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Column: Let’s not pretend an adoption tax credit fixes what’s wrong with foster care system
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I would like to welcome a third child into our home to continue our fostering journey.

This may be a bad idea given my rather demanding job and the two children we adopted who have their own demands.

The state, however, has some other demands getting in the way. The state demands this third child have a closet in his or her bedroom. 

Our home has three bedrooms, a master and one room for each of our children. In our basement, we have 1,776 square feet of recently finished space — in which no foster child can live.

You may wonder what’s wrong with that brand-new space that we spent thousands of dollars to finish that would make it unfit for a child in need of a loving home. 

It’s just that darned missing closet. 

So, why didn’t we put a closet in that beautiful new living area?

The county has its demands as well. 

The basement can be finished, but if a room has a closet, then it’s considered a bedroom. And if we add a bedroom, we have to install a new septic tank. No, thanks.

So, no bedrooms allowed in the basement and no foster child allowed in the not-bedrooms in the basement. 

I don’t fault the county for having septic tank regulations. Years ago I worked on a water quality series for this paper and learned what a hazard they can pose. 

Our home is a stone’s throw from Lake Lanier, too. So I get it — sort of. Except that at one point in our previous home, also a stone’s throw from Lake Lanier, I had five children sharing two bedrooms, and no one blinked an eye at what that might have done to the septic system.

Even now, our two boys could just share a room as we welcome a third child. Same impact to the septic system, unless I’m missing something.

Having been a foster parent since 2014, I’m no stranger to regulations — some sensible and some silly. We must have a fire ladder in the bedroom with the window that’s two stories up. The knife block and wine must be kept in a locked cabinet. Do my kids have any interest in the wine? No. They’d like to learn how to chop vegetables with the knives, but otherwise no interest there either. Of course, those regulations make sense in some circumstances. The goal of the regulations always seems to have at least something to do with keeping everyone safe, no matter how rare the supposed danger may be.

The requirement of a closet, though, I can’t quite figure out. They do need a space to keep their things. A dresser seems appropriate. Perhaps an armoire as well. 

In my parents’ home, they turned one of their not-bedrooms into a closet. Their not-bedrooms, though, are missing closets because the home was built in the 1800s, before the lack of having a closet full of clothes was deemed so unconscionable.

State leaders want to help children in foster care and the families who step up to take care of them. 

Sometimes they have some good ideas about how to do that. And sometimes they propose things that just sound like good ideas. 

If anyone’s proposing to change the rules about closets, I’m not aware of it. But one thing they do want to do this legislative session is raise the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000. It’s posed as a way to help families with the expenses of caring for children in foster care. Only, upon adoption, those children are no longer in foster care. There are, of course, ongoing expenses, many of which are in fact paid for in cases such as the adoption of sibling sets. 

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the foster parents I’ve heard from are not motivated by that tax credit. 

They’d much rather see reforms that help the children and their families before they ever get to the point of needing adoption.

Adoption from foster care can be brutal. And I don’t mean the processes and regulations of it. I mean the emotions of it. The loss the kids experience. The length of time it can take while everyone lives in limbo. 

The first goal of foster care is always to restore the family, to help the parents cope with their problems and then have their kids reunified with them. It’s not always possible, but when it is possible, it should be celebrated just as much or maybe even more than adoption.

There are many things that can stand in the way of the best interests of the children. Caseworker turnover can slow cases, sometimes significantly. Lack of resources such as local mental health services leave children and parents struggling. And yes, strict regulations for foster parents that serve little purpose don’t make things any easier.

An adoption tax credit doesn’t fix any of those problems. 

Maybe I can use that extra cash in my pocket to get a new septic tank. But what this foster parent really wants is for the Division of Family and Children Services to be able to adequately do its job, and slashing its funding while handing out adoption tax credits won’t achieve that goal.

Just one foster and adoptive mom’s opinion.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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