Today, many foster children languish in a system that can often become a “trap door” rather than a means to a stable home. The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing last Wednesday on how to boost adoptions from foster care.

Part of the problem with the foster care system is due to federal policies. Financing structures for foster care and adoption programs, which fall under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, favor foster care over adoption. The bulk of funding goes towards foster care, creating a disincentive for states to move children to permanent homes.

In response to a major surge in the number of foster children between 1987 and 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) to promote the adoption of children in foster care. The key element of this law is the Adoption Incentives program, which encourages States to increase adoptions by rewarding them with incentive payments.

Since passage of this law, caseloads have fallen by nearly 30 percent and adoptions from foster care are higher. The Adoption Incentives program is now up for reauthorization, and the witnesses testified about their firsthand experience with these children and their perspective on the current adoption policies.

In the hearing advisory, Chairman David Reichert (R–WA) said, “As we review the Adoption Incentives program in preparation for its reauthorization, we need to make sure these measures are still working well so we can ensure all children have a permanent home as quickly as possible.”

Despite the positive step of the Adoption Incentives program, Title IV-E funds still continue to be inflexible and encourage states to keep children in foster care.

Thomas Atwood, former president for the National Council for Adoption, explains that Title IV-E funds should be used on a case-by-case basis to determine what services would best fit each child. He says that foster care funding should be capped and consolidated so that an unending flow of money does not incentivize keeping children in foster care, and that states should have greater flexibility to use these dollars as they see fit. In addition, the Adoption Incentives program should be left intact to continue promoting adoption.

The witnesses in the hearing represented private organizations that have made significant strides in increasing the number of adoptions from foster care. They have all too often seen the tragedy of children aging out of the foster care system.

Rita Soronen of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption pointed out that while adoptions increased after the passage of ASFA, adoptions of younger children have surpassed those of older children. These kids are labeled “unadoptable” because of age or special needs. Organizations like Dave Thomas are advocates for the adoption of older children, and have implemented recruitment models and strategies to ensure that these children find permanent families.

Kelly Rosati of Focus on the Family testified that in fiscal year 2011, more than 26,000 children aged out of the foster care system. Almost 20 percent of those children did not have a high school diploma or GED, and 68 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys had been food stamp participants.

Organizations like these demonstrate that private and faith-based groups are successful in communicating the importance and urgency of adoption from foster care. Focus on the Family has had tremendous success with their Wait No More events, which convene leaders from government, churches, and private adoption agencies with prospective parents to promote the reality and importance of adoption. Through these events, more than 2,200 families have initiated the process of adoption. As Atwood said, “States should…pursue opportunities for parent recruitment through faith-based communities.”

It is important to ensure that policies do not discourage adoption and trap children in foster care. In addition, government should not impede the good work of faith-based organizations in assisting child placement in permanent homes. Children should have every opportunity to be raised in a stable, healthy family, because, as Pat O’Brien of You Gotta Believe! testified: “Parents and families are the foundation and springboard to every child’s future.”