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Timothy P. O'MalleyNovember 07, 2017

My wife and I were disappointed to hear about the proposed elimination of the adoption tax credit in the Republican Party’s tax reform plan. Like many couples who have adopted, we depended on the tax credit—of up to $13,570 per child, with the cap adjusted annually for inflation—to receive some of the money back that we spent on the adoption process. (Editor’s update: The elimination of the adoption tax credit was later dropped from the tax reform plan.)

Such money includes fees to adoption agencies, payments for lawyers, direct assistance to the birth mom and travel costs. Without the tax credit, it would have taken years to save enough money to adopt our son (the process cost around $16,000, which is relatively inexpensive for the use of an adoption agency), and we would never have been able to adopt our daughter four years later (this process, conducted through private parties, cost around $10,000).

Republicans, Democrats and independents alike should support the adoption tax credit for the flourishing of the common good.

One should not support the adoption tax credit merely to help families who adopt. Republicans, Democrats and independents alike should support it for the flourishing of the common good. Here are three ways the credit meets that criterion.

It helps eliminate the stigma of adoption. The families of birth mothers often insist that abortion would be better than sending a newborn to live with strangers. Among some 135,000 adoptions per year, 59 percent are through the child welfare system (essentially state-imposed adoptions), 26 percent involve children from other countries, and only 15 percent involve birth mothers voluntarily choosing an adopting couple to parent their child. There are over 600,000 abortions per year, and the adoption stigma is responsible for at least some of these.

The adoption tax credit thereby serves a pedagogical purpose. It eliminates the stigma of adoption and the notion that it means taking away a child in the middle of the night. Instead, adoption is promoted by the state as a privileged way of securing the flourishing of child, birth mother and adopting families. The state gives tax credits for marriage and children because it sees the benefit of both for the common good. Likewise, adoption enables birth moms to remain involved in the life of their child, even as the child is raised in an environment that will allow for his or her flourishing.

Adoption is not, of course, the ideal. In an unfallen world, it would be better for the biological parents to raise their child. But adoption is a reasonable way to make the best of a broken situation.

It operates on the principle of subsidiarity. Adoptions are expensive because each adoption, especially through an agency, involves a number of services offered to the birth mom, the child and the adopting couple. For example, Lutheran Social Services, the agency that facilitated our first adoption, provides lifelong counseling to the birth mom. It requires an evaluation process of the adopting couple, which examined every dimension of our married lives. It also serves as a mediator between our son and his birth mom, ensuring a connection that might be difficult for us adoptive parents to maintain.

The state should not participate, for the most part, in these actions. If you have ever been to your Department of Motor Vehicles, you are aware of the complicated system of red tape that makes it difficult for government agencies to act with haste on even reasonable requests. Although the state often tries its best in foster care situations, it can be stretched too thin to provide the one-on-one assistance that such cases require.

The government is stretched too thin to provide the one-on-one assistance that adoption cases require.

The adoption tax credit relocates such care to the local level. Adoption agencies and their often heroic social workers are responsible for the process, with some of the funding from the adopting families themselves. The state saves significant money when fewer children enter the foster care system—which now costs $9 billion per year even with the adoption tax credit available. The tax credit, at worst, costs the state $1.2 billion in lost revenue. Eliminating the credit in the name of fiscal conservatism would be a strange thing indeed.

It prevents adoption from becoming a matter of selling a child to the highest bidder. Some might argue that the tax credit increases costs of an adoption: Because adoption agencies and lawyers know that a couple will receive up to $13,000 back, they set their fees accordingly. Having been through two adoptions, I can say this is just not true. The fees that we paid helped protect the adoption from devolving into the purchase of a child. Lawyers want to ensure that the adoption is conducted legally, and social workers protect the well-being of the adopting couple and birth mom alike.

The elimination of the adoption tax credit will not lower costs. It will mean the loss of adoption agencies that can no longer pay social workers or lawyers. Adoption will then move entirely to the private realm. Here, couples may pay up to $75,000 to adopt a child. Yes, there will be checks and balances, but adoption will become a wealthy parents’ game.

It will also likely mean that many of the most-at-risk children, those with physical and developmental needs, will not be adopted. Adoption agencies tend to be religious, and thus also inclined toward parents who are willing to adopt in at-risk situations out of religious convictions.

The elimination of the adoption tax credit is bad policy: bad for the common good and bad for a political party that purports being pro-life. It would behoove the G.O.P. to reconsider its stance, not merely so that couples like us can adopt, but so that something like the common good can flourish in the United States.

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Jessica Pegis
6 years 8 months ago

The adoption tax credit is a tangible benefit to adoptive parents but I'm not sure it's helpful to burden this perq with lofty goals like addressing adoption stigma. Seems to me, as the mother of a 20-year-old adoptee, that adoption has become quite socially acceptable—even socially admirable—and that adoptive parents are the primary beneficiaries of this adulation. Adoption stigma, if such a thing exists, is more likely to be felt by adopted children who didn't ask to be severed from their history or adopted in the first place and, at minimum, are faced with the perplexity of their relinquishment as well as challenges of growing up in a new family. (Once your child comes home with the umpteenth family history/ancestry project that he or she dreads, this may become more clear.)

Also, I doubt that reducing adoption "stigma" will result in more women choosing it. Something we have to face as a society is that former generations of women who relinquished did so because of strict social, religious, and familial control and many suffered terribly as a result. Those numbers were inflated because of a type of social and moral coercion that is unlikely to be replicated. The small numbers of women choosing adoption today are a clear indicator that it is rarely a first choice. All things being equal, only a tiny percentage of women actually want to give up a child, and this is true whether abortion is available or not or whether a tax credit is available or not. In fact, many in the adoption community regard the adoption tax credit as grease for too easy adoption.

Adoption of children whose parents have had their rights terminated remains a worthy goal. Unfortunately, those kids still get short shrift. Single mothers should also get more support from churches generally instead of the usual sermonizing about its drawbacks (which are heavily entangled with education and income).

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