January 7, 2004
By: Saul Spigel, Chief Analyst
You asked (1) if federal adoption subsidies were available for all older children or only those from minority groups and (2) what criteria the Department of Children and Families uses to award a subsidy.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) administers two separate, but coordinated, adoption subsidy programs whose purpose is to encourage the adoption of children with special needs. One is partially (50%) funded by federal money under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the other entirely by state funds. A child's race or age is one of several factors DCF looks for to determine if a child has special needs.
DCF uses the same special needs criteria for both programs. A child qualifies if he or she:
● has a physical or mental disability or is at high risk of developing such a disability,
● has serious emotional maladjustment,
● is over age eight (if this presents a barrier to adoption),
● is over age two and has racial or ethnic factors that present a barrier to adoption, or
● is a member of a sibling group that should be placed together.
DCF first certifies that a child has special needs and is eligible for a subsidy. Only then does it determine if the child is eligible for a federal subsidy. A child is eligible for this subsidy if, before the adoption, he was eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If the child is not eligible for the federal subsidy, the state pays it in full.
The subsidy amount is based on the child's needs, not the source of the funding. But no subsidy can exceed the amount DCF pays to foster parents (about $8,000 to $9,000 a year, depending on the child's age). According to Sandra Matlack, a staff member of DCF's Division of Family and Adoptive Services, “the availability of federal funding does not impact the eligibility for subsidy in any way.”
State and federal adoption assistance is available to many children who are being adopted in Connecticut. The criteria that make children eligible for such subsidies are the same regardless of who pays the subsidy. Federal assistance is given under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (42 USC 673). It goes to adoptive parents of children who were eligible for TANF or SSI benefits when the adoption was initiated. Children who do not meet this criterion receive subsidies funded solely by the state. We have attached portions of the DCF Policy Manual that explain how the agency determines eligibility for both federal- and state-subsidized adoptions.
Special Needs. For both state and federal subsidies, a child must have special needs that make it reasonable to conclude that he or she would not be placed in an adoptive home without financial assistance. Under federal law, these needs could include factors or conditions such as ethnic or minority group background; age; membership in a sibling group; and physical, mental, or emotional handicaps or other medical conditions. The state agency administering the program (DCF in Connecticut) establishes the specific criteria for that state and determines whether a child has special needs.
In Connecticut the special needs are:
1. having a physical disability or recognized risk of such (documented by a physician's evaluation indicating diagnosis and severity of handicap, treatment recommendations, and prognosis);
2. having a mental disability or recognized risk of such (documented by a psychiatrist's or psychologist's evaluation indicating diagnosis, treatment recommendations, and prognosis);
3. having serious emotional maladjustment (documented by a psychiatrist's or psychologist's written diagnosis, treatment recommendations, and prognosis);
4. being over age eight, which presents a barrier to adoption;
5. being over age two with racial or ethnic factors presenting a barrier to adoption; or
6. being a member of a sibling group that should be kept together.
A claim that a child has special needs due to a high risk of physical or mental disability or severe emotional maladjustment must be supported by documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist showing that child's past experience and present condition of functioning indicate a probability for developing such disability in the future. A claim that a child has special needs due to age, racial, or ethnic factors must be supported by an explanation of how these, when considered with other factors in the child's functioning and circumstances, present a barrier to adoption.
Other Criteria. In addition to finding that the child has special needs, the administering agency must also find that (1) the child cannot or should not be returned to his birth parents' home and (2) a reasonable, but unsuccessful effort has been made to place the child in an adoptive home without a subsidy. (The latter factor does not apply if making this attempt would not be in the child's best interest because of such factors as the existence of significant emotional ties with foster parents who are the prospective adoptive parents.)
DCF first determines whether a child has special needs. But even if it finds special needs exist, DCF considers several other factors before deciding whether to provide a subsidy. Its policy states (1) that a child may not be appropriate or eligible for subsidized adoption if efforts have not been made to find a family who is not requesting a subsidy and (2) a subsidy should be granted only when the adoption would not take place without it, except when a child has established significant emotional ties with prospective adoptive parents while in their care as a foster child (DCF Policy Manual 48-18-2).
If DCF determines the child is eligible for a subsidy, it then looks to see if he is eligible for Title IV-E adoption assistance, that is, was he eligible for TANF or SSI. If he is not, the state pays the full cost of the subsidy.
Adoption assistance begins when the adoption is finalized. The amount of assistance is based on the child's needs and is determined by DCF staff following a thorough discussion with the prospective adoptive parents. Payments are made in accordance to a written agreement between the parents and DCF.
The subsidy cannot exceed DCF's foster care reimbursement rate, which are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Subsidized Adoption Rates
0 - 5
6 - 11
12 and over
Rate for Children with Complex Medical Needs
0 - 18
If the child is eligible for a IV-E subsidy, federal funds cover 50% of this amount. Children receiving either subsidy are also automatically covered by Medicaid (the state pays the entire amount for children who are not Medicaid-eligible, but only for services for which Medicaid pays). Their adoptive parents can also receive a one-time payment to cover some of the costs of adopting the child.
DCF annually reviews the continuing need for the subsidy and its amount. The subsidy continues until the child reaches age 18, the parents are no longer legally responsible for the child's support (e.g., the parents' rights are terminated or the child joins the military), or DCF determines that the parents are no longer supporting the child.