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Listening to Parents: Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Children from Foster Care


  • Wilson, Julie Boatright

    (Harvard U)

  • Katz, Jeff

    (Harvard U)

  • Geen, Robert

    (Urban Institute)


The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) codified the right of children in foster care to achieve a safe and permanent home. Since its passage, there has been a 79 percent increase in the number of children adopted from foster care. Surprisingly, the vast majority of post-ASFA adoptions were by foster parents or relatives of the children in care. Why so few children are adopted by general applicants is an important question, particularly for the 131,000 waiting for permanent homes. We examined this question using federal data (AFCARS), a state survey, and case record reviews and interviews with parents and agency staff in three sites. We found a steep attrition rate as prospective families go from initial call to adoption, and identified two particularly crucial points in the process. The first is the prospective parents’ initial call to an agency. This information call can be an intensely emotional experience for the prospective adoptive parent, but agencies, faced with the challenge of balancing recruitment with screening, do not handle it as well as they might. The second is the placement process. In part his is a result of the inherent conflict between parents looking for the “right child” to complete their family and agencies looking for the “right home” for each child. But we also found great confusion about how the placement decision is made and what role the prospective adoptive parents should play in it. Among our recommendations are an early focus on recruitment rather than screening; documentation of the adoption process and qualifications for adopting; and, a separation of screening from training wherever possible. We also recommend a changing the way initial calls are handled and development of a buddy system paring prospective adoptive parents with experienced adoptive parents, and establishment of a process for soliciting, and incorporating feedback from prospective parents. If we want to find homes for waiting children, it is absolutely critical that child welfare agencies develop ways of listening to prospective parents throughout the adoption process and responding to their needs and concerns.

Suggested Citation

  • Wilson, Julie Boatright & Katz, Jeff & Geen, Robert, 2005. "Listening to Parents: Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Children from Foster Care," Working Paper Series rwp05-005, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp05-005

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    Cited by:

    1. Hansen, Mary Eschelbach, 2008. "The distribution of a federal entitlement: The case of adoption assistance," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 2427-2442, December.
    2. Mary Eschelbach Hansen, 2005. "Using Subsidies to Promote the Adoption of Children from Foster Care," Working Papers 2005-15, American University, Department of Economics.
    3. Mary Hansen, 2007. "Using Subsidies to Promote the Adoption of Children from Foster Care," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 28(3), pages 377-393, September.
    4. Aguiniga, Donna M. & Madden, Elissa E. & Hawley, Alicia, 2015. "Exploratory analysis of child protection mediation permanency placement outcomes," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 20-27.
    5. Hansen, Mary Eschelbach, 2007. "State-designated special needs, post-adoption support, and state fiscal stress," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(11), pages 1411-1425, November.

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