It was not until the 20th century that real authoritative standards were brought to domestic adoption. Of course, public domestic adoptions spiked in the aftermath of the Adoption and Safe Families Act’s (ASFA) passage. For all the apparent good in “rescuing” children from long-term stays in foster care, though, the ASFA has its detractors.
A big point of contention with the Act is that the system it creates that allots money to the states for sweeping children through the adoption process is only rewarding them for breaking up birth families faster, and with poverty often serving as parents’ big wrongdoing. In essence, under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, poor biological parents tend to suffer.
Uniform Adoption Act of 1994
As good as a comprehensive set of standards for domestic adoption may sound to those who are dissatisfied with delays in State-by-State attempts to reform the practice and address its shortcomings, the cure may be worse than the disease if the terms create new problems. Such is the case of the Uniform Adoption Act of 1994 (UAA), originally set in motion as a model adoption law and to date only agreed to in a few districts in the whole United States.
The UAA is particularly notable for the taxonomic approach it brings to adoption, classifying adoption by family types and defining eligible adopters. To boot, it seeks to protect the interests of children by adding safeguards to the home study review process and turning a scrutinizing eye to the legitimacy of placement services both here and abroad.
On the other hand, the Uniform Adoption Act of 1994 contains clauses that are utterly unacceptable to adoption rights activists. For one, the UAA leans heavily toward privacy in adoption when many would consider more openness to be better. Of particular ill repute among opponents of the bill is the stipulation that original adoption records would remain sealed for 99 years after finalization of adoption, which would preclude adoptees from ever seeing some of the most important information to their sense of identity.
In addition, critics have pointed out the legal rigidity shown towards birth parents in the UAA. Mothers are given small windows to decide whether or not to put up their children for adoption, and biological fathers are not even required to be notified prior to consent for adoption.
Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Adoption, and Family Services Act of 1992
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA) may be better known in some circles, but the Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Adoption, and Family Services Act of 1992 is notable for confronting both child abuse and adoption, and thus, acting as a predecessor of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. In dealing with said subjects, the 1992 Act gives each their own section.
For child abuse, the Act sets aside over $40 million in Federal monies for the protection of children and prevention of abuse and domestic violence at the community level. At the same time, this legislation is remarkable for considering the effects of culture and race on perceptions of what constitutes child abuse. While this obviously does not mean that the Act condones child abuse, in the interest of family preservation it may afford some clemency to those charged with violations of the law against children.
Certainly, the implications for adoption at the time of the Act’s inception were big in their own right. The Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Adoption, and Family Services Act of 1992 is perhaps more significant for what it symbolizes in American attitudes toward adoption. The Act expressly recognizes the high rates of child retention in State foster care.
Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 serves today as evidence of just how recent important amendments to domestic adoption policy were. One key function of this legislation in its passage was to afford financial benefits to underprivileged populations who heretofore had gone unrepresented in U.S. law.
Eligible children with disabilities and families struggling to stay above the poverty line were provided for by new provisions of Title IV-B and Title XX of the Social Security Act as well as the public assistance program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC), which today has since been replaced with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
Meanwhile, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act’s greatest contributions to American adoption policy are the ones that are perhaps the most likely to be taken for granted. The Act, realistically, was one of the first pieces of Federal legislation to formally confront and define the category of “children with special needs” for the purpose of subsidizing their adoption and subsequent care in a permanent home.
Another standout clause of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act has to do with the mandate of adoption authorities to make “reasonable efforts” to keep birth families together. In a sense, this line of thinking is outmoded compared to the child-centered approaches of more recent adoption policies. Nonetheless, even with primary focus on minors, reunification with suitable parents is one of the better possible outcomes for children, especially next to foster care.
Varying State Laws
Of course, the contributions of Federal legislation to American adoption policy should not be discounted, especially concerning how adoption assistance is handled. At the same time, though, comprehensive legislation on specific aspects of adoption policy has effectually taken a proverbial backseat to State statutes on adoption. In actuality, much is governed by individual State laws on the various intricacies of adoption law, right down to questions answered of who may adopt and who may be adopted.
In terms of the former, domestic in-state and interstate adoption is most strictly regulated by State laws in terms of age and sexual orientation of applicants. In some jurisdictions, prospective adoptive parents will have to be at least 15 years older than the children they adopt. Moreover, LGBT applicants will find it difficult to gain court approval for an adoption to proceed.
As for adoptee populations, while all states permit the adoption of waiting children, some states will even go as far as to let people adopt adults, especially those with special needs who lack the ability to live independently. It should be noted that, oftentimes, State adoption policies will not be so clear-cut.
Safe Haven Laws
With nearly every State in the union owning statutes allowing for children to be surrendered to certain municipal establishments so that they may be passed along to a hospital and eventually to a permanent home or temporary assignment, infant abandonment and subsequent adoption is well provided for by safe haven laws. These laws respond to a number of potential questions that onlookers might have regarding the legality of this practice, which changes depending on the State of jurisdictional residence.
Some states specify that those who forfeit responsibility to care for a child must be custodial parents of the child, but to the benefit of these parents, usually confidentiality and freedom from criminal prosecution come part and parcel with safe havens’ decision to accept an infant. Plus, the child must be an infant in all states with safe haven procedures built into their constitutions, and for a majority of states, may be only a few days or weeks old.
As noted, though, State safe haven laws may designate any number of institutions to be safe havens for the purpose of waiving parental rights to an infant child, including police and fire stations, ambulance corps buildings, and churches. Ultimately, the care of the child is not finalized, for they still must be handed over to a hospital with trained staff specifically designed to administer emergency medical services at all times.
Even after the decision is made by a birth mother to surrender her child, individual states will sometimes allow for mothers to decide to renege on their decision to give up their babies, and still other states may be required by law to make sure that a child has not been reported missing or is not wanted by a biological father