It’s hard to believe that a bipartisan bill was ever passed in the United States given the recent political climate.  Under the Clinton administration, efforts from both sides of the aisle set forth protections for adopted and foster children who were an otherwise invisible group with few lobbyists to advocate for their health and safety.  In 1997, Congress and the president signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) into law.  Here are some achievements and ongoing concerns about the parameters of the ASFA:

  1. ASFA was the first Act since 1980 that furthered national protections for adopted and foster care children in the United States.

  2. The Act changed the policy lens and household conversation about children with adequate households.  ASFA aimed to find children permanent homes by shortening the time period that a child could be returned to their biological parent after being put in foster care.  If a child was in foster care for 15 out of the past 22 months, parental rights of the biological parents could be terminated, with some exceptions.

  3. The Act addressed concerns about children with special needs and how the nation might incentivize prospective caretakers and parents to take these children under their wing.

  4. Increased public funding sources and support programs were brought about by ASFA.  The Act extended subsidies for adopting children and expanded healthcare coverage.  Each state was mandated to craft or revise appropriate laws in accordance with the stipulations of the Act.  This requirement incentivized states to increase their adoption rates.

  5. The frequency of “permanency” hearings was increased for children in the foster care system to at least once annually.

I feel it’s important to address some of the oversights or shortcomings of ASFA as well:

  1. Many adoptions and foster care cases are directly linked to the criminal justice system.  Despite how well you believe law enforcement is applied equitably across the nation, some people insist that the criminal justice system is biased against minority people and minority communities.  For example, greater rates of incarceration among black parents might mean greater rates of terminated parental rights.  Please read about one New Yorker’s story here and another here.

  2. Some states are compounding the shortened timeline of allowing children to remain in foster care before terminating parental rights (to 15 out of the most recent 22 months) with additional restrictions on parents with records of substance abuse.  While substance abuse is never appropriate in any household with children, new laws might consider the successful impact that rehabilitation programs could have on addicted parents.  For more information, please take a look here.

Financial assistance for adoptive parents is necessary but scarcely limited.  A system needs to be put in place to monitor adoptive families that receive subsidies to help pay for their children’s’ expenses.  Broken adoptions, where the adoptee is no longer being supported by their legal guardians, need to be caught and recorded.  It is criminal for adoptive parents to continue collected public adoption subsidies when they are no longer the caretakers for their adoptive children.  Please read more about this issue here.