption would hold the funds and make payments on behalf of the birth and adoptive parents, reducing the likelihood of fraud currently rampant in the adoption system.
Prospective adoptive parents face innumerable challenges, and the last thing they should have to struggle with is their own government unnecessarily restricting their ability to give a needy child a home. But the existing adoption regime does just that. The time for change is now, and Ohio's model shows a clear and positive direction for that change.
Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.