Adoption and Safe Families Act

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Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997
Great Seal of the United States
Enacted bythe 105th United States Congress
EffectiveNovember 19, 1997
Public lawPub.L. 105–89 (text) (pdf)
Legislative history

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, Public Law 105–89) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 19, 1997, after having been approved by the United States Congress earlier in the month.[1]

Background and passage[edit]

ASFA was enacted in an attempt to correct problems inherent within the foster care system that deterred the adoption of children with special needs. Many of these problems had stemmed from an earlier bill, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980,[1] although they had not been anticipated when that law was passed, as states decided to interpret that law as requiring biological families be kept together no matter what.[1] The biggest change to the law was how ASFA amended Title IV-E of the Social Security Act regarding funding.

Moreover, ASFA marked a fundamental change to child welfare thinking, shifting the emphasis towards children's health and safety concerns and away from a policy of reuniting children with their birth parents without regard to prior abusiveness.[1] As such, ASFA was considered the most sweeping change to the U.S. adoption and foster care system in some two decades.[1] One of ASFA's lead sponsors, Republican Senator John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, said, "We will not continue the current system of always putting the needs and rights of the biological parents first. ... It's time we recognize that some families simply cannot and should not be kept together."[1]

Ideas for the bill originated with both Democrats and Republicans.[2] First Lady of the United States Hillary Clinton originally voiced interest in the issue of orphaned children in an article she wrote in 1995.[3] She then held public events to bring the issue exposure,[2][3] and met with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials and private foundation executives over policy questions and recommendations. She cited the Act as the achievement which she initiated and shepherded that provided her with the greatest satisfaction.[3] The bill began in Congress with bipartisan support, then became contentious over issues of terminating birth parents' rights to children and funding levels for programs to keep children out of foster care.[2] Hillary Clinton played a key role in finding a compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the latter issue after negotiations first broke down.[2]

In greeting the final measure, Bill Clinton stated that the bill "makes clear that children's health and safety are the paramount concerns."[1]

Major provisions and tactics[edit]

The major provisions of the law include:

  • Requires that States move to terminate parental rights for children who have been in Foster Care for 15 out of the last 22 months
  • Exceptions to the 15/22 rule include:[4]
    1. When the child is in a Foster Home with a biological relative (Kinship Care)
    2. When the Agency documents a compelling reason why parental termination is not in the Child's best interest
    3. When the State has failed to provide services necessary for reunification
  • Requires that Permanency Hearings be held every 12 months
  • Clarifies cases in which States are not required to reunite Families (Aggravated Circumstances)
  • Expands family preservation and support services
  • Extends subsidies for adoptive children
  • Provides incentives for States to improve adoption rates
  • Requires States to document efforts to move children toward adoption
  • Expands health care coverage for adoptive children
  • Provides funding for efforts at encouraging adoption
  • Clarifies that interstate boundaries should not delay adoption.


The law required individual states to be in compliance with it in order to continue receiving federal funds for child welfare. Thus, each state had to pass legislation compatible with ASFA; in practice, those legislative actions varied widely. As a result, some states have relied upon the three exceptions in the law more as part of stressing reunification, while other states have stressed adoption.[4]

Twelve years after the Implementation of ASFA, the Urban Institute's Center for Social Policy did a study reviewing the effectiveness of AFSA. In the study conclusion The Urban Institute declared that AFSA had increased the number of children leaving foster care, but that AFSA had failed to properly support blood relatives.[5] AFSA's shortcomings discussed by the Urban Institute lead policy makers to create the Family First Prevention Services Act which builds on ASFA's policies.[6]

The number of youth adopted from care has steadily risen since ASFA's passage: up from roughly 38,000 in 1998 to nearly 60,000 in 2017, according to federal data.[7]

“The act's financial incentives have disrupted families permanently by the speedy termination of parental rights, without the accompanying move from foster care to adoptive homes," said Texas Tech University law professor DeLeith Gossett, in a report published in 2018 by the Memphis Law Review. "The programs that the Adoption and Safe Families Act govern thwart its very purpose as children continue to languish in foster care waiting for permanent adoptive homes, often until they age out of the system into negative life outcomes." “ASFA was blamed for leaving a lot of children as orphans and that certainly wasn't the intention of ASFA," she said. "There has been concern we moved to permanency but didn't pay attention to the parent's needs."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Seelye, Katherine Q. (November 17, 1997). "Clinton to Approve Sweeping Shift in Adoption". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  2. ^ a b c d Sengupta, Somini (October 29, 2000). "Campaigns Soft-Pedal On Children and the Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  3. ^ a b c "First Lady Biography: Hillary Clinton". National First Ladies' Library. Archived from the original on September 2, 2006. Retrieved August 22, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Hort, Katherine A. (2000). "Is Twenty-two Months Beyond the Best Interest of the Child? ASFA's Guidelines for the Termination of Parental Rights". Fordham Urban Law Journal. 29 (6).
  5. ^ "Intentions and Results: A Look Back at The Adoption and Safe Families Act". Urban Institute. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  6. ^ Lindell, Karen U.; Sorenson, Christina K.; Mangold, Susan V. (2020-03-01). "The Family First Prevention Services Act: A New Era of Child Welfare Reform". Public Health Reports. 135 (2): 282–286. doi:10.1177/0033354919900892. ISSN 0033-3549. PMC 7036616. PMID 31995716.
  7. ^ "Adoption & Foster Care Statistics". Children's Bureau | ACF. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  8. ^ "Gossett, The Client (2018)" (PDF). The University of Memphis Law Review. 48. 2018-12-09.

External links[edit]