The Adoption and Safe Families Act is a piece of legislation passed in the United States in 1997, with encouragement from the Clinton Administration. The legislation made significant changes to the foster care and adoption systems in the United States to promote child health and welfare. A number of mandates were rolled into the Adoption and Safe Families Act with the goal of improving child services across the United States, increasing the numbers of adoptions, and getting children out of foster care.
The key feature of the legislation is a shift from reuniting children with their parents to making decisions to promote child welfare. If a home situation is clearly unsafe, rather than holding a child in foster care in the hopes of improving conditions at home, the child can be released for adoption. Permanent placement with an adoptive family tends to be better for a child's mental and physical health. The Adoption and Safe Families Act addressed the overloaded foster care system to keep children in foster situations for shorter periods of time.
Critics of the Adoption and Safe Families Act believe it contributes to the destruction of families, making it harder to reunite children with their parents because of the focus on increasing adoption numbers. Proponents believe reuniting children with their families should remain a priority, but in cases where this is clearly not an option, children should not be held in limbo in the foster care system, as this is not fair to them. The longer children remain in foster care, the harder it can be for them to find permanent placements, and instability like switching schools and constantly changing homes can be very stressful.
Under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, individual states are provided with incentives to promote adoption. They are also required to track children more closely and to monitor attempts at placing children in adoptive homes. In some cases, the legislation only reinforced the approaches of individual states to adoption matters, while in others, states had to radically rework their child services agencies to comply with the law.
Adoptions increased under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, while time spent in foster care decreased. Particularly for at-risk children, such as those with disabilities, the legislation improved the changes of permanent placement, providing these children with more opportunities. Like other acts of legislation, this law is periodically reviewed to see if it needs updates to reflect changing social, legal, and cultural issues.