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March 01, 2016

The Impact of Fast-Track Adoption Policies on Adoption Rates

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Do fast-track adoption policies speed adoption rates? A recent study by the Center for State Child Welfare Data, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago finds they have little effect. The study is the first to examine if differences in state adoption policy explain differences in state adoption rates. 

Fast-track adoption policies are used to speed permanency for children in foster care who cannot return home safely. Federal statute defines seven fast-track criteria that allow states to forgo working toward family reunification and move immediately to terminate a parent’s rights. An eighth criteria relating to time permits states to petition to terminate parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of 22 months. States may also build on these fast-track criteria.

The Study

Using data from Chapin Hall’s Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, the researchers studied 214,286 children in 20 states who entered foster care between 2006 and 2007. Outcomes for these children were observed through December 31, 2011. 

The states’ adoption policies were classified on two dimensions: 

Strength of adoption policies—states with more fast-track exceptions, especially relating to parental fitness and safety, were deemed to have stronger adoption policies, while states with fewer fast-track criteria were deemed to have weaker adoption policies; 

Approach to TPR timeframes—states were divided into those that used the federal 15/22 month provision, or those that allowed a shorter (faster) timeline than the federal guideline.

Fifteen of the 20 states had 11 or more “fast-track” exceptions in their state adoption policies. Five states had 18-20 “fast-track” exceptions listed. Most states used the 15/22 month federal guideline, while six states adopted a shorter timeframe.


The adoption rate of all children in the study was about one in five (19%), with variations across states in the speed and likelihood of adoption. The researchers found the states with more fast-track exceptions did not have faster adoptions than states with fewer exceptions. Along the same lines, states with shorter timeframes than the federal 15/22 month guideline did not finalize adoptions faster than states with longer timeframes. 

The researchers said one reason for the findings relates to the role of terminating parental rights (TPR) in the adoption process. States must terminate parental rights before making a child available for adoption. They must also find adoptive homes for the children and take the necessary legal steps before completing to adoption process. Just speeding up the TPR process through “fast-track” exceptions and shorter timelines would not make the other preadoption activities more efficient, according to the researchers.

Claire Chiamulera, CLP Editor


Learn more: “Testing the Effect of Fast-Track Adoption Policy on Adoption Rates”