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Copyright (c) 2004 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy
Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy

NOTE: The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997: A Collision of Parens Patriae and Parents' Constitutional Rights

Winter, 2004

11 Geo. J. Poverty Law & Pol'y 137


Amy Wilkinson-Hagen *



Legislative policy goals about what is best for children in foster care 2 are shaped largely by current social trends, public sentiment, and high profile news stories. 3 While this eventuality is understandable, it can lead to legislation that does not properly address the needs and interests of the families it serves. The latest "version" of federal child welfare policy, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), 4 seeks to address the problem of increasing numbers of children enrolled in the foster care system for extended lengths of time by applying permanency principles that distinguish it from its legislative predecessors. 5 ASFA takes social concerns from the late 1990s about the harms children suffer in foster care (and at the hands of abusive biological parents) and frames its goals in a rhetoric about permanency at any cost--even the cost of unnecessary state termination proceedings for increasing numbers of families. ASFA states that the "paramount consideration" for child welfare programs must be the "health and safety of the child." 6 Virtually no one would disagree with this aim, 7 but what makes ASFA distinct from its legislative predecessors is that it places the goal of permanency above any other goals concerning the child's place as part of a family group--a group that has typically found protection from intrusion by the government under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. 8

The foster care system has affected and continues to affect millions of children and their ...
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