House Republicans’ initial tax-reform plan removed the adoption tax credit, which helps families defray the high cost of adoption. The backlash was swift.
Conservatives argued the move ran contrary to the pro-life principles so integral to the party’s platform. Adoptive parents spoke out about the exorbitant cost of the process.
Google engineer Brandon Jones wrote that adopting his first son cost $50,000, a lump sum he paid before any of the official machinations of the adoption can begin. He noted that many families take out second mortgages on their home or ask for donations and loans from their family and friends. The tax credit is a lifeline.
What’s more, it basically pays for itself. Defraying the cost of adoption is often the fiscally conservative move. As John McCormick wrote at The Weekly Standard, “The costs to taxpayers of keeping a child in foster care — health care, food, housing, social workers, and administrators — are far greater than the one-time tax credit adoptive families may receive.”
After an outcry, Senate Republicans agree to keep the tax credit. But that shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. The unforced error can have a silver lining if it gets the political class talking all the ways the adoption process in the US can and should be improved.
Here are five steps they can take to make adoption easier for prospective parents
- Educate the public on open adoptions, in which the birth parents may be able to keep up contact with their child. Giving up custody of a child is difficult even for parents who believe it’s the right choice. Republicans can fund an informational campaign aimed at at-risk women to make it clear to them that putting up their child for adoption doesn’t have to mean they’re out of each other’s lives completely. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute issued a report a few years ago showing how completely closed adoption is rare, yet the misconception that it’s common persists. It’s an inexpensive fix to change this.
- Encourage more prospective adoptive families to foster children. Foster care is actually the least expensive way to adopt. According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, about a quarter of the children in foster care are waiting to be adopted. The opioid crisis is exacerbating a national shortage of foster homes. Beefing up tax credits to encourage more families to take in foster children would be a step in the right direction. There’s already a federal subsidy for parents who adopt from the foster-care system, but more can be done. Brittany, a foster parent in Virginia, suggests the party develop “a foster parent bill of rights, prioritizing the rights of children in foster care and offer a tax credit for those who are licensed foster families.”
- Republicans need to do more advocating for the adoption of special-needs kids. More than 100,000 special-needs children are awaiting permanent placement in the United States. One thing politicians can do is make it easier for prospective parents to learn about all the Early Intervention Services and disability payments available to their potential child. These services already exist but Republicans should highlight them as part of a national campaign. Subsidies also exist for people who adopt special needs kids out of the foster system. Bolster post-adoption services for parents who adopt these children.
- Negotiate with countries that ban international adoptions. Russia banned adoptions to the United States in 2013 in part because of several incidents in which adoptive parents “rehomed” their adopted children to people they found on the Internet. Several states have moved to make this a crime and Republicans should take up that cause. Handing your child over to a stranger on the Web should be illegal, whether the child was born to you or adopted from abroad. This is a no-brainer.
- Increase the tax credit for people who adopt older children or those with special needs. Republicans like to consider themselves the pro-family party. They can prove it by designing a tax policy that rewards families for taking a chance on some of the hardest children to place.
Easing the path to adoption for American families should be an issue tailor-made for today’s GOP. The pro-family party shouldn’t be discouraging the formation of families. Reinstating the adoption tax credit restores the status quo. But the status quo isn’t good enough.