Since 1974, the U.S. Congress has enacted many laws developed to protect children affected by child abuse and neglect. One federal law is the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 19, 1997. It is considered by many to be one of the strongest statements regarding child protection ever produced in the United States. The act establishes child protection as a national goal and specifies procedures for ensuring children’s health and safety. The primary reasons for the initiation of the act were to ensure the health and safety of children, to promote permanent living situations for children in foster care, and to increase accountability of the child welfare system.
The law, while acknowledging the importance of family preservation and reunification in the long-term welfare of children, reaffirms that child safety must be the overriding concern of child welfare services. The act requires, for example, that the issue of child safety be specifically addressed when making decisions about service provision, placement, and permanency planning. The law also clarifies the states’ responsibility to the child, explicitly noting that children should never be left in or returned to dangerous living situations. According to the act, a child may be placed in foster care either when danger to the child is imminent or when prevention attempts are unlikely to be effective. In addition, the law defines specific situations in which states should not return children to their families, such as when the parent has committed murder, manslaughter, or felony assault on the child or one of his or her other children.
The act also acknowledges that foster care should be viewed as temporary, not as a long-term solution. As such, the law establishes requirements for early permanency planning, such as a time frame for initiating termination of parental rights and timely adoption. The act specifies, for example, that services to reunify families should be time limited. States are required to initiate termination of parental rights and free children for adoption who have been waiting in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. In an effort to encourage adoptions, the law also establishes various financial incentives to states that increase adoptions.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 also requires that the child welfare system increase its accountability. The act helps to clarify that in addition to ensuring that procedural safeguards are met, services must also lead to positive results. The act requires states to establish outcome measures, for example, to document and improve child welfare service performance.
1. Myers, J. E. B. (1998). Legal issues in child abuse and neglect practice (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
2. National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. (2003). Major federal legislation concerned with child protection, child welfare, and adoption. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov
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