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Streamlining Adoption: Uniformity Proposal Raises 10th Amendment Concerns

A House resolution aimed at speeding up and streamlining the adoption process through a federally reformed Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is stuck in committee, awaiting leadership’s approval to move to the floor for debate and vote.

States already participate in an ICPC agreement that guides interstate adoptions, but years of tinkering has led to a watering down of the compact. As the American Public Human Service Association notes, the state-to-state adoption and child placement process is rife with delays, in part because of the many differences in jurisdictional standards.

The APHSA, in a policy brief about the ICPC process, wrote: “The 21st century has shown the ICPC to be one of the most antagonizing, antiquated, and burdensome administrative processes required as part of the child-placement continuum. With the complications of intermingling the ICPC and its requirements with individual state adoption laws and the overarching child welfare legislation at both the federal and state levels, ICPC administrators are forced to compensate for an obsolete administrative process that is federally regulated but not federally funded.”

Enter H. Res. 880, introduced by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat serving Michigan.

The resolution states, in part, that “Whereas families seeking to adopt are expected to undergo a home study, which serves to ensure their suitability [and] whereas the adoption application and content of a home study varies from state-to-state,” it seeks the “enactment by all states of the [ICPC] to ensure more children in the United States are placed in safe, loving and permanent homes.”

Lawrence’s office did not respond to several requests for comment. Her measure is still at the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law level, where it has been for weeks and could very well die, given the level of opposition to federal intervention into family legal matters.

Megan Lestino, vice president of public policy and education at the National Council for Adoption, said that moves to make uniform adoption procedures have often been resisted because of 10th Amendment considerations, referring to the section of the U.S. Constitution that stipulates that states maintain those powers and authorities that aren’t specifically delegated to the federal government.

“In the United States, there are concerns with states keeping their own rights,” Lestino said. “Domestic laws, family laws have traditionally been guided by states’ laws. That’s what the majority of the conversation about uniform laws on adoption has been about.”

At the same time, a streamlined ICPC process could prove beneficial to foster children and the families who seek to adopt them, she said. “There have been times where families in one state haven’t been able to adopt kids from another.”

Even in cases where children are approved for adoption into families from out of state, the wait time can stretch two years, a frustrating reality that serves as a road block to many who might otherwise adopt. Lawrence’s resolution, for example, speaks to the statistic that “four in 10 people in the United States have considered adoption, but are concerned about the complexity and length of time adopting children from foster care.”

This sentiment is echoed by others.

“Wait times is a challenge,” said Mike Stone, director of public relations at America World Adoption, an organization that primarily facilitates adoptions between American parents who want children from other countries but also helps with in-state placements in Virginia. “Streamlining the process would certainly be a big help for the children, and certainly, the parents.”

But Ryan Hanlon, executive director of the same organization, said caution is warranted when dealing with matters of uniformity because it could distract policymakers from realizing the core mission—facilitating adoptions. He said he’s already seeing that social services are failing to give parents the “really good counsel” they need to smooth their adoption processes and that families are sometimes left confused and stressed by the lack of communication and education.

“And that’s a tragedy,” he said. “So at the end of the day, I don’t think uniformity should be our top goal,” Hanlon said. “Good policy should really be our goal.”

 

 

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