October 26, 1995 | Commentary on Welfare and Welfare Spending

ED102695c: Welfare's "Dirty Little Secret"

What is the "dirty little secret" of the welfare state?

Just this: Across the country there are more than 40,000 hurting, adoptable children languishing in foster care, waiting for moms and dads -- and plenty of would-be moms and dads are waiting to adopt them.

Yet, standing between the two -- seemingly hell-bent on keeping them apart -- is an army of highly paid welfare bureaucrats who don't like adoption and have erected a practically insurmountable array of barriers against those who wish to adopt.

Why? According to Conna Craig, president of the Institute for Children and a former adopted child herself, there are three reasons.

First, the public adoption system rewards and encourages foster care over adoption. When foster parents are paid between $200 and $530 per month, based on the number of children they care for, it creates a financial incentive to keep children in temporary homes. Private adoption agencies, by contrast, are paid by the number of successful adoptions they arrange. In other words, the cash flows in the direction of adoption, not foster care.

Second, since adoption often is put forward as an alternative to abortion, feminist groups and their allies have succeeded in inculcating an anti-adoption bias in the social service community and mainstream media. Magazines, ranging from Good Housekeeping to Playboy, have painted adoption as a traumatic event that can cause psychological damage to both mother and child. In fact, the benefits of adoption far outweigh long-term foster care. A study by the Search Institute of Minneapolis has shown that adopted children rate their relationship with their parents even more positively than a national sample of non-adopted adolescents.

Third, the social service community has placed the whims of irresponsible parents above the well-being and happiness of children. Too many kids are repeatedly returned to abusive or unfit parents, as if "family reunification" is more important than the physical safety of children. Craig says one-third of all children returned to their "birth families" eventually must be returned to state care.

Reforming this system won't be easy. Eliminating barriers against transracial adoptions -- as if white parents would be worse for a black child than no parents at all -- would be a step in the right direction. Because of these barriers, black children make up 40 percent of the foster-care population, even though they are only 15 percent of all children.

The government shouldn't be funding permanent foster-care situations, but rather encouraging families to adopt and making it easier for them to do so. One way would be to enact a means-tested, inflation-adjusted tax credit of up to $5,000 to help pay the expensive one-time cost of adopting a child. By contrast, the government spends, on average, $13,000 per year to care for a foster child.

Why not spend less than half than that on the better alternative -- adoption?

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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