|The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Act) was passed by Congress in 1980. Lawmakers were concerned that many children were being removed from their homes unnecessarily and that, once they entered foster care, inadequate efforts were made to either reunify them with their biological families or place them with adoptive families. The Act was passed to correct or alleviate problems in the foster care system and to promote permanency rather than multiple foster placements. An additional goal of the Act was to encourage social workers to work toward reunification of the family and to avoid long-term foster care for the children, if possible. If the child could not be returned to the family, another plan was to be sought such as adoption, long-term foster care, or some other resolution.
The Adoption Assistance Program was established by the Act. Under the Adoption Assistance Program, special needs adoptions were partially subsidized by the federal government. The Act provided federal funds and required states to create adoption subsidy programs. The Act required states to establish programs and make procedural reforms to serve children in their own homes, prevent out-of-home placement, and facilitate family reunification following placement. The Act also transferred federal foster care funding to a new Title of the Social Security Act and provided funds to help states pay adoption expenses for children whose special needs make adoption difficult.
Under the Act, judges determine whether "reasonable efforts" had been made to enable children to remain safely at home before being placed in foster care. Reasonable efforts were also required to reunite foster children with their biological parents. While the law required reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families, it did not include a specific requirement for placing a child permanently in an adoptive or other permanent home.
The modern child welfare system is founded on this landmark legislation, which for the first time established a major federal role in the administration and oversight of child welfare services. The Act did the following:
- Established the first federal procedural rules governing child welfare case management, permanency planning, and foster care placement reviews;
- Required states to develop a state plan detailing how child welfare services will be delivered;
- Required states to make "reasonable efforts" to keep families together, by providing both prevention and family reunification services;
- Created an adoption assistance program; and
- Created the first significant role for the court system, by requiring courts to review child welfare cases on a regular basis.
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