Why Should Adoptive Parents Get Subsidies & Not Birth Parents

Dawn Davenport


why should the government pay adoptive parents a subsidy rather than birth parents

I love the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group for the caring expressed and the information I learn. And since our group is a mixed group made up of adoptive parents, infertility patients, birth parents, adoptees, and former foster youth, I also appreciate that I am exposed to new ideas and sometimes forced to think about issues from a different angle. Such was the occasion last week on two different posts where people were questioning why the foster care system paid adoption subsidies to adoptive parents, but did not provide these subsidies to birth families to help them keep their children from entering foster care in the first place.

The point of these posts was that it would be fairer to the parents and better for children if the money that is being used to pay adoption subsidies would be given to families so that they would not lose their children to foster care. I almost always see both sides of an issue, so it is somewhat surprising to me that I am truly having trouble understanding their position. This blog is my attempt to wrestle with this issue, and I would truly appreciate continuing the discussion in the comments. (A blog felt like a more respectful place to discuss this since commenting on someone’s thread where they shared devastating experiences caused by having their child removed feels disrespectful.)

Children Deserve to Be Raised in Their Birth Families

I think it’s important to start with my basic belief that absent abuse or neglect it is in a child’s best interest to be raised by their families of birth. I also believe that neglect, and even abuse, are sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and our view of what is neglectful or abusive is heavily influenced by culture and socioeconomic status. The first goal of the foster care system is and should be to keep families together rather than find foster or adoptive families for children. In fact, the majority of kids who enter foster care are reunified with their family (51%). To put things in perspective, only 22% of children who enter foster care are adopted, and of those 22 %, a third are adopted by relatives. Adoption is the last resort for kids in foster care.

Problems in Foster Care System

One of the things that I truly appreciate about the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group is that it has opened my eyes to the abuses in adoption, including foster care adoption. I’ve researched in this area for year and I’ve known these abuses exist, but it is one thing to know in the abstract, but a whole other thing to communicate with people who have lived this abuse first hand. The power of our foster care system to remove children from their families is great, and is not always used lightly. And because poverty is often confused with neglect, the poor are substantially more at risk for being the victims of foster care abuses/mistakes.

Just in the last week we have heard from a teen in foster care who got pregnant to get out of an abusive group home only to be told by that she wasn’t qualified to be a mother, and that if she didn’t voluntarily release her daughter to the foster family that took her in, the state would force her and would take all her future children as well. As a young, scared, poor, homeless teen, she had no one to help her and no one to fight for her deep desire to raise her child. We’ve also heard about a case where the wrong children were removed, but even though there was no evidence to keep them, the mother had to jump through the hoops required by the foster care system for 9 months in order to get her children back. Her eldest chid continues to be traumatized by this removal. These parents lived my nightmare.

Why Not Give Subsidies To Birth Families to Help Them Keep Their Kids

Kids generally enter foster care for 2 reasons: abuse or neglect. It is difficult to tell the exact percentage of cases of children being removed that are due to abuse vs. neglect because the distinction is not always clear—at what point does neglect become abuse? It is also difficult because the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCAR) allows more than one reason for removal to be listed, so the causes are not mutually exclusive. Suffice it to say that kids are removed due to abuse significantly less than they are removed for neglect–61% of the time a child is removed due to neglect.


I think most of us would agree that money will not cure the ills of abuse. Yes, I know that poverty adds stress and stress increases risk of abuse, but in general, I think that giving an abusive father who beats his kids a subsidy so he can keep his kids doesn’t make sense.


Neglect can take many forms and far too often poverty can be confused with neglect. No doubt more money would help some parents be able to keep their children, but I believe that subsidies alone would only be helpful in a relatively small percentage of cases.

When discussing whether money/subsidies will help with the issues of neglect, we have to start with the fact that the government does give “subsidies” to the poor in the form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), WIC, subsidized housing programs, SSI (for special needs/disability), unemployment benefits (if applicable), earned income tax credit, etc. I have no doubt that this is often not enough, but it is at least worth noting that those below the poverty line, including parents at risk of losing children to foster care, are eligible for government benefits.

While parents may be eligible for these benefits at any time, once a child has been removed, parents are often helped to access some of these governmental services as part of their plan to get their children back. In the most recent AFCAR report, 48% of kids removed from their family stay in foster care 12 months or less. Some percentage of these cases, especially those where children were returned quickly, involve cases of improper removal. (No one knows that exact numbers, but we hear horror stories and know it exists.) However, arguably, some of these 48% were given services that helped improve their situation to allow them to get their children back. Of course, sometimes services weren’t needed or didn’t involve services that impacted poverty (e.g. parenting classes, drug or alcohol rehab, finding extended family to take in the child, etc.), but often it does involve job counseling, housing subsidies, accessing SSI benefits, etc. My point is that birth families that lose their children exclusively because of neglect are sometimes being “subsidized” after removal when that neglect is due to poverty.

A real problem that must be addressed to improve foster care is working with families to access these benefit BEFORE the child is removed. Removing a child can cause long-term damage to both parents and children.

Neglect very often includes cases where the parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs—in fact 38% of kids entering the system are removed because their parents are abusing alcohol or drugs. In some states this percentage is much higher, and all evidence indicates that this problem is growing. I’m guessing that we would all agree that giving an addict money will not help them be able to parent their child. The stats aren’t clear, but it looks like approximately only 23% of the cases of neglect do not involve alcohol or drugs.

Why Adoption Subsides Are Important

Adoption subsidies for families that adopt from foster care are intended to help defray the cost of raising a child with “special needs”. The vast majority of kids in the foster care system are considered to have special needs because of the impact of abuse or neglect. Each state is different, but most states start with a base amount for an adoption subsidy based on age and go up or down depending on the individual needs of the child. In research published in 2008, the average subsidy for children adopted from foster care was $390 per month.

Infants are often not eligible for adoption subsidies unless there is evidence of prenatal exposure (and even then adoptive parents very often have to “fight” to get any subsidy and often it is a deferred subsidy). Usually, the older the child at adoption, the larger the subsidy.

The sad reality is that abuse and neglect damages children and raising a child exposed to trauma, including prenatal exposure, is costly in terms of money, time, and emotions. These children often need long term therapy, lots of doctor’s appointments, tutors, special schools, etc. Medicaid covers some of this, but nowhere near all.

I am absolutely in favor of the government giving subsidies to parents who adopt special need kids from foster care because I believe this is in the best interest of kids. It helps kids find permanency faster, while at the same time saving the state money. In fact, I’m in favor of more subsidies. Kinship adoptions in foster care very often receive less in adoption subsidies than non-kinship adoptions. I think we should encourage relatives to adopt, and I don’t want money to be a barrier.

I am not in the least oblivious to the abuses in the foster care system. I’ve read and researched these abuses for years, and I’ve learned a lot from the people in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. However, I don’t see subsidies for adoptive parents as lessening these abuses. From my perspective, few people go into fostering or adopting from foster care for the money!

I would love to hear your opinion. Let’s keep this discussion going.

Image credit: Guilherme .

09/10/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Why Should Adoptive Parents Get Subsidies & Not Birth Parents

  1. Avatar R says:

    You summed it up very well. Adoption subsidies are vital and there is criteria list to qualify. Yes more needs to be done for parents to assist that may detour their children needing to be taken but most are there because of special circumstances. I am a grandparent who has adopted and the subsidies is crucial as I prepare for retirement. Children who are adopted need extra services, etc and you normally cant compare them to children who are being raised by their bio parents.

  2. Avatar Virginia Jorgensen says:

    I adopted from foster care 7 years ago. My son was born addicted and spent 9 weeks in the nicu. He had heart problems and was hep c exposed. I found out all of this when I signed my intent to adopt. I got the limited medical info dyfs has. I also found out I would get a subsidy. I had no idea my son was special needs. I do now! I also believe the parents have access to many funded opportunities even if it isn’t called a subsidy. My son was the meal ticket for his parents. No doubt about it. They had wic, snap, medical care, dental care, bus rides to and from visits with my sin, parenting classes, rehab, etc. my belief is that if the parents want to do better they will. It is not about money but more about the effort. When the child is an object that is the means to an end, that child deserves better. My son faces struggles every day that I didn’t even know were possible but I love him no matter. And yes the subsidy helps with therapies and dr appts and the travel to get to all those places he needs to go.

  3. Avatar Flowermama says:

    A number of adoptive parents could not afford to adopt children with special needs if not for the subsidies. So, as the system exists now, I agree that removing the subsidies is really just harming already vulnerable children. Often the adoptive parents do not make enough to pay for extensive counseling without this help. Many fall in the working to middle class group that doesn’t qualify for other aid but cannot afford on their own.

    Unfortunately, giving special subsidies (beyond the general aid programs you listed in your article) seems like an encouagement to neglect children. Basically you would be giving aid to those accused of neglect but not to those who are not accused. Hopefully most parents would not neglect or abuse just for aid (that would be horrifying) but it does seem like a bad arrangement.

    One issue not addressed in your post is that often children are taken due to abuse by a father/father figure. The mother is aware but does not stop it and this is why the kids are removed. Often there are not resources available to really get the mother out of the abusive situation and truly get her help so she winds up losing the kids.

    My solution is that we should have a better safety net for all children and families in our society. There is no reason such a rich nation should have so many children going hungry, homeless, and experiencing other hardships. Additionally we need to have more support to get women out of abusive situations. I know I’m moving into a “political” area here. But, if we had affordable healthcare, including counseling, available to all kids then there would be no foster/adoptive/birth parent divide. Similarly, if Childcare were affordable people would not be faced dilemma of leaving kids unattended. We should provide a basic standard of living including care, food, education, and housing to all of our children. Then, if parents are neglecting or abusing children it will be clear it is not due to finances but to actual unfitness.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      [One issue not addressed in your post is that often children are taken due to abuse by a father/father figure. The mother is aware but does not stop it and this is why the kids are removed. Often there are not resources available to really get the mother out of the abusive situation and truly get her help so she winds up losing the kids.] Yes! And yes also to the better safety net for all families.

  4. Avatar TAO says:

    “…form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), WIC, subsidized housing programs, SSI (for special needs/disability), unemployment benefits (if applicable), earned income tax credit, etc.”

    Dawn, I think that a person needs to walk in the shoes of a single mom before just stating things are available. Start with whatever scenario you want, something like 2 kids under 10, no car, minimum wage job she can’t afford to take time off from, can’t afford day-care and if she has it, not without $’s coming in. Then go see what each entails, remember, you don’t have a car, even if you did, no $’s for parking or gas, time spent waiting in line, shuffled here, there, told you’re missing one thing, or, denied, must appeal, and re subsidized housing, I’d assume the waiting list is months if not years long. Then, once you do receive funds, go see what those dollars actually buy in regards to food in a low-income neighborhood, because otherwise you have to bus to a larger store where your money goes further and remember, you have kids to deal with. I suspect that it wouldn’t be easy, would require taking time off, and thus, rent, electricity or something else didn’t get paid that month which just creates yet another problem.

    Not to mention how stress and depression play into all that when there is no hope things will get better.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      TAO, in no way do I disagree with you; however, the point is why pay subsidies to adoptive parents not birth parents. The poor do get some (albeit inadequate) subsidies in the form of benefit. Adoptive parents may (if the child qualifies as special need) get some subsides (albeit inadequate) in the form of adoption subsidies. And the scenario you just painted of a parent stretched thin trying to cope could just as well be a parent who adopted a sibling group both with special needs. Trying to figure out the logistics of therapies, tutoring, school meetings, plus regular parenting is overwhelming and often quite costly. However, I think we as a society could do a better job of providing a safety net for all families. I simply don’t see how paying adoption subsidies to adoptive parents who adopt from foster care hurts birth parents or the single mom you described.

      • Avatar TAO says:

        Dawn, I don’t have an issue with subsidies when needed, but I’m also sure there are cases where the subsidy isn’t needed but they met the criteria, age, race – it’s more a matter of getting rid of the ones who’d take the money just because, just like it happens on the flip side.

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