Adoption Subsidies Vary By County

May 04, 1998

ITHACA, N.Y. -- New York state's most vulnerable children, those who are hard to place with adoptive parents because of their age or special needs, receive very different levels of support depending on where they live, according to a new Cornell University study.

For similar special-needs children, one family may get as little as half that of another family, depending on the county they live, in addition to differences in special needs or cirumstances, says Rosemary Avery, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

The reason is that many children in foster care or after adoption are supported by public funds. The size of their subsidy is determined at the county level through a decentralized system of rate setting. While children are in foster care, they receive the full range of social support services available in their county, Avery says, but when these same children are adopted, many of the support services are no longer available to the adoptive parent.

"That means that the system is set up to create a disincentive to adopt a needy child who requires a high level of service support," Avery wrote in her article, co-authored with graduate research associate Rosellina Ferraro. The study is published in the most recent issue (Vol. 1 (2), 1997) of Adoption Quarterly.

New York is one of only a few states in the nation that allows individual counties to set levels of pre- and post-adoption support, she says. Adoption subsidy payments are intended to facilitate the adoption of a child and to assist adoptive families in their support of the child's special needs and living expenses.

In an analysis of the 12,858 new adoption subsidies approved in New York state from 1989 through May 1993, Avery found that 36 percent of the variations in subsidy levels from county to county could not be explained by cost-of-living differences between counties.

Avery and Ferraro compared adoption subsidy levels in each county with national estimates of the cost of raising a child in the urban Northeast. They report that in 24 counties, subsidies provided less than 80 percent of the cost of raising a child. Indeed, only Tompkins, Suffolk, Nassau, Rockland and the five boroughs of New York City paid adoption subsidies close to the cost of raising a child in the urban Northeast.

Among Avery's other findings: In their paper, Avery and Ferraro suggest that New York needs to clarify whether adoption subsidies are meant to fully cover the extra costs for raising a child with special needs. "If so, then a thorough and complete economic analysis is needed of the real cost of raising a child with special needs in the different counties within the state, and adoption rates need to be adjusted accordingly."

Avery added: "A review of the county rate-setting procedure and rate levels in relation to the cost of raising a child is urgently needed in New York state. The state needs to examine current subsidy levels to correct currently existing variances in adoption subsidies so that not one special needs child in New York state is inadequately supported."

The study was support in part by the Children's Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute for Child, Health and Human Development.
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Cornell University

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