Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Value Added Effects of Adoption Policy on Adoption Outcomes

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Merrick II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Fred Wulczyn, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
There are few subjects better suited to the study of public policy and its public health impact than adoption from the foster care system.  First and foremost, foster care directly affects the well-being of large numbers of highly vulnerable children.  Today there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. (US DHHS, 2012).  Their developmental profiles paint a difficult picture; adoption represents one way to promote better long-term outcomes.  Second, adoption is almost entirely a creature of the law and policy.  All things being equal, biological parents are free to raise their children.  In the event parents do not rise to those responsibilities, the State can and does ask the family court to assign parental responsibilities to a new set of adults through the process of adoption. The rationale for the State proceeding with adoption is laid out in policy that express how we balance the rights of parents relative to the best interests of the child.  Finally, because adoption confers developmental advantages over staying in foster care, the state has a compelling interest in finding ways to expedite the adoption process.  The state pursues this interest through laws and regulations that are designed to affect the processes that secure safe and stable families for children who are unable to go home. 

In this context, our aim is to understand the extent to which state adoption laws affect the timing and likelihood of adoption. For timing, we are interested in how soon after a child enters foster care he or she is adopted; for likelihood, we are interested in whether adoptions occur (i.e., out of every hundred children who enter foster care what fraction goes on to be adopted?).  We separate timing and likelihood because policy often targets one, the other or both outcomes.  For example, federal adoption reforms in the early 1980s provided fiscal incentives to states to increase the likelihood of adoption among hard-to-adopt foster children.  More recently, by adjusting decision thresholds at the child level, federal law has targeted when adoption processes may start.

To carry out the work, we bring together two critical strands of research.  With respect to legal analysis, we examine the flow through of federal statutory requirements into state adoption policy.  From these data, we identify strong and weak adoption policy configurations.  The second strand uses state administrative data to study the timing and likelihood of adoption over a 10-year period.  Using a three level mixed effects model to control for person and contextual factors, we establish the extent to which strong adoption policy states exhibit adoption processes that differ from those found in weak policy states.

Full Paper: