Adoption & Safe Families Act
There are an estimated 500,000-700,000 children currently in foster care. Their average stay in foster care will be about three years.
This week the House passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 406-7, while the Senate approved it unanimously, after six months of behind-the-scenes work.
This measure is a bipartisan attempt at moving the focus of foster care from always putting the rights and needs of the biological parents first, to placing the priority on the welfare of the child. The 1980 law required the states and courts to use "reasonable efforts" to return the children to their biological parents. The 1997 legislation clarifies situations when this would not be appropriate, for example:
- When the parent has murdered or assaulted a sibling.
- The child has physically or sexually abused.
- The child has been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months.
- The child was legally abandoned.
The adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 has the support of President Clinton who is expected to sign it next week. This piece of legislation incorporates many of Clinton's initiatives aimed at doubling the number of adoptions by the year 2002.
The new law would help increase adoptions in many ways. One of the keys is the guarantee of health insurance for special-needs children. States would also receive incentives for placing hard-to-place children into adoptive homes, and for exceeding the previous years numbers.
- Tells states not to deny or delay adoption because adoptive parents and child live in different states or counties.
- Authorizes $20 million for bonuses to states for adoption of foster-care children.
- Authorizes $5 million for health care for adopted children with special needs.
- Authorizes $11 million for subsidies for special-needs children if their adoptions are disrupted or their adoptive parents die.
- Reauthorizes the family-preservation program with an additional $65 million and adds adoption services to its mandate.
"It's about time," says Amanda, mother of four, and foster parent applicant, "That something is done to benefit the children who live in the foster-care system."