For many Americans, it is hard to believe how far domestic adoption has come. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, like many Federal laws on the subject of adoption, saw fit to amend the policies of past. In particular, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act addressed terms of appropriation for adoptive families by changing the language of Title IV (aid and services for needy families and foster care children) and Title XX (social services "block grants") of the Social Security Act to make public funds more accessible to certain groups.
As for what groups were deemed eligible for Government-issued monies by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, both children and families as a whole qualified for certain forms of relief. Some drew aid from the proverbial well that was Aid for Families with the Dependent Children (AFDC), while some families received financial breaks.
Who exactly were children with special needs, though? Prior to the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, there was no adequate explanation. With its passage, however, the deserving segment of the population was finally given a codified definition. A "child with special needs" is defined by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 as one who cannot be brought back to a home run by his or her birth parent(s) and one who cannot be placed or cared for without some form of assistance.
Of course, this is a critical notion for adoption law, but for recognition of children with special needs worldwide in general, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was a big step forward for our nation.
At the same time, adoptees of all walks of life were impacted by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. An important clause in the Act demanded State Social Services departments make "reasonable efforts" to avoid breaking up families through foster care/adoption and return children to their biological parents when possible. In fact, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act levied an 18-month ultimatum on public agencies for them to determine where a child would be placed following foster care.
For what it did for children with special needs, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 is certainly admirable. Nonetheless, it has its limitations. Oftentimes, the reasonable efforts charge of the Act ran contrary to children's best interests in that it sent them back to families in which potential for abuse was high. This issue would come to be revisited in future legislation such as the ASFA in the 90s, however.