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Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

In November of 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 became a law. (P.L.105-89. The law was created to improve conditions for children and to promote permanent adoption AFSA was a supplement to the 1988 law that was designed to deal with abused children. The first law did not cover the issue of dealing with adoption to the extent that AFSA would and it would change how the Department of Children and Families dealt with children on a permanent basis. The ASFA was a way to help problems that were occurring with adoption of “special needs” kids and these had stemmed from the previous act of 1980. This law had focused on keeping families together at all cost and the AFSA changed the funding available to foster and adopting families. More importantly the law changed how the government dealt with children and families. It was now in favor of reunification and the law is highly criticized for the tearing apart of families.

The AFSA was called by the Washington Post, “the most significant change in federal child-protection policy in almost two decades” (Washington Post, 1998). The laws state that their primary concern is for children and their safety. In reality the law is still considered contentious to this day and is considered a move away from any attempt to preserve or reunify families. The law accelerated permanent placement of children into adoptive homes after as little as 15 months and more quickly if the court deemed it appropriate. This tore families apart and children were often worse off and still are as a result of the law.  Exact numbers for how many families were torn apart by the law cannot be tracked as records are sealed and not published. However, twelve years after the law the Center for the Study of Social Policy along with the Urban Institute has led work to find out what was intended and what unintended results the ASFA produced. They have created a series of works on the effects of the ASFA law “The papers in this series examine the consequences of ASFA for children and families and for the child welfare systems that intervene in their lives.” (Golden  and Macomber, 2012).  )   This study will examine what was intended by the AFSA law, what it provided, who worked for it and who opposed it as well as determining what its actual effects were.

Analysis of Current Policy

The current problem is the issue of children and their safety. Determining how many children are at risk in their own homes and if the cases are hopeless and those children need to be taken by the state is what this law is supposed to address. There were four major goals this law was meant to address. According to, Intentions and Results: A Look Back at the Adoption and Safe Families Act by the Center for Social Study , (2012) the act states:

Goal 1: Move children promptly to permanent families (“a child’s sense of time”)

A major goal of ASFA was to speed a child’s time to permanency. The more notable features include the requirement to terminate parental rights if the child has been in foster care 15 out of the most recent 22 months, the authorization of adoption incentive payments, and the provision that required permanency hearings to be held within 12 months of the child’s entering care, while also intending to eliminate long-term foster care as a potential permanency goal.

This was the first major issue. By taking away parental rights quickly and permanently the children were moved before the parent had a chance to do much to salvage the family. Some exceptions were made if a family member was available. This often pitted family members against each other and grandparents ended up rearing their grandchildren. Extended family relations were strained and parents and grandparents stopped speaking as they battled over custody.

The second goal was, “States must continue to make reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families prior to placement or to allow the child to return safely home, but in determining what is “reasonable,” ASFA required that the child’s health and safety should be the paramount concern. ASFA also specified that these efforts were not required in most cases and outlines a whole list of reasons for when and why reunification should not take place. In all of the cases it outlines the child can be adopted out and parental rights terminated as quickly as within 30 days.

In most cases states were permitted to bypass what is called “reasonable efforts: and hold a permanency hearing. The law also specified that “reasonable efforts to place a child for adoption or with a legal guardian may be made concurrently with efforts to reunify the child with his or her family” (.Center for Social Study, 2012). With this being the case the parent could be doing everything they could to fix the allegations and at the same time the court is able to working to permanently place the child with another family member or an adoptive family:

The laws final rule and goal states that, “To satisfy reasonable efforts requirements, states were to provide judicial determination that services had been provided to prevent removal or to reunify the child with his or her family, or that reasonable efforts were not required due to one of the exceptions” (Center for Social Study, 2012). This offered a family some protection unless one of the exceptions was named.

Policy and Legislation

The major issues with the legislation here include goal number one quoted above. The next issue with the policy was that the state could permanently remove a child within 15 months as discussed. A final issue with this legislation that was highly problematic in AFSA 1979 stated that this would apply only to children whose families had been in prison or something as extreme as murder had taken place in the family.  However, this law was abused and many children were adopted out who did not fit into this category. The law also began to offer financial incentives to families to adopt children.

This provided financial incentive for adoptive families whose interests were not always in the child’s safety to get involved in adoption and foster care as a business. There were people lining up to make a living off adopting kids that had been abused and some of them turned out to be as abusive as the parents that were trying to change in order to get their children back. The state and Department of Children and Families were defending the law as their jobs became filled with caseloads and parents were often guilty until proven innocent. Federal courts were upholding the laws as parent advocacy groups began to form to oppose them and help parents to reclaim their children before it was too late and often rehabilitate.

Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law at Northwestern University and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, argues that ASFA is a wrong-headed assault on family preservation that goes far beyond its goal of ensuring children’s safety and establishes “a preference for adoption as the means of reducing the exploding foster care population. Many others felt this way and opposed the law.

Implementation of “The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1979”

The law provided money, a child, food stamps and Medicaid with services for adopted and foster children. It had big stipends to provide the incentive to adopt or run foster care. People wanted to get into the adoption business. In the meantime children money is being put to together for, “Health Care Coverage to Non-IV-E Eligible Adopted Children with Special Health Care Needs be provided. Money for food stamps and Medicaid is provided to families by the government. Being a foster parent of adoptive parent has become big business and while the money for these programs is allocated for the children it is the foster homes and adoptive families using the checks from AFSA.

The laws worked fine as they were carried out and still are being carried out. The benefits were that children who were truly in danger were protected immediately. The weakness came in defining who was able to rehabilitate and the fact that children whose parents were willing to change had no time. Opposition to the law has been documented by psychologists and scholars. In the article,  Failure to protect. AFSA: An Assault on Family Preservation, by Roberts, (2012). The understanding that the law pitted children against parents is brought out when in fact; the reality is that both have reasons to want to preserve family. The author writes:

AFSA pits children and parents against each other in terms of motivation to keep a family together. Psychologists feel that children often have an interest in keeping the family together and the new law presents the issue that parents and children have different agendas. This is usually not the case and children often want reunification as much as parents do.

Within the wisdom of these observations lie the weaknesses of AFSAChildren and parents both have an interest in keeping a family together. There are, of course exceptions and AFSA does cover those. However, the law created a mentality that often put children in opposition to their parents and teenagers acting out could report abuse and the parent was and still is often considered guilty until proven innocent. In the meantime the child is removed from the home. They often end up in foster systems where things are far worse than they were at home and child rape and other atrocities are often the result of foster care.

Legislation Intended Impact

AFSA was intended to protect children that were not being helped and getting lost in the system. “Both ASFA and the 1980 Child Welfare Act reflect the prevailing wisdom that children in foster care should be quickly placed in permanent homes because the instability of foster care damages children’s psychological and social development. The goal of permanency stands as a pillar of current child welfare philosophy.”(Roberts, 2012). This was the intent of the legislation. Abused children were supposed to get help and those whose parents were unwilling to change were intended to find permanent homes and not be shuffled from foster care to foster care situation. Children were supposed to benefit from this law and many did. However, the law was so extreme and changed the way the Department of Children and Families did business that it not only separated  families that might have remained intact with the proper help but also changed the way children and parents interacted in healthy homes as well as the American view how to cope with family situations. The media did not help by focusing on cases in the news that were extreme and horrendous cases of abuse while children from homes that were troubled but could be helped were consequently being removed and adopted out. The problem is still ongoing.

Conclusions

The costs of the AFSA have been high. Many children are taken from their homes and never see their parents again. Many parents have lost their children and can do nothing to regain custody while others have had false allegations made against them that have ruined their reputations and lives such as sexual abuse. This is the cost of the AFSA.

The benefits have been that children that may have spent a lifetime in foster care have found real homes and families where they would have fallen through the cracks in the past. In this way some children have been helped, but far more have been damaged. Nothing has changed predominantly in the situation. The way that the American system deals with family issues swings from model to model and the media and what it chooses to focus on have a lot to do with how situations and the mentality of the Department of Family and Children respond during a given time period. “It is often said that American child welfare policy operates like a pendulum. It swings from expressing the predominant objective of keeping troubled families together to m making protection of children from parental harm its top priority.” (Roberts, 2012).   Incentives for adoption are appealing and they are working. Roberts’s findings in her article, Failure to Protect. AFSA: An Assault on Family Preservation, (2012) found that:

The motivations seem to be effective. There were 46,000 adoptions of foster children in 1999, a 28 percent upsurge from the former year. The quantity of adoptions doubled in Illinois, were as high as a 75 percent in Texas and 57 percent in Florida. Forty-two states earned $20 million in centralized adoption advantages.  This only serves to inspire choose adoption over reunification.

The unintended consequences of AFSA are that children who want to be united with parents who are willing to change are separated from them forever. The cost/benefit analysis of this law cannot be weighed. It has some success stories and some horrible failures. Perhaps future legislation will change the law as advocates for family rights work to do balance the pendulum of American family law back to a more stable place for both parents and children.

References

Golden, O, and Macomber, J.  (2012). Intentions and results: A look back at the adoption and safe families act. http://www.urban.org/publications/1001351.html

 Overview of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. (2012), http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare/inside/asfa.html

Roberts, D. (2012). Failure to protect. AFSA: An assault on family preservation.

Summary of the adoption and safe families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89). (2012) Child Welfare League of America. http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/asfapl105-89summary.htm

Intentions and Results: A Look Back at the Adoption and Safe Families Act (2012). Center for the Study of Social Policy. http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/1001351_safe_families_act.pdf

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