1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act: Discussion
The safety and well-being of the child must be of paramount importance in the course of judicial hearings for establishing neglect or abuse. Federal, as well as state law regarding the safety and health of the child, must take precedence over the responsibility of the state in reuniting the family with the child. In addition, Federal statutes mandate the states to enact certain policy actions if the child is taken from the family and placed under the guardianship of the state (Office of Legislative Research, 1999, p. 1).
The AFSA is regarded as “the most significant change in Federal child protection policy in almost two decades.” The law declares that the “paramount concern” is for the protection of the health and welfare of the child; critics of the law, however, argue that this declaration advocates a shift from the canons of preserving the family unit and reuniting family members.
Among the changes that the law enacted include the following. One, agencies, as well as the courts, can abandon “reasonable efforts” formally in force where the state were obligated to make “reasonable efforts” to avoid removing the child from their homes and to reunite the child with the family if the former has been removed if the parents have abandoned their child, has murdered someone, been found guilty of a felony attack, or had their parental rights nullified.
Two, if the rights of the parents are nullified, the courts must file a “termination of parental rights” (TPR) if the child has been in foster care for at least 15 months; if the child is residing with a relative or if there is no major reason to file and litigate a TPR, then the courts can waive the child from the proceeding. Lastly, states allow up to $4,000 in Federal finances for an adopted child, and $6,000 for an adopted child with special needs.
However, Roberts (2002) believes that the AFSA is an assault on the canon of preserving the family that goes beyond the principles of protecting the welfare and protection of the child and develops a “preference for adoption as the means of reducing the exploding foster population.”
Ranged against this argument is Harvard Law School professor and Nobody’s Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative (1999) author Elizabeth Bartholet. Bartholet contends that the law has too many weaknesses and technicalities for those tasked with its implementation to evade the original purpose of the law (PBS, 2014, p. 1).
These two “bookends”, the preservation of the family and the safety of the child, are the ends of American child care policy. These ends are not governed by changes in the rates of child abuse; rather, it can be said that the shifts of the focus of child welfare policy in the United States are responses to high profile cases of child maltreatment either by the parents of the child, the neglect of a child in the system and the political undertones that are governing the debate on the issue (Roberts, 2014, p. 1).
Mazzocca, A. (1999). “Federal Adoption and Safe Families Requirements.” Retrieved 3 June 2014 from < http://bit.ly/SpMQfZ>
Oregon State. (n.d.). “Adoption and Safe Families Act.” Retrieved 3 June 2014 from <http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/children/fostercare/pages/asfa.aspx>
PBS (2014). “The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.” Retrieved 3 June 2014 from <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare/inside/asfa.html>
Roberts, D.E. (2004). Shattered bonds: the color of child welfare. New York: Basic Books.