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HHS 6
Improve the Adoption Process for Children in Foster Care

Summary

The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) is responsible for the recruitment, development and maintenance of foster and adoptive homes for children in the agency’s care. DPRS recruits foster and adoptive families throughout the state with public service announcements, appearances at civic and community group meetings and printed materials. This effort should be improved to meet a rising need for more foster and adoptive homes.

Background

The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) maintains a Child Protective Services (CPS) program to investigate cases of child abuse and neglect and run the state’s foster care system. Courts may place children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect under DPRS’ temporary conservatorship.

DPRS works with the families of these children to improve their home environments enough to prevent future incidents of abuse and neglect whenever possible. In some cases, however, these children are unable to return home and a suitable relative cannot be found to care for them. The courts may place such children in DPRS’ permanent conservatorship. DPRS seeks to arrange adoption for children whenever a court terminates parental rights.

DPRS attempts to develop at least three placement options for each child under permanent conservatorship. Increasing the pool of potential placement options improves opportunities to match families’ skills and abilities with the special needs of each child. This, in turn, helps minimize placement disruptions and decreases the time children must wait for permanent adoptive homes.[1]

Texas, like many other states, does not have enough foster and adoptive homes to meet the demand. Child welfare agencies across the country face shortages of such settings. In fiscal 2001, nearly 600,000 children across the country were placed in fewer than 150,000 licensed foster care settings (other than relatives’ homes). In Texas in that year, 13,729 children were placed in fewer than 3,500 licensed homes and facilities. As of October 2002, 3,791 children under DPRS’ care were waiting for adoption.[2]

Increasing the number of adoptions

CPS and private child-placing agencies (CPAs) that provide DPRS with foster care services work jointly with national child welfare organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America, The Casey Family Program, private adoption agencies and other organizations to find new ways of recruiting foster and adoptive families.

These efforts have helped to increase the number of children under DPRS care who are placed into adoption from 1,282 in fiscal 1998 to 1,512 in fiscal 2002, an 18 percent increase. In addition, the number of DPRS children placed into adoption through CPAs rose from 266 in fiscal 1998 to 736 in fiscal 2002, a 177 percent increase. These efforts reduced the average time that children must wait for adoption from 11.7 months in 1998 to 10.3 months in 2002.[3]

Although DPRS has made significant progress in this area, the agency still had 3,791 children waiting for adoption as of October 2002, and the number is rising. DPRS expects the number of children waiting for adoption to rise to more than 7,400 in fiscal 2007. In addition, children will have to wait longer for adoption due to a lack of new adoptive homes. Without enough adoptive homes, children in DPRS permanent custody may remain in long-term foster care until they reach age 18.

In recent years, the number of foster families has fallen. One reason for this trend has been DPRS’ use of dual licensure—the simultaneous licensing of families as foster and adoptive homes—that was implemented statewide in 1996.

The best adoptive parents for children in DPRS conservatorship traditionally have been their foster parents, and foster care advocates and the federal government alike endorse the practice of dually licensing foster and adoptive homes. In 2001, 50.6 percent of the children in DPRS conservatorship were adopted by their foster parents. Although the practice is undoubtedly good for the welfare of the children involved, it reduces available foster home placements because many foster parents no longer choose to provide foster care once they have adopted a child.

DPRS’ shortage of placement options cannot be met entirely by private child placement agencies, which face similar problems in their recruitment efforts. Public and private child-placing agencies across Texas are conducting joint recruitment and training exercises for prospective foster and adoptive families. Most areas have Inter-Agency Foster Care Committees that bring public and private resources together to focus on recruitment. Several initiatives focus primarily on adoption but also serve families interested in becoming foster parents. Yet additional resources are needed to fill the ever-growing demand.[4]

DPRS focuses its television, radio and print recruitment efforts on two month-long campaigns each year, one to recruit foster care families and the other seeking adoptive families. While this effort is admirable, DPRS is missing out on some promising opportunities.

For instance, the agency makes no special effort to recruit among Texas’ 155,000-plus state employees. Employee organizations often raise awareness in their agencies about a number of worthy causes. In addition, the Comptroller’s office distributes monthly payroll records to each state employee; these records can be and have been used to distribute information and recruit state employees to volunteer for or donate to various groups and causes.

Although DPRS works locally with businesses to offer aid to foster children, the agency has not conducted any systematic, statewide solicitation of businesses to increase awareness of the need for more foster and adoptive families has been organized. More than 400,000 businesses pay or remit state taxes, and this group offers another platform for recruitment. The Comptroller’s office regularly mails a number of informational items to these firms.

Improving the speed of adoption

The adoption process often is delayed due to legal stipulations requiring DPRS to “de-identify” or remove the names of biological parents from the often-extensive case records of children being adopted.

DPRS reports that this process can require an average of two months, as it has few staff members available for the task. And every day that a child’s adoption is postponed requires the state to pay for another day of foster care. Extended periods of foster care can cost considerably more than the “adoption subsidy” DPRS pays to adopting parents.[5]

DPRS has statutory authority (under Section 261.201 of the Texas Family Code) to determine what conservatorship case information shall be released to adoptive parents. This discretionary authority, however, conflicts with Section 162.006 of the same code, which requires the agency as well as CPAs to protect the identity of biological parents and other confidential information (such as the names of persons reporting child abuse or neglect).

Adoption cases involving children in DPRS conservatorship usually involve the involuntary termination of parental rights, but such actions are documented in public court records. Moreover, many children and prospective adoptive families already know the identities of the biological families. There is no need for confidentiality in such cases, and requiring DPRS to edit thousands of pages of such case records is a waste of staff time that would be spent more appropriately on other duties.

Recommendations

A. The Texas Department of Regulatory and Protective Services (DPRS) should work with state agency employee groups to promote and recruit foster and adoptive families.

DPRS should secure private funds or, if these are not available, use existing appropriations to develop print materials targeted at state employees that explain how to become a foster or adoptive family and the support systems available to such families. DPRS should work with the Comptroller’s office to distribute these public awareness brochures to state employees through payroll envelopes.

B. DPRS should develop a statewide campaign to inform businesses of the need for foster and adoptive families.

DPRS should secure private funds or, if private funds are not available, use existing appropriations to develop print materials targeted at businesses that explain how to become a foster or adoptive family and how businesses can support these efforts. DPRS should work with the Comptroller’s office to distribute these materials in mass mail-outs to businesses in the state’s tax rolls.

C. Section 162.006 of the Texas Family Code should be amended to give DPRS discretionary authority on what information can be released from the adoption records of children in its conservatorship, as provided under Texas Family Code Section 261.201.

This amendment would not change the confidentiality requirements for adoptions of children not under DPRS conservatorship.

Fiscal Impact

Under these recommendations, about 450,000 public awareness brochures would be sent out to businesses during the months of March and November, for a total of 900,000 annually. In addition, 155,000 brochures would be sent out to state employees during the same months, or a total of 310,000 annually. DPRS would design and develop the brochures with feedback from the Comptroller’s office.

The brochures would be sent out with existing mailings, so little or no additional cost for postage would result. According to DPRS, it can print the brochures for about $66,600. In addition, the mail-out would entail an additional half-cent charge for each brochure for “envelope-stuffing” services, for a total charge of $6,200.

The total estimated cost for these recommendations, then, would be $72,800 annually or $155,600 for the biennium. These costs would not accrue to the state, however, since they would be paid for through private donations or the existing appropriations for the recruitment of foster/adoptive parents.


Endnotes

[1] Interview with and e-mail communication from Janis Brown, assistant director, Child Protective Services, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Austin, Texas, November 25, 2002.

[2] Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Annual Data Book 2001 (Austin, Texas, December 2, 2002), pp. 75-80.

[3] Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Annual Data Book 2001, pp. 75-80.

[4] Interview with and e-mail communication from Janis Brown.

[5] Interview with Phoebe Nauert, deputy general counsel, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Austin, Texas, December 4, 2002.