Kansas Adoptive Parents Receiving Less State Money Than Foster Families Could Change | Company
TOPEKA, Kansas — A foster care program designed to support adoptive families may actually discourage adoption. Tina Miller knows this all too well.
Miller wanted to adopt adoptive child Aaron Carter, who was non-verbal and autistic. Foster parents receive a daily salary to look after foster children. For the Millers, that was about $3,800 a month, and despite that, they paid an additional $500 to $1,300 a month to care for Aaron. He could never be left alone.
“If my husband and I hadn’t had a strong marriage and relationship, I could easily see how [Aaron] would cause someone to divorce,” Miller said. “He was so.”
The Millers only got about $800 a month to adopt Aaron, less than a third of what they got for fostering the boy.
“We knew there was just no way to sway him,” Miller said.
They continued to foster Aaron until another family was interested in adopting him. Aaron died while visiting with this other family. The case is still under investigation.
The Millers’ case is unusual because families don’t often turn down an adoption for financial reasons, according to foster family staff.
But the Millers aren’t entirely unique. Money is important. And for some families, the subsidies they lose mean the difference between whether they can afford to adopt a foster child — especially a child with lifelong, expensive special needs. Families who adopt children with higher needs can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with financial problems. The Kansas Department for Children and Families wants to change the equation.
Paige Darnall adopted a child even though she received far less each month from the state. She said taking less money would make childcare costs more difficult and could mean less free time for herself.
“We’re both working parents, so child care costs have been the big deal,” she said. “There were times when it was difficult.”
Kansas caps its adoption grant — or monthly financial support for adoptive families — at $500 per month. The monthly support for foster families varies widely depending on the needs of the child. Families with basic foster rates receive about $700 per month, while families with the most needy children receive thousands of dollars per month.
Almost all foster parents in Kansas are paid less to adopt than to foster a child. Families with children with higher needs can apply for exceptions to get more financial support, but several foster parents and parent support groups say not everyone knows that option exists.
“I thought that wasn’t particularly fair,” said Josh Kroll, Adoption Grants Resource Center Coordinator at the North American Council of Adoptable Children. “If two parties are negotiating something and one party knows something is a possibility and doesn’t share it with the other party, that seems like an unfair negotiating position.”
Kroll said the Kansas system could be configured better and DCF is trying. The agency is reviewing its grant structure, said Melinda Kline, deputy director of tenure. Kline didn’t say what those changes might be and couldn’t say when they might happen.
Depending on the extent of the adjustments, the DCF may require legislative action. The Kansas Legislature adjourned last month and is not expected to return until January 2023. The DCF is considering creating new exceptions for children with higher needs to help families in the near future.
“We want families who choose adoption to be able to support, care for and meet the needs of the child they adopt,” Kline said.
Other states might offer pay similar to foster care rates or they might have a tiered system that shows parents how much they could get based on their child’s needs.
Kansas’ adoption rate is around average compared to other states. DCF says 8,769 adopted children are receiving subsidy and the average monthly payment for April 2022 was $456.74. Grants range from $18.72 to $3,500 per month.
The adoption grant in California, Washington, DC and Alaska can all exceed $1,000. Wyoming, Missouri, and Mississippi offer $400 per month or less. Utah rates are $211, according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
Minnesota recently changed its adoption subsidy structure. The new system has multiple tiers that determine a child’s level of need and reduce the need to negotiate a fee, which Kansas does. Under Minnesota’s old system, families would be paid half as much to adopt a child as to foster. Kroll said it forces children to move to new families because there isn’t enough support.
He said the new system is “more consistent [and] it may be fairer.
Kroll said adoption grants are important because foster children have higher needs, so parents might need more support.
“A lot of children were abused or neglected – that’s why they entered the foster care system,” he said. “They often have more needs even when adopted.”