Could the new Congress and the Biden administration open the door to amend the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)? That is our hope at the Parental Rights Foundation, and that of United Family Advocates, the bipartisan coalition of which we are a cofounder and active part.
First adopted in 1997, ASFA offers federal funding for states that meet federal guidelines in the area of child welfare. ASFA and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) combine to define federal policy on child welfare investigations throughout the states.
But while ASFA provides federal funding for states to help children in need, it includes incentives that actually cause more harm than good.
The biggest of these may be the fact that ASFA funding depends on the states getting more children adopted each year than in the year before.
Adoption is a wonderful opportunity for children in dire need to have a safe “forever home.” But tying federal funds to the number of adoptions has created an incentive for states to terminate parental rights unnecessarily, so that the states have children to adopt.
A Better Removal Standard
This underlying drive may also fuel the tendency of child welfare agencies to remove children from homes simply because they deem the home “contrary to the welfare of the child.” Instead, removal should be reserved for only those cases where it is necessary— cases where there is imminent threat of physical danger to the child.
Listen. Separating children from their parents causes trauma. When it is to protect a child from an imminent risk of bodily harm, that trauma is better than the trauma it prevents.
But in far too many cases, the trauma of removal is the only trauma being inflicted. And that needs to stop.
To this end, we support an ASFA reform that would raise the standard of proof before children can be separated from their home.
Making “Reasonable Efforts” Actually Reasonable
Another change we’d like to see is in the term “reasonable efforts.” You may have heard the term. It refers to the current requirement that, in order to receive federal funds, the agency must make “reasonable efforts” to preserve or reunify the child’s birth family.
That sounds good, until one takes a look at what has qualified as “reasonable efforts” through the years. It turns out, the term really has no meaning, and it certainly has no benefit for children or their parents.
Rather, the standard needs to shift away from “reasonable efforts” to a recognition that families should be supported in safely maintaining their children in their own homes whenever possible.
It is the aim of United Family Advocates and the Parental Rights Foundation to see these problems edited out of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in the coming year.
However, we are still waiting to learn what the new Congress will prioritize and whether there is any realistic opportunity to see these changes adopted.
We will continue to champion reform while waiting to see what doors may open in Congress, and we’ll keep you posted.
DC Minor Consent Bill Update
As for DC bill 23-171, the Minor Consent law adopted for DC, we are still waiting on that, as well. A resolution to veto the law is being drafted in both the House and Senate, and we will let you know right away when a bill number has been assigned so we can call on Congress to support those measures.
Thank you for your patience as we wait to see when and how best to act under the new Congress to protect our families through federal law.