Problems stemming from the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

I wrote this paper, a few years ago, in grad school. It takes an in-depth look into the history of foster care, the introduction of the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the negative consequences this act has had on foster youth. Negative impacts include high levels of homelessness, poverty, drug abuse and mental health issues for former foster youth and the negative economic impact these issues have on our society.

Introduction: Issue, Policy, Problem:

            In the United States caring for children from neglectful or abusive families, is a chronic concern.  The most recent legislation concerning this issue was the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (U.S. Senate, 1997).   This act was created at a time in which studies had found that children, whom were in foster care for extended periods of time, and children which had emancipated out of the system, were at high risk for becoming involved in criminal activity (Hormuth, 2001).   The Adoption and Safe Families Act was intended to solve this issue by correcting the components of the child welfare systems that resulted in children being placed in temporary homes for considerable lengths of time.  Research indicated that the effect of this policy would be the reduction of the detrimental societal impacts caused by these children during their adult lives.  This policy is of importance to all individuals, residing within the United States, because of the financial consequences suffered by taxpayers when these children are improperly cared for.

            The purpose of this paper is to explore the Adoption and Safe Families Act and tabulate the effects it had on the facets of the child welfare system it was created to improve.  This enumeration will also examine the effects it had on the societal ills it was purposive to alleviate.  This report will begin its analysis of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, at the federal level, by exploring the history of child welfare in the United States and the magnitude of the problem this policy addresses.  This perlustration will analyze the effectiveness of the policy by reviewing the research and opinions of the groups which support it, as well as the arguments of individuals who are in opposition to it.  This document looks at the impact this policy has on the population it works with in our current society.  This analysis will conclude with a final word from the author as to what change she feels could be made in order to improve the effectiveness of the Adoption and Safe Families Act on youth which emancipate from the foster system.  

History and scope of Child Welfare and The Adoption and Safe Families Act

            The first action towards forming a system of caring for children in need took place in 1636, when the first child was placed into indentured servitude (Lorain County Children Services [LCCS], 2008).  The first law concerning child welfare was passed in 1642, and gave magistrates the right to remove children from the homes of their parents (Myers, 2010).   According to LCCS (2008), by the 1700’s, the people of the colonies began to realize that placing children in indentured servitude put children at risk for neglect and abuse.  Rather than separate children from their families they began to place children in almshouses with their parents.  In the mid 1800’s, people began to find that children raised in almshouses tended to become involved in felonious behavior (LCCS, 2008).

             In 1853, Charles Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society, attempted to fix this issue by creating the Orphan Trains (Herman, 2012).  Brace had found that almshouses and orphanages put children at serious risk for maltreatment. He believed that orphaned children would be treated well if they were adopted by protestant families from rural communities. (LCCS, 2008).  The Orphan Trains were the first program that began the movement towards the foster care and adoption system we have today.  “Brace and his colleagues believed malleable and innocent children, if removed early enough from depraved parents, could escape the inferior culture inherent in their homes and communities and become upstanding citizens” (Herman, 2012). Though Brace’s actions were well intentioned, the results of his efforts were not what he had hoped.  Many of the children placed in homes were used as slave labor and were physically abused. Quite a few of the children ran away and became involved in criminal activities around the country (LCCS, 2008).  Concurrent with the time the Orphan Trains were in operation, religious organization began creating orphanages for the children in their local communities. In 1910, the Catholic Church had over 322 infant asylums and orphanages operating in the United States which served 70,000 children annually (Herman, 2012).  In 1866, the first law creating county homes for orphans was created in Ohio (LCCS, 2008).  The first law specifying the proper way a child should be treated was passed in 1875 (LCCS, 2008).   

            In 1912, the first federal agency to address child welfare issues was established. The Children’s Bureau was created to analyze the methods used by states to address child welfare issues (Myers, 2010).  In 1935, the first federal legislation concerning child welfare was passed within the Social Security Act (Myers, 2010).   Myers (2010), states that the Social Security Act allowed the Children’s Bureau to reach out to the privately funded child welfare agencies within the states.  The Children’s Bureau gave these agencies funds intended to help children that were orphaned or living in situations of poverty and destitution.  Despite help from the federal government the Great Depression took a toll on child welfare organizations. Designed to protect children, these private organizations were unable to meet the needs of the children and families within their communities.  By 1967, almost all states had turned to the federal government to make laws and provide services for child welfare (Myers, 2010). 

            In 1962, Congress, recognizing the need for child protective services nationwide, added an amendment to the Social Security act which required that by 1975, all states were to have programs which offered services to battered and abused children (Myers, 2010).   In the 1970’s, concern began to grow over the amount of children which were placed in long term foster care.  Meyers (2010), reports studies had found that removing a child from an abusive home was just as detrimental to that child’s mental health as living in the abusive home.   Social workers began to move towards the ideal that the best interest of a child was synonymous with that of their parents (Rodham, 1973).  According to Rodham (1973), the doctrine of parens patriae, the idea that parents have a legal and civil right to raise their own children, became a central theme of debate during this time.  In 1980, the federal government addressed this issue by passing the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare act of 1980, (U.S. Senate, 1980).  Under this policy the federal government endorsed parens patriae by requiring states to make every effort to keep children in the home. If a child’s removal from the home was necessary states were too reunify that child with their parents in a minimal amount of time.  If it was not possible to return the child home states could sever the legal rights of the parents and find an adoptive home for the child. This act provided financial incentives to states which found adoptive homes for children, and to families that adopted a child (Myers, 2010).

            Despite monetary incentives from 1985, to the late 1990’s, the amount of children in out of home care, without permanent placement plans, increased by 74 percent (Barbell & Wright, 1999).  In response “Congress … created the Family Preservation and Family Support program through the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.  This program … added funding for … intensive family preservation services … and services to reunify families with children in care” (Barbell & Wright, 1999).  Though the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act provided funds to states, to provide families with the intensive therapies they needed, it was not enough.  The amount of children aging out of the system continued to increase (Nunn, 2012).  Research reported that children in foster care, particularly those who aged out of the system, were becoming a detriment to society.  In 1991, studies found that 25 percent of former foster children were homeless, 40 percent were on public assistance, half were unemployed and 75 percent of individuals in correctional institutions in the state of Connecticut were former foster children (Tahoma, 1996).  On top of this 43 percent of the 1,300 children that were killed by their parents in 1993, were children that had been reunified with their families and were under supervision by social service agencies (Bayle’s & Conan, 1995).

            Studies continuously revealed that children removed from neglectful and abusive homes, whom resided in long term out of home placements, used a vast amount of government funds and resources.  In response to these findings the federal government created­ the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001).    The purpose of this act was to force states into the positive action of placing foster children in permanent homes within short spans of time.  States were given a fifteen month limit in which they were to either reunify the children with their parents or sever rights.

             Today this policy affects 650,000 children who are placed in out of home care each year (Children’s Rights, 2012).  In 2012, 399,546 children entered into foster care (The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [TAFCARS], 2013).  Of the 399,546 children in foster care 241,254 were either reunified with their families or aged out of the system.  Another 101,719 were in temporary placements awaiting adoption and only 52,039 were adopted (TAFCARS, 2012).  On average more than nine billion federal and state dollars are spent on caring for foster children under IV-E or the Social Security act each year (Zill, 2011).  “The exact amounts are difficult to disentangle, even more money is spent for publicly subsidized medical care for foster children and food stamps, cash welfare, and child care payments to the families that care for them” (Zill, 2011).

            Despite the multitude of research exhibiting the negative societal impacts not caring for these children has on our society, studies have yet to find a solution to this problem.  The scope of the Adoption and Safe Families Act was to shorten the amount of time children remained in temporary out of home placements.  The policy was set with the credence that finding stable home environments for these children would concurrently reduce the amount of children emancipating out of foster care and into acts of felonious behavior.  More than 160 years have passed since Charles Brace and the Children’s Aid society recognized the correlation between children lacking family care and their propensity to participate in delinquent behaviors.  Throughout this time a felicitous solution, other than the Adoption and Safe Families Act, has not been found.  

Perspectives & Analysis of Policy

            In 1997, the United States government addressed the problem of youth remaining in out of home care without permanency plans by enacting the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  This act required states to only remove children from the homes if necessary.  If a child was removed from the home and reunification with the family had not been able to occur within fifteen months of placement, the parental rights of that child were to be terminated to free the child for adoption (U.S. Senate, 1997).  This act rewarded states with monetary incentives, if they placed children with birth families or in adoptive families within the time frames allowed, through the Adoption Assistance Plan (Children’s Bureau, 2012).  The Adoption Assistance Plan matches 50 to 80 percent of state funds used to assist in adoption placements (Children’s Bureau, 2012).   As of 2008, the Adoption Assistance Plan is funded by $2,160,000,000 federal dollars per year (Children’s Bureau, 2012).  States are given monetary incentives to monitor the effectiveness of the acts implementation and improvement of their child placement rates.  A state may apply for Child Welfare Waivers which allow them to use federal dollars, in innovative ways, to create systems for improving the child placement rates within that state (Children’s Bureau, 2012).  Bell (2013), stated that over the last decade six states have used child welfare waivers to create programs which are proactively preventative of foster placements by targeting at risk families. Four of these programs have been successful (Bell, 2013).

            Individuals whom support the Adoption and Safe Families Act do so with multifactorial rationale.  The most obvious reason for support of this policy is that it allows children living in unsafe environments the opportunity to be placed in homes which will provide the child with love and care.  When a child is placed in out of home care they are given counseling services and psychiatric attention which will help them cope with the negative effects caused by the abuses they experienced before removal from their homes (Collins, 2005).  Other arguments for this policy encompass the fact that it allows heterosexual couples, homosexual partners, and individuals whom are single, a chance at adopting a child without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money.  Through foster care individuals which are unable to have children of their own are able to adopt children from the foster system which allows them to fulfill their dreams of becoming parents (Watson, 2012).

            Under close scrutiny the arguments of those in favor of the Adoption and Safe Families act appear to be idealistic at best and lack base in factuality.  Research has indicated that children in foster care experience physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than that of children in the normal populace (National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, 2011).  Thousands of foster children run away from their placements each year and end up in the National Amber Alert, missing children’s list (Ryan, 2013; Lowry, 2013).  Research suggests that one-hundred-thousand foster care runaways end up as trafficked sex-slaves each year (Sciortino, 2012).  

            Due to lack of government funding and a shortage of resources, children in foster care do not receive adequate mental health care and as a result they have the highest rate of mood disorders, mental health issues, and substance abuse than any other population in the United States (Zill, 2011; Grimm & Darwall, 2005; Artwood, 2011).  The only argument, which seems credible, is that adoption of foster children is less expensive than adopting children through a private adoption agency. This is because monetary incentives are offered to parents that adopt through foster care (American Adoptions, 2013).   The process of adopting a child from foster care can take one to two years longer than adoption through private agencies (Katz, 2011).  A recent area of concern centered on the adoption of foster children comes from recent reports which show that adoptive parents are illegally selling and trading their children (Twohey, 2013).

            Individuals in opposition of the Adoption and Safe Families Act express concerns that the entire child welfare system is corrupt and should be eradicated.  One concern centers on the lack of programs available to help families correct their neglectful behaviors.  The argument is that it is easier and more cost effective for a social worker to remove a child from the home than it is to fix the child’s family’s insalubrious behaviors (Radel, 2005).   Some believe that children are being removed from their homes for profit instead of the child’s welfare (Radel, 2005).  “In the private foster care agencies that oversee most of the children, some executives receive up to $310,000 a year” (Gafford, 2010).  The findings of Gafford were also found by TCB CHRONICLES Staff (2010).

18% of children placed in foster care were taken from homes with unsubstantiated reports of child maltreatment. Nearly half (43%) of the foster care placements in those states were taken from families where child protective services (CPS) workers had unsubstantiated reports of child abuse or neglect.

Another concern, is that children are being held in foster placement longer than the Adoption and Safe Families Act allows.

The average length of time in continuous foster care for the 115,000 children waiting to be adopted is 38 months: 44,000 have been in continuous care for more than three years, and 19,000 for more than five years. Children adopted in 2009 stayed in foster care for an average of 14 months between termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption, indicating poor case planning (Artwood, 2011).

Radel (2005), found that in the 2002, fiscal year four-hundred-nineteen-million federal dollars were used by state child welfare agencies for administrative costs.  States were unable to account for the spending of seven-hundred-million federal dollars (Radel, 2005). 

            The arguments against the Adoption and Safe Families Act, though factually based, are being corrected by professionals in the child welfare system. The Children’s Bureau (2012), found that between 2008, and 2011, fifty-eight percent of states showed an improvement in placing children in permanent homes within the twenty-two month limit.  Though the increase in quick placement is only forty-six percent, a three percent increase over a three year period (Children’s Bureau, 2012), these results show that states are working to correct this issue. Another improvement reported by Bell (2013), shows a reduction in state spending on administrative costs. This reduction is due to government evaluations of child welfare programs which resulted in cutting costs and expenditures (Bell, 2013).

             In regards to the reports that children are being removed from their homes with unsubstantiated reasons there is not a solution to this problem in the foreseeable future.  Kissendorf (2013), reported that the percent of children being removed from their homes on unsubstantiated charges has decreased over the last few years, but the number will never decrease to low levels.  The child’s welfare is always the central point of concern and removal takes place when the child’s safety cannot be guaranteed.  Though unsubstantiated removal is high, the amount of children being placed in foster care has decreased in states which use child waivers to run programs that teach parenting lessons to families at risk for having children placed in foster care.  Overall the main arguments against the Adoption and Safe Families act are inconsequential since these areas of concern are being corrected and are showing improvement.   

Impact of Policy & Analysis

            The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, has been in effect for sixteen years.  Recent reports show this policy was successful at implementing most of the structural changes, within the child welfare sector, that it was created for.  It was, however, unable to impact the societal ills it was intended to alleviate. The Adoption and Safe Families Act was created to lessen the amount of time children spent in the foster system before being reunified with their families or placed in adoptive homes. The policy was also intended to reduce the amount of children aging out of the foster care system and to help states create public programs that would treat families whose children had been placed in out of home care.  In 1995, children reunified with their families within one year of being placed in the foster system was 28 percent (Wulczyn, 2004).  Today 76 percent of children are reunified with their families within one year (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2011).   In 1996, only 9.2 percent of children in foster care, whose parents rights had been terminated, were placed in adoptive homes (Wulczyn, 2002).  These children had, on average, been in the system for four years before adoption.  In 2012, 13.1 percent of children in foster care were adopted and these children had been in the foster system for an average of two years (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2013).      

            There is no consistent data reporting the percentage of children which aged out of foster care before the Adoption and Safe Families Act was passed in 1997.  Though this data does not exist, or is not easily found, by 2004, studies began to show a rapid increase in the amount of children emancipating out of the foster system (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).  In 2012, ten percent of children in foster care aged out of the system (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2013). That percentage represents 23,439 youth whom entered the world as legal adults with no families of their own, 841 of them had been in out of home placement for more than five years (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS], 2013).

              As of 2013, most states have been unable to create programs that fulfill the requirement of implementing programs which correct the behaviors within families that led to their children being placed in state care.  Only four states have created programs which tackle parental substance abuse issues (Bell, 2013).  Six states work to teach at risk families healthy habits before their children are removed from home (Bell, 2013).  Statistics show that some improvement has been made on the structural changes the Adoption and Safe Families Act set out to correct. While this is a positive result the detrimental societal symptoms which these structural changes were intended to fix have increased.

              In 1991, studies found that 75 percent of individuals in correctional institutions in Connecticut were former foster children, today a third of former foster care children are in the criminal justice system (Gladstone & McCarthy, 2011) which makes up 80 percent of our nation’s prison population as was found by (Nunn, 2012), and (Children’s Rights, 2013).  While 21 percent of former foster children became homeless in 1996, (Tahoma, 1996) that number now totals 40 percent (Covenant House, 2013).  In 1996, close to half of former foster youth were unemployed and 40 percent were on public assistance (Tahoma, 1996).    Today 47 percent of former foster youth are unemployed (Children’s Rights, 2013) and 67 percent use public assistance (Schaefer, 2012).  Studies have found that on average taxpayers spend more than $300,000 on public assistance and incarceration costs, over the lifetime of each individual that ages out of the foster care system (Strangler, 2013).  Since more than 27,000 youth age out of the system each year (Stein, 2012) over the course of a life time taxpayers will spend more than eight trillion dollars on the foster youth who age out of the system this year alone.

Judgment

            After analyzing the successes and failures of the Adoption and Safe Families Act the author, a former foster youth, proposes that an amendment be made to policy that requires the states to create transitional living programs which teach foster youth life and job skills. The author of this paper had emancipated out of the system during her junior year of high school and believes the only reason she was able to finish high school was because of the help she received from a transitional living program.  Studies on the effects transitional living programs have on emancipated foster youth, compared to emancipated youth who do not go through a transitional program, show statistically significant differences between these populations (Youth Villages, 2012).  In the late 1990’s a Midwest study of former foster youth found that within eighteen months of emancipating out of the foster system 55 percent were in poverty, 25 percent were homeless, 45 percent dropped out of high school, 50 percent were unemployed and by age twenty-six 50 percent were incarcerated (Youth Villages, 2012). 

            After these statistics were publicized states began creating transitional living programs which helped emancipated youth by providing them with housing assistance and providing them with job and life skills programs. (Youth Villages, 2012).  In 2012 Youth Villages (2012) published the results of a ten year longitudinal study of emancipated youth that had been involved in a transitional living program.   The study found that more than two years after emancipating from foster care 83 percent were employed and had finished high school, only 23 percent had been involved in criminal activity, and 84 percent were not homeless or living in poverty.  The results of this study show that if states were to provide assistance to emancipated foster youth there would be an enormous reduction in federal spending.  With less former foster youth becoming dependent on social welfare programs, and less emancipated foster children being incarcerated, the federal and state budgets would become less encumbered. 

            After more than two centuries of attempts to prevent children from homes of neglect and poverty becoming an encumbrance on society it would appear the solution to this problem is on the horizon.   The Adoption and Safe Families Act succeeded in shortening the amount of time children spend in long term placements without a permanent home.  The act did not, however, have the desired effect of reducing the high volume of former foster children which become homeless, dependent on social welfare systems, and incarcerated.   Though the Adoption and Safe Families Act did not affect the societal ills it hoped to impact, it did produce the transitional living program through its Child Welfare Waivers (Bell, 2013).  This program, if added as an amendment to the Adoption and Safe Families Act, may finally end the probability of former foster youth becoming burdens on society throughout their adult lives. 

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Published by lifefromtheashes5332

Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I am a wife, mother, gardener, adjunct professor, philosopher, former foster child, former homeless adult and Master in Social Work. My website covers all the things listed above!

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