How the Adoption Incentives Program can Incentivize Adoptions

Today, the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to review the success of several privately run programs to increase the number of children adopted out of foster care. This marks the beginning of the committee’s efforts to review—and hopefully reauthorize—a federal program entitled the Adoption Incentives Program.  Originally created in 1997 as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, the Adoption Incentives Program has delivered a total of $375 million in bonuses to states that were successful in increasing the number of children adopted out of foster care.

Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means Adoption Incentives Hearing.
Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means Adoption Incentives Hearing.

Since the inception of the Adoption Incentives Program, more than half a million children found their forever homes. Despite this success, however, over 100,000 foster children are still waiting to be adopted.  If trends continue, approximately 50% of these children will succeed in finding homes through adoption and 50% will continue to wait.  Statistics reveal that those who remain waiting are most often older children, members of larger sibling groups or those children who have special physical or mental health needs.  In fact, according to a the most recent AFCARS report, the average age of a child adopted out of foster care is 6, while the average age of a child waiting to be adopted out of care is 8.

So the question before Congress is this: how can the federal government incentivize states to find a home for every child? The programs highlighted in today’s committee hearing prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no such thing as an unadoptable child, just an unfound family.   There are at least three lessons to learn from these programs’ experiences.

  • States cannot employ “a one-size-fit-all” strategy for finding a permanent home for a child.  Efforts to recruit an adoptive family for a child must be as diverse as the children themselves.
  • States that have succeeded in finding homes for older and special needs children have done so in close partnership with community and faith-based partners.  Such partnerships allow state child welfare agencies to be more innovative in their approach; address critical workforce gaps; increase their reach into communities where perspective adoptive parents are likely to be found; and provide post- adoption support.
  • Finally, success in finding an adoptive family for every child who needs one is premised on the belief that all children need and deserve a family

If Congress hopes to replicate the successes of the types of programs highlighted today it must learn from these lessons and better incorporate them into the current Adoption Incentives Program.  Congress might also want to consider whether the current model of providing an individual bonus per adoption is the best way to incentivize adoption for older and special needs children. Perhaps this group would be better served by a model similar to the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top,” a federally-funded contest which provides funds to states that successfully put forward groundbreaking, thoughtful plans to address four key educational reform areas.  While the full effects of “Race to the Top” remain to be seen, preliminary findings indicate that it has been successful in spurring innovation and improving in educational outcomes. A similar approach might better incentivize states to be more innovative by providing more concentrated support for their efforts to find homes for harder to place children.

Another idea might be to use the adoption bonuses as a way to incentivize certain policies and practices that have been proven effective in finding homes for children. For instance, provide rewards to states that use adoption recruiters as opposed to making finding an adoptive family one of the many tasks assigned to an overloaded caseworker.  Or grant bonuses to states that severely limit the use of an alternative planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) for older youth.  Under this approach, the federal government might use the “carrot approach” to reward states that provide robust post adoption services, reduce the amount of time between termination of parental rights and the completion of adoption and engage in interstate adoptions.

We would like to thank Chairman Reichert for his leadership in dedicating the first subcommittee hearing of the 113 congress to such an important and impactful topic. We look forward to working with Members of Congress to explore these and other ways this important program might better serve its stated goal: to find families for waiting children.

Update on Russian Ban on Intercountry Adoptions to the United States



Following the January 22, 2013 Russian Supreme Court Letter on Implementation of Federal Law No. 272-FZ, CCAI has continued to work closely with Members of Congress and our partners inside Russia.  In situations like these, CCAI’s priority is to ensure that the U.S. government is aware of all individuals directly impacted and have the information necessary to act on their behalf.  The following are actions that have occurred since our last update:

House Resolution 24: Expressing the deep disappointment of the House of Representatives in the enactment by the Russia Government of a law ending inter-country adoptions of Russian children by United States citizens…

  • Introduced on January 14, 2013 by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chairs Representatives Michele Bachmann and Karen Bass.
  • House Resolution 24 language matches that of Senate Resolution 628 (introduced in the 112th Congress on Dec. 30, 2012).

January 17, 2013 House Letter to President Putin  

  • Led by Representatives Chris Smith and Michael Fitzpatrick, 46 U.S. Representatives signed a letter to President Putin appealing to him for humanitarian reasons to not apply the January 1, 2013 ban of adoptions of Russian children to the United States to those several hundred adoptions already in process when the ban was enacted.
  • Noted that many of the children who are impacted by the ban on adoptions already know their U.S. adoptive families and have even recently been visited by them.
  • Encouraged President Putin to work together with the U.S. to “ensure that children are moved from institutions to family care.”

January 18, 2013 Bicameral Letter to President Putin

  • Led by Senator Blunt and CCA Co-Chairs Senators Landrieu and Inhofe and Representatives Bachmann and Bass, 72 Members of Congress signed this letter to President Putin requesting that the Russian Federation allow the processing of the pending adoptions of children already matched in 2012 to U.S. families.
  • Noted that many of these children have special needs, and “many believed they were soon going to become a part of a safe, permanent and loving family.”
  • Appealed to the spirit of the bilateral adoption agreement the two countries entered into on November 1, 2012 to provide orphaned children with safe and loving homes.

January 18, 2013 Bicameral Letter to President Obama

  • Led by Senator Blunt and CCA Co-Chairs Senators Landrieu and Inhofe and Representatives Bachmann and Bass, 73 Members of Congress signed this letter to President Obama.
  • Noted that Russia’s Ministry of Science and Education estimates over 110,000 children in Russia are living in institutions, with only 7,400 adopted by Russian families annually.
  • Appealed to President Obama to work to reverse the ban, but also to prioritize in the United States’ discussions with Russia in the coming weeks the estimated 350-500 active adoption cases with Russian children.

January 14, 2013 Russian Response Letter to December 21, 2012 Congressional Letter to President Putin

  • On January 14, Ambassador-at-Large Konstantin Dolgov – Russian Foreign Ministry’s Special Representative on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law – responded to a December 21, 2012 letter from 16 Members of Congress in an immediate response to the news of what was then a potential ban of adoptions from Russia to the United States.
  • Ambassador Dolgov’s letter stated that “[a]ccusations that Russia has violated the [U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child] by adopting the Dima Yakovlev Law are absolutely ungrounded” and are instead aimed at prioritizing domestic adoptions in Russia.  Suggesting that abuse of Russian children by American families has regularly occurred recently, and “the openly inactive attitude of competent U.S. agencies towards these issues has provoked a particular indignation and incomprehension in the public opinion, political and parliamentary circles in Russia.”  In response to appeals to the November 1, 2012 bilateral adoption agreement between the two countries, the letter states, “in practice we see that the U.S. side is actually sabotaging the provisions of the document.”  “The decision taken by the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to ban the adoption of Russian children to the U.S. was a difficult but necessary measure provoked by a consistently non-constructive position of the U.S. federal and local authorities.”

For more information, please visit CCAI’s Russia Page on our website, see the “Russia Bans Adoptions to the United States” section of our January 15, 2013 Legislative Update,

Adoption Today Features Article on Angels in Adoption™

Nominate an Angel in Adoption™!

By Kathleen Strottman and Allison Cappa

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” Robert F. Kennedy said so eloquently what we at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) try to uphold daily and who we hope to esteem through our Angels in Adoption™ Program.

The Program began 14 years ago when a few Congressional offices began to brainstorm about the good that could come from honoring deserving constituents from their state and/or district who had impacted the life of a child in need of a loving family. That first year, in 1999, an awards ceremony was held on Capitol Hill to celebrate those very constituents. As co-founding Member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption caucus and adoptive father Rep. Jim Oberstar puts it, “the first event was sparkling. There was so much enthusiasm and love.”

Since that time, Angels in Adoption™ has grown to be three days of events with over 1800 individuals, couples, and organizations recognized for the incredible work they have done to highlight the issue of foster care and adoption.  The Angels are invited to travel to Washington, D.C., where they learn how to advocate on behalf of children around the world waiting for a loving family to call their own. Additionally, they are honored at a prestigious Congressional Pinning Ceremony and at a very special Gala attended by senior members of the Executive Branch, US Senators, US Representatives and National Angels, like Kristin Chenoweth, First Lady Laura Bush, Patti LaBelle and Al Roker, who are using their celebrity status to promote adoption on a national and even global level. Furthermore, Angels in Adoption™ seeks to increase the public awareness of these individual deeds that profoundly impact a child’s life. The press from this event has spurred hundreds of human interest stories with the hope of inspiring others. Since the program’s inception, more than 1,800 Angels have been honored for their contributions to the cause of finding every child a home.

We all know the miraculous effect adoption has.  Because of Angels in Adoption that message is spreading. As 2011 National Angel in Adoption™, award winning actress (star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), former National Adoption Day spokesperson, Nia Vardalos, said of the adoption of her daughter, “My husband and I were matched with our daughter via American Foster Care, and the minute we met her, our lives changed forever.  At three years old, our perfect little girl walked into our house, and turned it into a home.”

Do you know of someone you would like to nominate to a Congressional Office because adoption or fostering children has changed their life forever? Nominate them as an Angel in Adoption™ by visiting You can also complete a nomination form online for submission which will be passed along to an appropriate Congressional office. The deadline for this year’s nomination is July 6, 2012. 

The preceding article was featured on page eight of the June 2012 Issue of Adoption Today. See Adoption Today.

Celebrities Adopting

Yesterday, Jessica Alba appeared on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  The family featured, the Beach family, had adopted 8 children in addition to 4 biological children!  Father Larry Beach said, “No matter if you’re in a travel trailer or a big house like this, we all have one calling; we’re all special to God.  That’s why we search out children who otherwise wouldn’t have a home. That’s what we hope comes out of all this.  There are a lot of children out there. Maybe they’re not perfect in the world’s eyes, but they deserve a home as much as any child.”  So inspired by the Beaches, Alba went on to say that she plans to adopt herself.  Alba is currently a mom to her 2-yr-old daughter Honor Marie with husband Cash Warren.

Alba on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

I wanted to highlight a couple other celebrities who have chosen adoption.  When these individuals speak out and share their adoption experience, families and individuals across the country are made aware the need for adoption and are shown that all it takes is for someone to step forward and want to make a difference in the life of a child.

Recently, Katherine Heigl and husband singer Josh Kelley adopted a daughter with special needs, Naleigh, from Korea.  Heigl has always known she wanted to adopt, and even approached the subject with her husband before they were engaged.  Heigl’s sister, Meg, is Korean, so the choice of where to adopt from seemed obvious.

Heigl with her husband and daughter

Just over a month ago, actor Willie Garson’s adoption of a 8-yr-old boy from foster care was finalized.  “From the first time I met him, I said, ‘That’s my kid.”  Garson met his son, Nathen, at an adoption fair in Los Angeles.

Garson with son, Nathen

While Nathen’s story has a happy ending, Garson commented on the older teens in foster care who were at that same adoption fair.  Their stories more often have a sad ending of aging out of foster care without ever being adopted.  Across the country, this is true for almost 30,000 youth each year.  Together, we can raise awareness about these youth, and dispel the negative myths about youth in foster care.  These celebrities are helping to show Americans that we can step up and make a difference.