Taxpayers are funding adoption subsidies that sometimes provide a generous, supplemental income to abusive parents.
It’s an unintended consequence of a well-meaning law. Until the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, foster parents were discouraged from adopting children because foster care payments ended once the adoption went through. The new law gave an adoption subsidy close to what was received in foster care payments. It was for those who had a lot of love to give—but maybe not the financial resources—to adopt hard to place children out of foster care.
Foster parents, though, are closely monitored. Those with full adoptive parental rights are not.
A hard to place or special needs child is defined as a Caucasian child who is eight years of age or older, a minority child who is two years or older, or a child with physical, mental or emotional problems. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, parents who adopt a hard to place child out of Iowa’s foster care system may receive monthly payments of up to $500 – $900, depending upon their special needs status.
That’s for one child. Multiply the money when more children are involved. The subsidy is an entitlement, and the adoptive family’s income is not considered when negotiating financial support.
For the average family trying to provide a loving home for these children, the subsidy is likely not enough. And, it’s not why they do it. Most want to give these forgotten kids a permanent home and a good start in life. The subsidies are just one tool they can use to help provide for the well-being and needs of their adopted children.
On the other hand, abusers see foster kids as dollar signs. These adoptive parents use subsidies as supplemental income that will benefit themselves—not the children. If money didn’t come attached to the kids, there would be little interest in adopting them.
Once the adoption goes through, abusive parents can use home-schooling as a method to isolate these unwanted children and conceal neglect and abuse.
Three recent cases in Iowa show the vulnerability of these children. Natalie Finn, 16, died of emaciation. Malayia Knapp, 17, ran away from her home, reported abuse to the police, and is a survivor. Sabrina Ray, 16, was found dead in her home. Initial reports are that she was severely malnourished.
All three girls were adopted out of foster care and being home-schooled by parents, who were receiving adoption subsidies.
These cases have been so distressing that in an effort to find a fix, some want all parents who home-school their children to submit to new regulations.
But home-schooling, alone, is not the problem. Many children, from all walks of life, are achieving excellent academic results and are thriving in the home-schooling atmosphere.
Adoption subsidies, alone, are not the problem either. Many children have found a loving and permanent home with a family that would not be possible without this financial support.
The problem is the potentially lethal combination of the two. Isolation plus money equals a fraud that can kill. And taxpayer dollars are funding it.
When there’s public money involved, there needs to be transparency. If parents are accepting adoption subsidies, it should be under the condition that the children be enrolled in public or private schools. It’s not enough for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to become involved after a complaint is filed. One visit does not compare to regular observations from the public or private school system.
Whenever tragedy strikes, there’s a tendency to overreact. We don’t need to shut down home schools or discontinue adoption subsidies. Both do a lot of good. We do, though, need to look at the link between home-schooling and adoption subsidies.
It’s a false narrative to say that Natalie Finn fell through the cracks. It implies that she was an unfortunate enigma, but that all is well everywhere else. And all the while, Malayia, Sabrina, and an unknown number of other children suffer.
It’s not a crack. It’s a chasm, and it demands a policy change.