For many Colorado families, adoption can be the answer to a dream of growing their family, especially when natural birth isn’t an option. But when an adoptive child faces personal, health, or behavioral challenges, taking that child into your home can be difficult and expensive. There is money available to help. The new Colorado adoption assistance law makes sure that foster children and adoptive families across the state get the help they need to transition into their forever families.
In this blog post, I will discuss Senate Bill 19-178, which changes Colorado adoption assistance law, making it easier for families taking on at-risk children to receive adoption assistance. I will explain the law and how adopting parents can take advantage of it to receive support for their growing families.
Adoption Improves the Lives of Hundreds of Colorado Foster Children Every Year
When the courts determine a child can’t be safely returned to his or her parents because of drugs, abuse, or other reasons, it can leave the child without a permanent place to call home. Thousands of these children are placed into the foster care system, where all too often they spend years living without a family to call their own.
In 2017, about 58,000 children were adopted out of foster care systems across the country. 948 of those children were here in Colorado. These adoptions give foster children a chance to connect with parents and siblings who love them and who will be with them throughout the rest of their lives.
But adopting an at-risk child can be challenging, and expensive. The longer children remain in foster care, and the more severe the reason they were placed there, the more likely it is that these children will need medical, psychological, and financial support during and after the adoption process. That’s why the federal and state governments have each provided adoption assistance for families considering adopting at-risk children and siblings. This assistance includes monthly support payments, medicaid coverage for physical and mental healthcare, and reimbursement for one-time adoption expenses.
Colorado Adoption Assistance was Historically Inconsistent
However, Colorado parents considering adopting children have historically had a hard time figuring out if they and the children they sought to adopt were eligible for adoption assistance. Federal law leaves it to state adoption agencies to determine who qualifies for assistance, and how much they are entitled to receive. According to federal records, between 2000 and 2013, Colorado received no federal benefits at all on nine separate fiscal years.
Then in July 2016, the Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) received a complaint from two statewide adoption agencies. The complaint said that “there is no consistency in the manner in which adoption assistance negotiations occur or the rate of the subsidy offered, if any.” That meant that the help adoptive families received varied widely among the state’s 64 counties. Adoptive families were not being provided clear guidance on how to negotiate for federal and Colorado adoption assistance, and may not have been told they were entitled to benefits at all.
The CPO investigated these claims and issued a report on December 31, 2017. It found:
“Through 16 months of research, the CPO has found that disparate adoption subsidy rates represent one of the many symptoms of a long-neglected program.”
The report found inconsistent interpretations of federal law and gaps in the state law had created inconsistent policies across the state. It also found that budget-limited local adoption offices often prioritized getting children out of the foster care system, but then paid less attention to providing post-adoption services. This left families without the services they needed to help adopted children transition into their permanent homes.
New Law Provides Colorado Families Clear Path to Adoption Assistance for At-Risk Children
Following the CPO report, Colorado Representative Jonathan Singer and Senator Mike Foote, both Democrats from Boulder County, sponsored Senate Bill 19-178, amending the Colorado adoption assistance program. The bill was introduced on March 1, 2019, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 14, 2019.
The new law creates a statewide program and procedure to make sure eligible families receive Colorado adoption assistance. It removes means testing, so that the financial assistance is more directly related to the child’s need than the parents’ income (this mirrored changes to federal law that weeded out parental income as a factor in 2018). Now, a family may receive adoption assistance if the adoptive child has:
- A physical disability or chronic disease
- Mental, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, including speech, learning, or educational delays
- Emotional challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other diagnosed mental illnesses
- Hereditary health or mental health problems
- Educational special needs requiring a 504 plan or special education services
- Been exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb
- Older than age 7
- Siblings that should remain together
- Medical conditions that will require further treatment
- An ethnic or minority identity that makes him or her harder to place.
These changes promise to provide more consistent and accessible access to the financial and Medicaid benefits available to adopting families. The law also requires state and county adoption departments to identify any services the child may need in the future, and provide families with information about the benefits they may be entitled to in providing those services.
“‘Senate Bill 19-178 was a complete overhaul of Colorado’s adoption assistance statute,’” said Stephanie Villafuerte, the state’s child protection ombudsman, in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “‘In short, this bill ensures there is equitable access to the adoption assistance program and qualifying children – no matter their zip code – get consistent consideration for subsidies and services.’”
Deciding to bring an at-risk child into your home is a big decision. And it often comes with financial and emotional consequences. But by working with your local adoption department and an experienced adoption attorney, you can be sure that you and your family receive the Colorado adoption assistance you need to help your new child make a smooth transition into their permanent place in your family.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our family law lawyers know how to make the most of the Colorado adoption assistance program. We are here to serve you and your family during the adoption process, to make sure everything is done properly and get you access to the support you need. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.