The children and families of Missouri won a great victory on May 1, 2006. The attached editorial gives new insite into the case and the Missouri Attorney General’s opposition to the original law.The article below appeared in the Editorial Section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was forwarded to HFPA by the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
No state law prevents legislators from acting dumb, but they’re not supposed to violate the constitution. Missouri’s governor and Legislature did both last year when they tried to cut off subsidies to families who adopt hard-to-place foster children. Seeing that clearly, U.S. District Judge Scott Wright ruled this week in Kansas City that the state must keep the checks coming.
Lawmakers’ callous and short-sighted actions should have been plain to anyone who can add two and two. It costs the state about 20 percent more to keep a child in foster care than it does to subsidize his care once he’s adopted, according to evidence submitted in the case.
And that’s not counting the time spent by state social workers and juvenile judges supervising foster children. From a developmental standpoint, it’s also far better for children to live secure in the love of adoptive parents than to live in the limbo of foster care. Foster children bounced from one home to another can suffer emotional and physical abuse that leads to life-long psychological suffering and behavioral problems. Those, in turn, can lead to crime and drug abuse.
One would think, then, that the state would do everything it could to encourage adoption — like easing the financial burden of raising an adopted child. Not Missouri. Faced with a budget crunch, and allergic to new taxes, Gov. Matt Blunt and the Legislature decided last year to stop subsidies to adoptive families with incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $50,000 for a family of four. Any such family knows that there’s little money left by the time payday rolls around. It’s not an easy decision to add another child. Love won’t buy food and clothing or dolls and soccer balls.
While the state might save a little money in the short run, it will lose money over the long run as more children live out their childhoods in foster care at a higher cost to the state.
Judge Wright saw that. “The means test will not save taxpayer money, but will increase the overall cost of child welfare in the state of Missouri,” he said.
The Missouri statute also violates federal laws on adoption aid, the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and contracts between the state and adoptive parents, Judge Wright said.
Attorney General Jay Nixon is charged with defending the laws of Missouri, whether he likes them or not. He didn’t much like the adoption cut-off. “This is short-sighted financially and an insensitive policy,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Nixon did his duty and defended the statute in court. With the judge’s ruling in hand, Mr. Nixon plans to begin negotiations with the St. Louis University Legal Clinic and families willing to challenge the loss of adoption subsidies. From a legal and a humanitarian standpoint, this law should be negotiated right into the trash can.