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November 2016Vol. 17, No. 8Study Examines the Effect of State Policies on Rates of Adoption

In most cases, when a child has been placed in out-of-home care, the State child welfare agency must make reasonable efforts to reunify the child with his or her family. If, after making this effort, it becomes clear that a child cannot be returned home safely, the State must take timely action to find an alternative, permanent home for the child, with an adoptive home as the preferred permanency goal. A new publication from The Center for State Child Welfare Data, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, examines whether differences in State adoption policy can explain State-to-State differences in the rate of adoption.

A key step in the adoption process is the termination of parental rights (TPR). Federal statute lays out specific criteria that permit TPR. To expedite permanency for children who cannot return home safely, several of the criteria, sometimes referred to as "fast track" criteria, involve egregious behavior on the part of parents that releases States from the obligation to work toward reunification. States have the discretion to build on this framework, and many States' laws do provide additional grounds for TPR or provide for shorter timeframes for initiating a TPR action.

The Chapin Hall study looks at two specific questions:

  • Do States that have more "fast track" exceptions to the reasonable reunification efforts mandate have higher rates of adoption than States with fewer exceptions?
  • Do States that have shorter mandated TPR timeframes have higher rates of adoption than States that allow more time before initiating TPR actions?

For the study, data from Chapin Hall's Multistate Foster Care Data Archive were used to calculate each State’s adoption rate. The study population included 214,286 children from 20 States who entered foster care for the first time between 2006 and 2007, with outcomes through December 31, 2011. Of the 20 States in the study, 15 had 11 or more "fast track" exceptions listed in their State adoption laws; 5 of these listed as many as 18 to 20. Most States follow the "15 out of the last 22 months" timeframe found in Federal statute; only six States had a shorter timeframe.

The analysis revealed that, for the most part, these stronger policies do not lead to their intended outcomes. States with more "fast track" exceptions did not have faster adoptions than those that had fewer, and States with shorter length-of-stay standards did not finalize adoptions any faster than States with longer timelines.

Testing the Effect of Fast-Track Adoption Policy on Adoption Rates is available at (71 KB).