In America, at least half a million American kids are in foster care. The Child Welfare League of America estimates that on any given day, only 125,000 children are placed for adoption. Those left behind are forced to remain in the system, either by living in foster homes or temporarily living with relatives and nonrelatives. Only 20,000 kids are successfully placed by public adoption agencies. Public adoption agencies are slow simply because of too much red tape. Consequently, middle-class parents turn to private lawyers and agencies, as well as travel overseas. Thousands of children are left trapped and neglected in an unproductive foster care system.
Hopefully, the November 1997 passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act by Congress will help expedite the adoption process and remove some of the red tape. This new law sets stricter time limits on reuniting kids with their birth parents. As President Clinton promises, the new law could help to double the number of public adoptions by the year 2002.
Speedy adoptions became virtually impossible when the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was passed in 1980. Primarily, this law aims to strengthen troubled biological families, rather than find adoptive homes for the kids involved. It was further supported by a 1982 Supreme Court ruling which stated that birth parents must repeatedly show incompetence before their child can be adopted. While these rules protect birth parents’ due-process rights, they force state reliance on the foster care system and prevent kids from finding homes in a timely manner. It is the kids themselves who suffer the most. Many fail to complete high school or earn a GED, and once they become adults, at least half of them end up with low-income jobs or rely on public welfare.
Many welfare agencies believe white adoptive parents don’t want children from the foster care system because the kids are usually minorities and in poor health. Yet the number of foreign adoptees, who share similar characteristics with American foster kids, has risen by 35 percent over the last decade. Not only were they afflicted with debilitating illnesses, but they were also children of color from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. In the United States, transracial adoptions are hardly ever arranged by social workers. They fear such adoptions will destroy the child’s racial and cultural identity. However, long-term studies show that transracial adoptions help adoptees function well in white and minority cultures.
If state agencies focus on preserving biological families, foster kids will continue to be shuffled around in the system. This will likely change because of the new legislation. The new law specifies health and safety as the first priority in placement decisions, and tries to dispel the issue of race and kinship as a roadblock to successful adoption. The new law also offers financial incentives for agencies to find homes for foster kids. It requires states to terminate birth parents’ rights and begin adoption for any child who is in foster care over the last 15 months. These new guidelines will help move kids into new homes at a much faster rate and take the burden off the foster care system.