This week I went to Austin with Heidi Bruegel Cox for a two-day meeting of the Adoption Review Committee, which was appointed by the governor. The Committee is charged with identifying barriers to adopting out of foster care and creating legislative proposals to overcome those obstacles so that children in the foster care system can find permanency more quickly. On Wednesday the Committee heard testimony from individuals and families who had fostered or sought to adopt children from CPS (Child Protective Services) but felt that CPS created barriers to the adoption that was damaging to their family and to the children. A common theme throughout their testimonies was that the current foster care reimbursement system disincentivizes adoption. Parents who had been fostering medically fragile children – some of whom suffered from degenerative conditions that weaken and deteriorate their bodies and who required treatment from multiple specialists – find themselves financially unable to adopt the children they have fostered since birth because they would lose the foster care reimbursements that help fund the life-saving treatments for the children they love.
Families also touched upon the difficulty they had receiving responses from CPS on their inquiries about adopting children. One woman testifying about her journey to adopt a child from CPS said that she contacted caseworkers on over 30 children who were available to adopt and whom she wanted to adopt. She only heard back on half of the inquiries and often the response came 2-4 months later in the form of an automated response. Many of the children she reached out to try to adopt remained listed on TARE (the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange). Though they needed a family that she was willing to provide, they remained unplaced.
Another theme brought up in testimony was the treatment of sibling groups in foster care. DFPS makes every effort to keep siblings together in foster and adoptive placements – a priority with good intentions, which in many cases is an appropriate course of action. However, families revealed cases in which separating siblings may have been in the best interests of the children and keeping them together prevents each from healing and becoming adopted. A family who fostered two brothers – a five year-old and seven year-old – petitioned to adopt the five year-old. The children’s psychologists had recommended that the children be placed in different homes so that each may heal in a safe environment. The seven year-old posed a physical danger to his younger brother who lived in fear of his older brother. Despite the recommendations to have the siblings separated and the availability of an adoptive placement for the younger sibling, CPS insisted on keeping the siblings together which is delaying or preventing permanency for each child.
The meeting brought to attention many barriers to adopting from foster care. Later this year, the Adoption Review Committee will put forth suggestions to overcome these barriers and move children into permanency more quickly.