How the state can help with foster care adoption

A study from the state auditor shows some families adopting kids from foster care need more help, despite generally good services.
Kai and Katrina Hanawalt.

Kai and Katrina Hanawalt. Credit: Allyce Andrew

The majority of parents of adopted children have been happy with how the state has been handling them. However, that satisfaction drops off significantly among adoptive parents of kids with disabilities.

Those conclusions come from a Washington State Auditor's Office report released Monday. The auditor's office routinely does performance audits on five to eight state programs a year, and this was one of those. The report recommends that the Washington Department of Social and Human Services have a fix-it plan for its shortcomings ready by Jan. 1, 2015.

In a Feb. 4 letter, DSHS Secretary Kevin Quigley agreed to tackle the report's recommendations.

Washington has roughly 9,000 adoptive families handling about 14,000 adopted children who had been in foster care. The auditor's office sent surveys to 1,686 of the 9,000 families and received 754 replies.

"Although research shows that most adoptive families typically do well, some families need more help," the auditor's report said. "Children adopted from foster care are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems than other children. They have higher rates of physical health problems and many are at risk of or have been diagnosed with a disability. Many of these children struggle in school." 

The report, which can be read by clicking here and going to "Featured Reports" at the bottom of the page, concluded that 71 percent of the responding families either did not need extra services or could easily obtain the additional services that they needed. However, a significant number of the remaining 29 percent had notable troubles in obtaining what they needed.

The biggest unmet needs were family counseling, followed by individual counseling. Among the 1-in-6 families whose adopted children have significant disabilitiess, 57 percent said they couldn't obtain all the services they needed.

"We agree that we can improve post-adoption services for Washington families," Quigley's Feb. 4 letter said. "The Children’s Administration has begun to review parent survey responses and other recommendations to help improve access to information and community resources for adoptive families and increase customer satisfaction."

In a statement about the study, State Auditor Troy Kelley said, "Foster children are among the most vulnerable of Washingtonians. It is important that the state supports families who give these children a permanent home through adoption."

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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