The Adoption and Safe Families Act should be repealed – Houston Chronicle | Wonder Mind Kids

November 19 marks the 25th anniversary of President Bill Clinton signing the Adoption and Safe Families Act. ASFA’s goal is reportedly to address an overcrowded child care system – particularly foster families – by providing children with greater security and sustainability through increasing adoptions. Rather than making children safer, however, ASFA has become yet another vehicle for national and state governments to forcibly and permanently remove black children from their families through a rapid parental rights termination process. This practice of forcibly separating black children from their parents dates back over 400 years to the dawn of slavery, which institutionalized the forced separation of black families as a means of maintaining power and control over them.

Today, more than half of all black children in America are screened by youth welfare systems, and black children are forcibly separated from their parents and placed in foster care at almost twice the rate of white children. Black parents also experience termination of parental rights at significantly higher rates than white parents. This pattern of disproportionate separation has been documented for nearly 60 years, yet the child welfare system has been unable or unwilling to address it substantively.

ASFA is no different from many other laws and policies related to the child welfare system that aim to monitor and punish black families. Through ASFA, states can waive reasonable efforts to reunite black children with their families by creating a variety of ambiguities that justify the removal of children and the ending of parents’ rights, including hospitalization or incarceration for a nonviolent crime. In fact, states are given incentives to permanently separate families and successfully place children in adoptive care. ASFA argues that “vulnerable” children are most beneficial when their parents’ parental rights end after 15 months out of 22 in foster care. In order for children to be reunited with their parents, those parents must demonstrate that they can create an appropriate and sustainable home for their children. If these standards are not met, children should be put up for adoption, with parents losing all rights and opportunities to be with their children. Aside from the fact that reunion standards are difficult tasks for parents, many of whom face problems of poverty, it is up to child welfare workers and family judges to determine what a suitable home looks like and even what good parenting looks like. Often these standards are rooted in racism and classism, and honor definitions of family and caring according to white family ideals. Many parents bullied by this system believe that the standards they must meet to reunite their families are not only unfair, they are often impossible.

Of course, many will argue that ASFA’s aim is to help and protect children – that children are better off living apart from their families and instead living in foster or adoptive homes; However, research on family separations, foster care and adoption says otherwise. This research consistently concludes that the violent separation of children from their parents is a source of significant and lifelong trauma, regardless of how long the separation lasts. Aside from this initial trauma, children who spend time in foster care are at risk of a variety of negative outcomes, including poverty, homelessness, unemployment, developmental delays, mental disorders, addictions, and incarceration. Although these outcomes are at risk for all children placed in foster care, the likelihood of experiencing these outcomes is increased for Black children who are already at risk of poor outcomes due to America’s ongoing legacy of structural and institutional racism.

At the upEND movement, started by the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, we believe that all policies supporting the involuntary termination of parental rights, including ASFA, will be repealed should. Family preservation should be a priority in all cases and the practice of involuntarily terminating parental rights should end. The best way to help children – regardless of race or class – is to help the families and communities in which they live. This appears as if resources are being invested in initiatives that strengthen family and community bonds and empower families and communities to resolve family issues without the involvement and reliance on racist and harmful systems. If we really want to support children and families, we must create solutions that invest in and empower them. The permanent separation of families and the severing of their legal ties should never be part of these solutions.

Josie Pickens is program director for the upEND movement. Alan Dettlaff is the Maconda Brown Endowed Dean’s Chair of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston.

Leave a Comment