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  Adoption Month




There Is a Better Way —
Executive Summary

Children Enter the Foster Care System in Record Numbers

  • From 1986 to 1993 the foster care population grew from 276,000 to 452,000.

  • Infants and young children comprise the fastest growing segment of the foster care population. They also stay in care longer than children who enter care at older ages.

  • It is estimated that about 25% of children in substitute care are so damaged as to require a major investment in treatment. Many of these children are teens who have spent years in the child welfare system rotating from one placement to another, sometimes ending up on the streets.

Institutions Harm Children

  • Institutionalized children are denied the opportunity to form a consistent relationship with a caregiver in their early years and are at serious risk for developmental problems and long-term personality disorders.

  • Many insecurely attached, institutionalized children lack empathy, seek behavior in negative ways, exhibit poor self-confidence, show indiscriminate affection toward adults, are prone to noncompliance, and are more aggressive than their non-institutionalized counterparts.

  • Insecurely attached children rebound from adversity far less effectively than securely attached children.

  • With few exceptions, children reared in poor quality institutions fail to sit, stand, walk, and talk by age four.

  • Close examination reveals that even good institutions harm young children, leave teens ill-prepared for the outside world, and cost over three times more than a permanent, loving family.

  • The Child Welfare League of America, Inc. estimates that the average cost of institutional child care is $36,500 per child per year. One child in basic family foster care costs the system only $4,500 per year. Specialized, treatment foster care costs $12,000 per child per year. Adoption assistance costs between $2,880 and $12,000 per child per year.

Foster Care Is Less Expensive and More Effective Care

  • Infants, young children, and teens with special needs benefit from treatment foster care. Treatment foster care is a less expensive, more effective alternative to institutional care.

  • Treatment foster care programs provide more integrated, comprehensive services in a community setting compared to institutional care. At follow-up, children discharged from treatment foster care show better adjustment and greater stability than children who were institutionalized.

  • Children in treatment foster care programs spend more time with adults who supervise and teach; children in residential or institutional care spend more time with deviant peers.

Family-Based Alternatives Speed Permanency Planning

  • Agencies achieve permanency for children sooner when foster parents, foster children, and biological parents are served in a coordinated fashion. Through "Concurrent Planning," workers can legally consider reunification and termination of parental rights simultaneously—a practice that often paves the way for biological parents to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights. Specially prepared foster parents adopt foster children, often in "open adoption" arrangements.

  • Whole Family Foster Care in St. Paul, Minnesota places whole families—children plus parents—with "mentor" foster families who model consistency, clarity, and stability. Biological families have had good outcomes, leaving child protection rolls and graduating successfully to independent living.

  • Project L.I.F.E. in Royal Oak, Michigan recruits, trains, and takes eligible families off AFDC to care for special needs foster children. Project L.I.F.E. estimates that the government saves $25,000 in AFDC and institutional costs per family per year by using this family-based alternative.

Foster Parents Successfully Adopt Special Needs Children

  • Programs that train foster and adoptive parents together and emphasize permanency for children yield significant increases in foster parent adoptions.

  • In a study of almost 800 families that adopted special needs children, researchers found that overall, adoption had a positive impact on families. Outcomes were excellent or good for single-parent families and families with lower education, lower income, and minority status.

  • Adoption subsidies have been vital to opening up adoption opportunities to minority and low-income foster families. Researchers found that for high-risk adoptions, subsidies lessen the chance of disruption.

Adoption Saves Money

  • From 1983 to 1987, the federal government saved $815 million in foster care administrative costs by placing 40,700 children in adoptive homes with adoption subsidies.



North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848