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Adoption and Foster Care

Summary of Selected Complaint Investigations and Resolution Agreements

Washington Department of Social and Health Services

OCR and the Administration for Children and Families at HHS have entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) that helps ensure that children in Washington State in need of welfare and protective services will not be segregated based on race, color, or national origin.  DSHS entered into the agreement following an OCR compliance review conducted under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1808(c) of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996.  The compliance review focused on the Office of African American Children’s Services (OAACS), located in Seattle, Washington.  Following its review, OCR notified DSHS of concerns that race was the sole factor for determining whether children in DSHS Region 4, which encompasses King County, Washington, were referred for services at OAACS. As a result, DSHS voluntarily reorganized OAACS, renamed it the Martin Luther King, Jr. Office, and agreed to additional measures to ensure nondiscrimination against children in need of these services. Read the Voluntary Resolution Agreement | Read the HHS Press Release(Spanish - PDF)

South Carolina Department of Social Services

OCR, the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) entered into a comprehensive compliance agreement that ensures that DSS will not delay or deny the placement of children into foster or adoptive homes, or deny parents the opportunity to foster or adopt children, due to race, color or national origin. This compliance agreement follows OCR’s issuance of a violation Letter of Findings in October of 2005 and ACF’s issuance of a Penalty Letter which adopted OCR’s violation findings and found that South Carolina had violated its title IV-E State plan requirements in February of 2006.

The agreement resolves a review conducted by OCR to determine whether DSS was in compliance with Title VI and Section 1808(c). In its violation Letter of Findings, OCR found six systemic violations and numerous individual violations where the state agency denied parents the opportunity to adopt a child based not on whether the parents could best meet the needs of the child but on whether the parents shared the same race, color or national origin as the child.

An instance involving an African-American couple illustrates the harm that can result from this kind of discrimination. The couple had fostered almost two dozen children and had adopted two young African-American girls through DSS. DSS had consistently given the couple outstanding reviews based on their participation in the foster and adoptive care programs. Then the couple attempted to adopt a Hispanic child whom they were fostering, but they were denied the opportunity even to be considered. Instead, the child was placed with a Hispanic family after a search in which numerous other non-Latino families also were denied consideration, based on the desire to match the child only with parents of "Hispanic/Latin background." When it was learned that the couple might appeal the placement decision, some DSS staff tried to discourage the couple from appealing and to remove the child from their care before they would have the right to appeal. The couple appealed nonetheless.

On appeal, the placement decision was overturned and DSS was directed to give the couple "first consideration" as the child’s adoptive parent. However, DSS then delayed processing the adoption.

OCR found that in this situation and other similar situations, DSS adoption staff made many assumptions about race and the needs of children based on race. DSS assumed that children would have specific needs based on their race or national origin, and they similarly assumed that parents of the same race or national origin would be better equipped to address those needs. However, these conclusions were not based on actual need or abilities but just presumptions based on the race or national origin of the children and parents involved. Similarly, DSS staff assumed that parents would feel uncomfortable adopting a child if the child’s skin color did not closely match the parents. However, these conclusions also were not based on actual conversations with parents, but solely on presumptions about the color of their skin. In focusing on race, color and national origin, the adoption staff lost sight of the goal, which is supported by federal law -- to find parents best able to meet the needs of a child and provide a loving home. Moreover, delays and denials of placements in order to find same race, color or national origin placements, ultimately delay placement of needy children and force them to stay in foster care longer than they would otherwise.

The compliance agreement includes provisions that will address these and other problems. Under the agreement, DSS commits to take the following actions:

    • Notify program applicants and participants of their rights under Title VI and Section 1808 in a variety of forms and at various application and participation stages of DSS programs;
    • Send a notice to all persons who attempted to adopt a child during the period that DSS was found to be in violation;
    • Send a notice to all persons whose individual rights were found to have been violated, notifying them of the substance of OCR’s findings and of their rights under Title VI and Section 1808;
    • Provide Title VI and Section 1808 training to all adoption and foster care staff;
    • Revise all policies and procedures, forms and brochures to ensure they comply with Title VI and Section 1808 and that they do not deter people from trying to adopt or foster children of a different race, color or national origin;
    • Adopt policies and procedures that allow staff to consider the race, color or national origin of parents only if this addresses a need of a child documented by a licensed professional; and
    • Revise all family assessments in which families who were willing to adopt a child of another race or national origin were subjected to additional scrutiny.
OCR Closure Letter
Resolution Agreement Between OCR & South Carolina Department of Social Services
ACF Penalty Letter

Alabama Department of Human Resources

OCR conducted a Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). OCR concluded that placement practices in certain Alabama counties and written policies in one county violated Section 1808 and Title VI. After OCR issued a Letter of Finding regarding its investigation and findings, OCR and DHR entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement addressing a variety of foster care practices and policies. DHR agreed in the Voluntary Compliance Agreement to take numerous actions, including: (1) taking steps to ensure social worker awareness of DHR policies, procedures and other guidance concerning foster care; (2) developing and promulgating policies to explicitly inform staff that placement determinations may not be based on race, and that race may be considered only in rare and limited circumstances; (3) developing and implementing procedures for DHR to monitor and document the extent to which social workers conform to DHR policies; (4) requiring all county offices to rescind and/or discontinue any policies or practices that are based on the presumption that same-race foster placements are in children's best interest; (5) requiring all county offices to discontinue any race-based policies or practices applied exclusively to transracial placements; and (6) ensuring the provision of ongoing training and other information to social workers regarding the obligation to make foster care placements in compliance with Section 1808 and Title VI.
OCR Letter of Finding
Voluntary Compliance Agreement Between OCR & Alabama Department of Human Resources

Arizona Department of Economic Security Administration of Children, Youth and Families

OCR initiated a compliance review to evaluate whether the Arizona Department of Economic Security Administration of Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) had policies, procedures, and practices that delay or deny an individual the opportunity to become a foster care or adoptive parent based on the race, color, or national origin of the child or the prospective parent involved. As a result of communication between OCR and ACYF while the compliance review was in process, ACYF ceased certain policies and practices which, without any individual determination of children’s needs, treated families interested in adopting transracially differently from parents interested in same-race placements. For example, ACYF stopped the practice of asking prospective adoptive and foster families interested in parenting transracially to discuss “ethnic differences,” including an explanation of the applicant families’ interest in parenting a child of a different race or ethnicity. ACYF also eliminated guidelines that encouraged caseworkers to routinely assess prospective adoptive or foster parents’ ability to deal with discrimination when the child was of a different nationality than the applicant. In revised guidance to caseworkers, ACYF communicated clearly that while routine consideration of these factors in transracial adoption cases is inappropriate, caseworkers can consider a specific family’s flexibility to address discrimination issues when a child's individual assessment reveals a need for such matters to be taken into account. ACYF also clarified its guidance to caseworkers regarding the consideration of race in placement decisions. All revised policies and procedures were communicated to ACYF staff and contract providers through training sessions and written notices. OCR found no evidence of racial discrimination in other aspects of ACYF’s system, including in foster home licensing and placement, certain aspects of adoptive placements, and training provided to prospective foster and adoptive parents and staff. Based on the information obtained in the review and ACYF’s revised practices, OCR determined that ACYF was in compliance with the requirements of Title VI and Section 1808, and closed the compliance review.  OCR Closure Letter

California, Alameda County Social Services Agency, Children and Family Services

Following an OCR Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review of the Alameda County Social Services Agency, Child and Family Services (CFS), OCR and CFS entered into a Resolution Agreement addressing a variety of adoption and foster care policies and practices. CFS agreed through the Resolution Agreement to take numerous actions, including: (1) developing a written policy for Section 1808 compliance; (2) reviewing written instructions, policies and other documents regarding adoption and foster care placement decisions for compliance with Section 1808 and revising or purging language prohibited by Section 1808; (3) implementing a system for ongoing and regular training for social workers regarding Section 1808 requirements; (4) establishing a procedure to provide ongoing and regular training for foster and adoptive applicants and care givers regarding their legal rights pursuant to Section 1808; and (5) tracking, by race and ethnicity, certain information about the number of children awaiting adoptive placement.
OCR Letter of Finding
Resolution Agreement Between OCR & County of Alameda Social Services Agency, Children & Family Services

California, Fresno County Children and Family Services, Fresno County Human Services System

Complainant, who is African-American, alleged that the Fresno County Children and Family Services Division (CFS) discriminated against her on the basis of her race when it removed her foster child, placed the child with a Hispanic family and denied the complainant's application for foster care license. During the course of OCR's investigation of the complaint, CFS agreed to voluntarily resolve the complaint, resulting in OCR's entering into a Resolution Agreement with CFS. CFS agreed to undertake numerous actions, including: (1) implementing a comprehensive recruitment plan to recruit a diverse population of prospective foster and adoptive parents; (2) adding a segment on the requirements of MEPA and Section1808 to the agency's orientation curriculum for foster care adoption applicants; (3) reviewing all foster care and adoption placement procedures, forms and other documents, and revising these documents to ensure compliance with MEPA and Section 1808; (4) disseminating to all foster care and adoption staff a comprehensive written policy for MEPA and Section 1808; (5) displaying non-discrimination notices at all points of public contact and including this information in all foster care adoption application forms; and (6) reporting certain data to OCR on a semi-annual basis for two years.
OCR Letter of Finding
Resolution Agreement Between OCR & County of Fresno Human Services System, Children and Family Services Division

California, San Diego Children Services Bureau, Health and Human Services Agency

OCR conducted a Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review of the San Diego Children Services Bureau. While the review was in progress, the Bureau made revisions to its placement policies and procedures and instituted additional practices. OCR concluded that the Bureau had taken a number of actions, including: (1) establishing foster care placement guidelines that were not based on race; (2) engaging in widely publicized recruitment events within all racial and ethnic communities; (3) restructuring an adoption unit that appeared to provide services only for African-American children and prospective adoptive parents; (4) eliminating a statement from its website indicating that one of its adoption units served primarily Hispanic children and prospective adoptive parents; (5) utilizing race-neutral tools to assess prospective adoptive parents; and (6) providing staff with Section 1808 training opportunities. Some of the Bureau's actions, including the reorganization of an adoption unit, the web page revision and the provision of additional staff training, were taken after OCR expressed concerns regarding these issues. Based on the information obtained during the review and the Bureau's revised practices, OCR found the Children Service Bureau in compliance with Title VI and Section 1808.  OCR Closure Letter

Florida Department of Children and Families

OCR conducted a Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review that focused primarily on adoption and foster care policies and practices in Tallahassee and Orlando, Florida. OCR concluded that certain state regulations and policies, as well as placement practices in one county, were inconsistent with Section 1808 and Title VI. After OCR issued a Letter of Finding regarding its investigation and findings, the Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCF) agreed to take a variety of actions. FDCF revised state foster care regulations and written policies that OCR found imposed additional requirements in transracial placements and thus were inconsistent with Section 1808 and Title VI. FDCF agreed to revise its placement criteria to make clear that placement determinations may not be based on race except in very limited circumstances, and that any consideration of race must be narrowly tailored to achieve the best interests of the specific child involved. FDCF also agreed to ensure that its staff receive initial and ongoing training and information on policies and practices prohibited by Title VI and Section 1808, and agreed to develop and incorporate information about the FDCF’s obligation to comply with Title VI and Section 1808 into foster and adoptive parent applications, training and outreach activities.  OCR Closure Letter

Florida Department of Children and Families

Complainants, who are Caucasian, alleged that a district office of the Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCF) denied them the opportunity to adopt an African-American child. Complainants alleged that FDCF discriminated against them through an agency with whom FDCF contracted to provide certain adoption services. While the complaint investigation was in process, FDCF and OCR entered into a Predetermination Settlement Agreement. The Predetermination Settlement Agreement noted that FDCF had been involved in refining its statewide foster parent and adoption procedures.

The Predetermination Settlement Agreement provided that FDCF will take a variety of actions with respect to its adoption and foster care policies and procedures, some of which include: (1) developing and implementing procedures and measures to notify prospective adoptive parents of information and records that are either available or not available to them; (2) documenting ongoing efforts to disseminate information about Section 1808, MEPA and Title VI to staff, prospective adoptive and foster parents and other stakeholders; (3) revising agency policies to include explicit reference to the conduct of placements without regard to race, color or national origin; (4) developing policies regarding staff training on Section 1808, MEPA and Title VI including how to address and respond to concerns families may have regarding transracial adoption; (5) developing policies regarding grievance procedures to address prospective families' Section 1808, MEPA and Title VI concerns; (6) modifying administrative rules to include specific instructions for staff in situations when foster parents are interested in adopting foster children; (7) revising the curriculum for mandatory training for prospective foster and adoptive parents to incorporate the agency's obligation to make all placement determinations in compliance with title VI/MEPA/ section 1808; and (8) modifying administrative rules to specify the policies and procedures regarding the use of reports prepared for FDCF by independent experts and outside consultants. FDCF also agreed to take certain steps to investigate and respond to issues raised with respect to the complainants' concerns and allegations. OCR Closure Letter & Predetermination Settlement Agreement

Minnesota, Hennepin County Children and Family Services Department

OCR conducted this Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review to monitor the foster care and adoption practices of a county child welfare agency. Previously, OCR investigated three complaints that were resolved through Resolution Agreements with Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota. OCR initiated this review to determine the county's current practices regarding the use of race in foster care and adoptive placements. OCR determined that Hennepin County had established several systems designed to facilitate placements that are not based on race. The county prohibited the use of race or any proxy for race as a determinant in placement decisions, and informed staff that any violation of this prohibition would result in termination. The county provided social workers with ongoing training regarding changes in state statutes that had previously contained race-based placement preferences. Although the county utilized a state form that solicited information about children's racial and ethnic identity, the county made clear to staff that this information was solicited only for statistical purposes. In a review of foster care and adoption files, OCR did not see any evidence that foster care or adoptive placements were being made on the basis of race. Based on this information, OCR found the county in compliance with Title VI and Section 1808.  OCR Closure Letter

Nevada Department of Human Services, Division of Child and Family Services

OCR conducted a Title VI/Section 1808 compliance review of the Nevada Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and determined that some of DCFS's policies and practices were inconsistent with Section 1808 and Title VI. After OCR issued a Letter of Finding regarding its investigation and findings, OCR and DCFS entered into a Resolution Agreement addressing a variety of DCFS adoption and foster care practices. DCFS agreed through the Resolution Agreement to take several actions, including: (1) revising certain sections of manuals used by DCFS social workers to ensure consistency with Section 1808; (2) providing ongoing training to social workers and supervisors on Section 1808; (3) reviewing the home study practices of DCFS and DCFS-contracted agencies to ensure that these practices do not discourage prospective foster or adoptive parents from fostering or adopting transracially because of race or ethnicity; (4) implementing a system to document the rationale for and scrutinize the validity of any placement decisions that consider race or ethnicity; (5) tracking, by race and ethnicity, information regarding the average time from termination of parental rights to foster or adoptive placement; and (6) tracking, by race and ethnicity, certain information about the number of children awaiting adoptive placement or awaiting foster placement from emergency or shelter care.
OCR Letter of Finding
Resolution Agreement Between OCR & Nevada Department of Human Resources, Division of Child & Family Services

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Hamilton County Job and Family Services 

OCR and the HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) entered into an agreement with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Hamilton County Job and Family Services to resolve civil rights violations identified by OCR and ACF regarding discrimination on the basis of race in adoption placements. OCR had determined that Ohio and Hamilton County violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as provisions of MEPA and Section 1808 of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, by making adoption determinations on the basis of race, rather than on the basis of the individual needs of children. ACF, through its authority as administrator of foster care and adoption assistance programs under the Social Security Act, determined that Ohio violated Section 1808, and assessed financial penalties against Ohio. Both OCR and ACF identified actions required of Ohio and Hamilton County in order to come into compliance with federal non-discrimination mandates. Neither Ohio nor Hamilton County admitted any violation of law.

As a result of the agreement with OCR and ACF, Ohio will take numerous actions designed to avoid discriminatory practices, including promulgating revised state administrative rules and policies, enhancing state monitoring and oversight of Ohio counties and private agencies who contract with counties to provide certain child welfare services, and providing state-wide training for child welfare staff regarding compliance with Section 1808, Title VI and other relevant federal and state laws, administrative rules, policies and practices. As a result of the agreement, Hamilton County will be subject to continued monitoring to ensure its compliance with Title VI, Section 1808 and the agreement. In addition to complying with state-wide regulations and policies required by the agreement, Hamilton County will revise certain of its child welfare policies and practices and conduct annual audits of adoption subsidies provided to adoptive families to help ensure these subsidies are not provided in a racially discriminatory manner. Several specific obligations in the agreement must be satisfied by January 21, 2005. Other obligations, including monitoring and periodic reporting requirements, continue for five years.
OCR Letter of Findings  (Note: The Letter of Findings uses pseudonyms to protect personal privacy)
Corrective Action and Resolution Plan

Washington Department of Social and Health Services

OCR initiated a Title VI and Section 1808 compliance review of the foster care and adoption programs of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). During the course of the compliance review, DSHS agreed to present OCR with a plan to ensure compliance with Section 1808 and to develop and present (with OCR's participation) training materials for all DSHS staff. OCR and DSHS agreed on a compliance plan addressing a variety of DSHS efforts to comply with Section 1808 and to provide ongoing staff training on Section 1808 requirements. DSHS issued a written statement to all staff affirming its obligations to comply with Section 1808 and making clear that it is unlawful to delay or deny foster or adoptive placements on the basis of race. DSHS also reviewed its case worker manuals for Section 1808 compliance, and revised these materials as necessary. The Secretary of DSHS participated with OCR staff and other knowledgeable persons in developing a videotape on Section 1808 to be used statewide. OCR provided training on Section 1808 to all state workers involved in the placement of children in foster care and adoption. DSHS also informed OCR that it would initiate a post-placement review of cases to determine compliance with administrative policy and procedures and state and federal requirements, including Section 1808.  OCR Closure Letter