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March 2004Vol. 5, No. 2Interstate Placement for Adoption

Recent research indicates that the adoption of children across State lines takes, on average, 1 year longer than the adoption of a child in an in-State placement (4 years from removal to adoption vs. 3 years). A new analysis of data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) for fiscal year 2000 by Dr. Penelope Maza, senior policy research analyst for the Children's Bureau, suggests these delays occur prior to the child crossing State lines for placement. These and other findings regarding interstate placement were published in a recent edition of The Roundtable, a newsletter from the National Resource Center for Special Needs Adoption ( - 740 KB).

In FY 2000, 6.3 percent of children waiting to be adopted, and 16 percent of children with finalized adoptions, were not living in their home States. The article notes many similarities between children placed out of State and those placed within their home States, including gender distribution, age at removal, and average number of removals. Differences between the groups (including race, age, placement type, and length of stay in care) also are discussed.

The author then reports in detail on the time between various critical events in adoption, to attempt to explain why children adopted out of State tend to achieve permanency later than those adopted in State. She found:

  • The median time between removal from the birth family to termination of parental rights (TPR) for children placed out of State was 35 months, compared to 22 months for children placed in State.
  • Median time from removal to the last placement setting was almost 2 years longer for children placed out of State than children placed in State (43 months vs. 20 months).
  • On the other hand, median time from TPR to adoption was 2 months shorter for children placed out of State than for children placed in State (10 months vs. 12 months), and median time to adoption from last placement was also shorter for children with out-of-State placements (11 months vs. 16 months).
  • Almost all children placed out of State for purposes of adoption (90 percent) were already freed for adoption, as opposed to 63 percent of children entering their final placement setting in State.

These findings led Dr. Maza to conclude that the delays in interstate placement occurred prior to the children's placement across State lines. Dr. Maza suggests that the delays are a result of a number of factors affecting out-of-State placements, including:

  • The administrative burden (real or perceived) of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
  • Beliefs about what constitutes "good practice" (e.g., interpretation of the "close proximity" provision in Federal law).
  • Financing (e.g., the question of which State pays for what when children are placed across State lines).
  • Miscommunication between States (e.g., lack of clarity about which types of home studies are needed and misunderstanding of each State's policies).

Dr. Maza concludes by noting that practices regarding out-of-State placement may need to be modified to facilitate more timely permanency for these children.

Related Items

An article in the January/February 2004 issue of Child Welfare Journal, "Interjurisdictional Placement of Children in Foster Care," discusses practical challenges to interjurisdictional placements and proposes six areas of focus for policy and practice improvements:

  • Heightened visibility of interjurisdictional adoptive placements
  • Expanding and strengthening existing tools and resources to facilitate interjurisdictional placements
  • Strengthening practice by developing new tools and resources
  • Valuing collaboration
  • Family-centered policy and practice
  • Adequate financial support for interjurisdictional placements

Find ordering information and online abstracts for Child Welfare Journal on the Child Welfare League of America website at

For more information about interstate placement, read "Guidebook Encourages Social Workers to Pursue Adoptions Across State Lines" in the March/April 2001 issue of Children's Bureau Express.