- Associated Press - Sunday, February 15, 2015

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Valley has one of the worst records for timely adoptions in the state, according to the state’s Department of Children’s Services.

In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, only 24 percent of the region’s adoptions were finalized within two years of the date the child entered state custody, The Chattanooga Times Free Press (https://bit.ly/1DdeIcn) reported.

That’s the second-lowest percentage in the state, and well below other regions, where the numbers more typically range between 36 percent and 55 percent. In the state’s top region, 65 percent of adoptions are finalized within two years. The average for all regions is 42 percent.

“Our little boy took three years to adopt,” said one foster mom, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid damaging her relationship with DCS. “It’s taking so long. You’ve got to look at the regional leadership, the court system and the judicial system. Why are we allowing this to happen?”

Federal laws urge states to move children in their custody quickly from foster care to a permanent home. A quick end to the limbo of state custody is critical for a child’s well-being, federal agencies say.

Experts say a number of factors affect adoption rates and it’s hard to connect the Tennessee Valley’s low numbers to any one aspect in particular.

Local foster parents say DCS case workers are overworked and that the agency places a heavy focus on reuniting children with their biological parents, often giving the parents extra chances to earn back their child’s custody - a process that can drag on for months.

But leaders at DCS say the process to terminate the biological parents’ rights and initiate adoption is inherently complicated and time-consuming, and that each case is unique so it’s difficult to draw a sweeping conclusion about a region’s efficiency based on one overall number.

“This is a very tough measure because the adoption process itself is very time-consuming,” said Bonnie Hommrich, deputy commissioner for child programs. “It’s a very hard measure to make within 24 months.”

Plus, the total number of adoptions that a region completes each year can sway where it ends up in the statewide rankings, she added. Regions that do fewer adoptions are more affected by a few stalled adoptions than regions that handle significantly more adoptions.

In the Tennessee Valley’s 11-county region, 81 adoptions were finalized in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. In North Cumberland - the region ranked the highest for quick adoptions - the number was 132.

Yet while the state’s Northwest region completed only 20 adoptions in the period, the area still ranked higher than the Tennessee Valley: It closed 39 percent of adoptions within two years, compared to the Valley’s 24 percent.


Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, https://www.timesfreepress.com

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