At the time it was passed, the Washington Post said that the Adoption and Safe Families Act, also known as Public Law 105-89, was "the most significant change in federal child-protection policy in almost two decades."
Signed into law in November 1997, ASFA retained many of the provisions of its predecessor, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, enacted in 1980. But it implemented new provisions and tweaked some existing rules to require that states balance family preservation and family reunification with the safety of children placed in foster care.
Some of the biggest changes made by ASFA are shortened timetables and new definitions.
The Goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act
Under AACWA, states were required to make all reasonable efforts to avoid removing children from their birth parents. They were obligated to do everything possible to reunite them with their birth parents if they had already been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. These efforts often involve extensive rehabilitation to correct the problems in the home that forced the child's removal.
ASFA lifts this requirement in cases where birth parents have abandoned the child, have committed murder or voluntary manslaughter, or have been convicted of felony assault. The safety of the child is the most important factor and it requires that each case plan provides for a child's safety in every step outlined.
Family reunification efforts are now limited to 15 months beginning on the date the child enters foster care.
If birth parents have not rehabilitated within this time, their parental rights must be terminated so the child can be placed for adoption. Exceptions exist if this is found not to be in the best interest of the child, such as if the child is living with a relative or if no effort was made to return the child to his birth family and the family's circumstances were not exempted by the Act.
In extreme cases, a child may be made available for adoption earlier.
Other ASFA Provisions
ASFA also provides that:
All special needs children get health coverage through subsidized adoptions, even if they are not Title IV-E adoptions.
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act required that state courts review each child's case every 18 months while he remained in foster care, but ASFA dictates that a hearing must be held every 12 months. The term for this review was also changed from a "dispositional hearing" to a "permanency planning hearing."
States must allow for and must not delay placement of a child outside their jurisdiction if there is an approved family member willing to parent the child.
ASFA provides for adoption incentive payments to states in an effort to increase the number of adoptions of children in foster care when compared to their base year.
Notification is required to foster parents, pre-adoptive parents and a child's relatives of any review process. These individuals also have a right to be heard in any hearings or court proceedings regarding the child.