Activists are preparing to embark on a national campaign aimed at repealing the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), bipartisan legislation passed in the late 1990s in an effort to prevent children from languishing in foster care.
The law says that if children have been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months as parents try to meet requirements to reunify with their child, agencies should, with certain exceptions, move to permanently sever their custodial rights. These court-ordered requirements include making progress toward such things as drug testing, counseling or attending domestic violence classes.
ASFA also established an adoption incentive program that rewards states for increasing the number of finalized adoptions each year. This program was expanded to include guardianships, which are often forged with relatives or close kin, but proponents of an ASFA repeal say the incentives put a premium on other permanency outcomes while ignoring reunification.
In the two decades after ASFA became law — and many states followed with their own foster care timelines, sometimes more strict than the 15-22 rule – the number of foster youth who remain in care for long periods of time has significantly decreased. In 1998, the mean length of stay in foster care was about 33 months, and one-third of children in foster care stayed there for three or more years. By 2017, the mean length of stay was a full year less, and 15% of foster youth remained into a third year.
But critics of the law say it has trampled on the ability of parents to reunify with their children. They say the repeal would help dismantle a child welfare system that subjects parents — and disproportionately parents of color — to undue levels of monitoring, surveillance and child removal for poverty and neglect, leading to the hasty termination of parental rights.
“Passed in the wake of the now debunked ‘crack baby’ scare, and at the same time as nefarious federal laws on crime and welfare, it reflected the racial and class biases that were ascendant at the time and that to this day continue to inflict harm on children, youth and families,” wrote Kathleen Creamer and Chris Gottlieb, leaders of family defense clinics in Philadelphia and New York, respectively, in a recent op-ed published by The Imprint.
After two years of planning, the repeal campaign is just getting underway, according to the Movement for Family Power and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. The two nonprofits recently launched some social media pages, and began searching for a full-time campaign and strategy coordinator.
The coordinator will support the plan developed by a steering committee composed of mothers of color who have experienced the criminal or child welfare system and “aligned advocates,” according to the job description.
“This position is for an abolitionist visionary, who has both the desire, potential and dedication to contribute to building a more liberated future,” the description says.