WASHINGTON – More Maryland foster children are being adopted than ever before, but advocates say the need for adoptive families is also higher than ever.
Recent laws that make it easier for foster children to become eligible for adoption have boosted the numbers of such children in Maryland, almost doubling from 550 to 1,000 kids in two years.
But advocates fear that if children are declared eligible for adoption and there is no one to adopt them, that will leave the children “permanently orphaned.”
“The problem is that there are more kids that have `parental rights terminated status’ and finalized adoptions aren’t keeping up the pace,” said Diane Banchiere, child welfare policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth.
“We do not want to leave kids permanently orphaned,” she said.
Under a 1998 law, the state must either petition for termination of parental rights, if a child has been in foster care for 15 months in a 22-month period, or tell the court why it is in the best interest of the child not to do so. The process of terminating biological parents’ rights was also shortened in 1996 when state made the juvenile court the sole court to rule in such cases.
Maryland has responded to the push for adoption and the increase of foster children eligible for adoption by placing more kids than ever before in permanent homes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Maryland placed 420 foster children with adoptive families in fiscal 1998, earning the state a $317,947 bonus last month from the federal government. State officials, who operate on a different calendar than the federal government, said the number was even higher, at 674 adoptions in 1998.
Nationally, adoptions of foster children are also on the rise, from 31,000 in 1997 to 36,000 in 1998, according to HHS.
Maryland was one of 35 states to share in a $20 million pot of bonus money from the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, for increasing foster child adoption levels in 1998.
The state’s bonus will be distributed among local foster care agencies to recruit families and provide post-adoption services, said Stephanie Pettaway, adoption manager for the state Department of Human Resources.
“We really think this trend toward more adoptions is good, but this is such a money-driven process we have to make sure those adoptions hold up over time,” said Jim McComb, executive director of Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth.
McComb said state and local jurisdictions need to provide families with thorough support services after the adoption is complete.
“There’s some concern that if it isn’t handled well, we may find an increase in failed adoptions,” he said. “Families may be very well prepared to do the parenting but not adequately prepared to deal with the child’s problems.”
In 1996, the state contracted with non-profit adoption groups to offer families post-adoptive services, including individual and group therapy, education for parents and resident treatment, Pettaway said. But it is sometimes difficult to get families to come back for post-adoptive services, she said.
“What we have found is that a lot of folks, once they’ve adopted a child, gotten approved and told the world they’re the best parent ever, they don’t want folks to know they’re having trouble,” Pettaway said. “There are people who come in all the time, but they’re the minority.”
Despite Maryland’s successes, Pettaway said more can be done.
“I think that there’s never enough to be done,” she said. “We want to be sure that we can meet the moral mandate to get all the children who need permanent homes a home.”