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Listening to Parents has two cornerstone documents that outline both the challenges for prospective adoptive parents and our blueprint to overcome these barriers to permanent loving homes for foster care youth.

You can download the documents here:


Blueprint for Reform- Eliminating Barriers to the Adoption of Children in Foster Care

In March of 2011, Listening to Parents convened an Executive Session of eighteen national experts in adoption and family policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Together, we designed a blueprint for reform. We are now working with members of Congress, the Administration, and others to turn this blueprint for reform into federal legislation to reduce adoption barriers and increase the number of children adopted from foster care.

Recommendations include:

  1. Reward both sending and receiving states for creating interstate adoptions. In the current system, the state that sends the child to be adopted in another state enjoys a financial gain while the state that receives the child experiences a financial loss. Congress should change incentives so that both states are rewarded when a child is adopted across state lines.
  2.  Establish national standards for home studies and for descriptions of waiting children. Nationwide use of a standard home study, such as the Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE), will raise the average quality of home studies. A nationwide standard is also essential for increasing interstate adoptions, since mistrust of data from other jurisdictions is a barrier to adoption. Similarly, national standards for describing and disclosing each waiting child’s experiences and needs are critical, both for the process of matching children and parents and for preparing parents to meet the child’s needs. Congress should instruct the Department of Health and Human Services to establish these standards.
  3. Eliminate long-term foster care as a goal. Children with a goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) exit foster care into “living situations” but have no family. “No family” should never be the plan for a child. Congress should create incentives for states to replicate existing effective initiatives for reducing use of APPLA.
  4. Emphasize funding for post-adoption services. No money is dedicated to post-adoption services while significant funds are set aside for other programs, such as independent living for youth with a goal of APPLA. Children who have been adopted from foster care outnumber those in independent living programs by 10 to 1.  Funding for post-adoption services should be increased so that it is at least equal to that dedicated to supporting independent living. As use of APPLA is reduced and independent living services are less urgently needed, Congress should reallocate the funds currently used for independent living to post-adoption services.
  5. Encourage development of a robust, comprehensive practice model of adoptions from foster care.  Congress should support the development and use of a model that enhances the primary emphasis on safety with a more nuanced strategy for permanence. An effective model will feature child-specific recruitment, clearly defined roles and responsibilities for workers and supervisors, and youth involvement in collaborative permanency planning.  Such a model will facilitate training of frontline social workers and supervisors and will make it possible to develop measures of accountability for outcomes.



The Listening to Parents project began in response to a contradiction. While tens of thousands of children wait in foster care to be adopted- many “aging out” of foster care without a family, countless parents are turned away or turned off by the process of adopting a child from foster care.

To better understand this problem, and develop ways to improve adoption services, researchers at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Urban Institute, conducted a national study to understand the adoption process from the perspective of people wanting to adopt a child from foster care. The report was released in conjunction with the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The report, titled Listening to Parents is the most comprehensive study of its kind, using data analysis, case record reviews, surveys of child welfare agencies, interviews, and focus groups to document and understand the large attrition of prospective parents as they go from their initial information call to the adoption of a child. According to the research, in a given year 240,000 people called for information about adopting a child from foster care, but fewer than 10,000 actually did so.

Listening to Parents documented the many obstacles parents face in dealing with child welfare agencies. These include poor customer service, difficulty in reaching the right staff, disproportionate agency focus on screening out prospective parents, and bureaucratic delays.

In perhaps its most startling finding, the most important factors in determining whether prospective parents will be successful in their quest are not qualities of the parents (race, education, marital status, the type of child they seek to adopt). The critical factor is the location where they seek to adopt.

In some locations, the primary emphasis is on recruiting good candidates, with screening taking place later in the process. In other locations, the screening process begins immediately with questions designed to weed out those who cannot or should not adopt.

In the adoption system we studied that most emphasized recruitment, an individual prospective parent was 12 times more likely to actually adopt than in the system we found that was most focused on screening.

If you would like a copy of the report, click here.