Free Money! New York Adoption Industry Pays Parents Even When They Don’t Care for Kids

November 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I thought I knew a lot about the big business that is the adoption industry, but this fine article tells me there’s always something new to know (New York Daily News, 9/2/14). The core of the matter is this: in New York City, adults who adopt “hard to adopt” children receive a subsidy from the city, state and federal governments for doing so, but are under no legal obligation to care for those children. So many of those adoptive parents simply place the children in foster care and continue receiving the subsidies. An untold number more kick the kids out of the house to fend for themselves. Those “parents” too continue to receive the subsidies.

And when we talk about subsidies, we’re not talking about chump change. Adoptive parents can receive as much as $1,700 per month per child. One woman built a house in Florida with her subsidy while the child lived with foster parents.

Another adopted a 5-year-old boy with severe mental health issues and kept him in a residential treatment program — completely covered by Medicaid — for 10 years. When the treatment center recommended he be discharged into the mother’s home, she refused and voluntarily placed him in foster care.

About 5% of children in the program, have been placed in foster care by their adoptive parent. That’s about 2,000 kids for whom taxpayers foot a double bill, first for the subsidy and then for foster care that runs between $29,000 and $123,000 per child per year.

What’s more amazing is that the City of New York refuses to do anything about the problem. Other cities in the state move to terminate the subsidies when they learn a child has been placed in foster care or the parent isn’t caring for the child for some other reason. But not New York City. Just why it doesn’t is a question the article doesn’t answer, but someone should.

"For the state and the city to do nothing… is an abuse of the taxpayer, of the system, of the problem that subsidy was meant to address," said retired Brooklyn Family Court Judge Paul Grosvenor.

He now serves as a judicial hearing officer overseeing a special court to assist children in foster care who will never return to their parents. And he said he deals with "hundreds" of cases a year where adoptive parents keep the subsidy after letting their children go.

"In some instances, it’s a windfall," Grosvenor said. "The parents place this child (in foster care). They have no intent of ever being involved with the child again — they’re essentially walking away — but they’re still receiving this monthly subsidy."

Using a combination of city, state and federal funds, the city Administration for Children’s Services sent $294 million in checks last fiscal year to help cover parenting costs for 22,686 children, according to records obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request.

The agency told The News it does not know how many parents are receiving subsidies for children no longer in their care.

Remarkably, one thing these abandoned kids can do is sue their adoptive “parent” for child support. Of course, being children, few of them know they have that right and fewer still know how to exercise it, but it’s still an option.

While other cities in the state, including Albany, will sue reneging parents to force them to turn over the child support, New York City tells children that they must navigate the complicated process on their own.

“[Administration for Children’s Services] should be going after every adoptive parent for child support," court referee Tamara Schwartz told city lawyers at a hearing last December for an adopted child whose mother had returned her to foster care. "They go after parents (who receive) public assistance. They should be doing that for foster care."

In what can only be called the usual bureaucratic buck-passing, the State of New York says it’s the city’s obligation to stop payment of subsidies to parents who don’t support their kids, and the city says it’s the state’s problem. Into the bargain,

The amount of money the parents spend on the kids is up to them. A spokesman for ACS said federal rules prevent the city from setting a minimum of support that parents are obligated to provide.

That means a parent could spend just $1 a month on an adopted child and still collect the subsidy, according to Dawn Post, an attorney with the Children’s Law Center, who has written extensively about what she terms "broken adoptions."

Sometimes kids who are kicked out of their adoptive home go to live with a relative, neighbor or friend. That’s the case Christian Robles is involved in. He’s 26 and has taken over the care of three teenage siblings who ran away from their adoptive mother’s home. Their adoptive mother, Sharlott Sutton still receives the $2,300 monthly subsidy for them.

Christian Robles, 26, works nights as a security supervisor. During the day, Robles takes care of his three teenage siblings — ages 15, 16 and 17 — who share a three-bedroom apartment with him and two other relatives in the South Bronx. Money and space are tight.

The children have only been living with him since late December. That’s when they ran away from their adoptive mother, Sharlott Sutton, who is also their cousin.

"It was Christmastime and I have a girlfriend, so I was already a little behind financially when they got here," Robles said. "But they needed food, MetroCards, beds, clothes, school supplies, a phone."

Sutton, who lives in Staten Island, didn’t offer to help out, even though she receives a total monthly subsidy check of $2,300 for the three children, Robles said.

Robles, his three siblings, and Sutton met with a social worker in early January to discuss where the children should live. During the meeting, Sutton agreed to let the children live with Robles, who filed for legal guardianship — but ACS wouldn’t transfer the subsidy over to him. "The adoption subsidy cannot be transferred to a guardian/custodian as long as the adoptive parents are living," an ACS employee wrote to his attorney.

In April, a judge allowed Robles to become the children’s guardian. "This is another sad case of an adoption not working out," Michael Katz, the judge, told Robles at a court hearing. "But it seems to me you’re trying to provide a good home."

Robles sued Sutton for child support and a judge recently awarded him $2,000 per month.

Adoption in this country is big business. That’s why governments insist on expanding opportunities to adopt children, even those who don’t need it. As I’ve pointed out before, putative father registries are aimed primarily at removing single fathers from the adoption loop by terminating their right to contest the adoption of their kids. Many of those men would make good, loving, responsible dads, but PFRs make sure they never get the chance. Their children don’t need to be adopted, but states and mothers bent on placing their children for adoption do their best to have them adopted anyway. Fathers can interfere with the money to be made by adoption agencies and lawyers and therefore find themselves removed from the process.

And of course the federal government encourages children to be placed into foster care so that they can be adopted out of it. Washington pays hefty fees to states for every child adopted out of foster care. That enticement naturally increases the flow of children into foster care. North Dakota for example tags every single Native American child in the state as a “special needs” child because the federal payment for those children adopted out of foster care is over twice what it is for a non-special needs child. Former North Dakota officials have admitted that the federal money dramatically increased the number of children taken into foster care by the state.

Moreover, that money encourages states to keep fathers out of the loop in other ways. When a child is taken from a single mother for abuse or neglect, the sensible thing for the state’s child protective agency to do would be to contact the father as a possible placement. After all, father care is virtually free while foster care is anything but. But, as the Urban Institute has demonstrated, in over 50% of the cases in which the father is known to the agency, no attempt to contact him is made. Again, fathers pose a problem to the cash flow.

The situation in New York City screams for a solution. One obvious one is for the city to keep track of who’s caring for the children for whom it’s paying. If a parent isn’t caring for the child, the subsidy should be stopped. Another would be to start jailing parents who are defrauding the state of subsidy money. There’s little doubt that’s what they’re doing, so a few of those parents behind bars would likely put a stop to the practice. The adults of New York know there’s free money to be had and the only impediment to getting it is the individual’s conscience, a notoriously frail reed. But the prospect of prison would put the price tag higher than most people would want to pay.

Those are sensible solutions, and, as we know, when it comes to the adoption industry, what’s sensible is often not the point. The point is to keep the cash flowing, which is what’s happening in the Big Apple.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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