Gov. Sam Brownback once made adoptions a public priority. Yet few major changes to Kansas’ broken adoption system have been enacted since he declared November as Kansas Adoption Month in 2011. In Ohio, by contrast, a movement is under way to make adoption easier; Brownback would be wise to pay attention to it.
I have written before about the horribly broken system of domestic adopt-ion in the United States, and particularly in Kansas. As an adopted child and the father of one (with another on the way), I have experienced the highs and lows of a system that has its heart in the right place but breaks hearts because of outdated thinking and re-strictive regulation. Excessive paperwork, extreme costs, delays and the opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advant-age of potential adoptees pre-vent many from even consider-ing the process seriously or forcing the committed to shift to international adoptions.
The need is staggering: More than 400,000 children in the United States are living without families, according to the Con-gressional Coalition on Adopt-ion Institute. Worldwide, there are more than 150 million or-phans. Another 27,000 children “age out” of domestic foster care every year, having never been placed with a family who legally adopted them. All of the statistics are getting worse, with domestic strictures sending thousands of parents abroad to expand their families rather than completing them at home. But even international adopt-ions are under threat.
International adoption has become almost as prevalent as domestic adoption, with inter-national adoptions reaching a high of more than 45,000 in 2004. The number of international adoptions has since shrunk by nearly half, to under 24,000 in 2011. As international adopt-ions become ever harder to procure, prospective adoptive parents are left with almost no options. The time is now to reverse the trend of fewer domestic adoptions and give children who need “forever” families their opportunity.
The Ohio proposal would sig-nificantly shorten the adoption process. Adoption decrees could be finalized by a court 60 days after birth instead of requiring the current standard wait of 12 months. Further, the proposal would shorten how long biological fathers have to put their name on the state’s putative father registry from 30 days after the birth of a child to seven days. Under Ohio’s proposal, the state tax credit would jump to $10,000 from the existing $1,500 and allow recipients to take the refund over four years.
To reduce abuse of adoptive parents who help with preg-nancy care, payments of up to $3,000, which adoptive parents can provide to preg-nant mothers for living expenses, would no longer directly go to the birth mother. Adoption agencies or attorneys would hold the funds and make payments on behalf of the birth and adoptive parents, reducing the likelihood of fraud in the adoption system.
Prospective adoptive parents face innumerable challenges, and the last thing they should have to struggle with is their own government unnecessarily re-stricting their ability to give a needy child a home. But the existing adoption regime does just that. The time for change is now, and Ohio’s model shows a clear and positive direction for that change.
Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.