The history of child welfare in the United States can be characterized by a continuous thematic shift between family preservation and child safety. The 1970s saw a number of efforts to reduce children’s time in foster care and expedite paths to permanency. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) (P.L. 105-89) marked the first time issues related to permanency were explicitly stated in legislation, which was pivotal in changing the landscape of child welfare practice. This law connected safety and permanency by demonstrating how each factor was necessary in achieving overall child well-being. While ASFA made clear that child safety was paramount, it also provided a new way of defining permanency for children and youth in foster care. The law specified that States had to improve the safety of children, promote adoption and other permanent homes for children who needed them, and support families. ASFA also required child protection agencies to provide more timely assessment and intervention services to children and families involved with child welfare. Additionally, ASFA paved the way for the legal sanction of concurrent planning (simultaneously identifying and working on a secondary goal such as guardianship with a relative) in States by requiring that agencies make reasonable efforts to find permanent families for children in foster care should reunification fail.
More recently, in 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (P.L. 110-351) amended the Social Security Act to improve outcomes for children in foster care, connect and support relative caregivers, and offer incentives for adoption. Fostering Connections enhanced services for youth aging out of care and created new programs to help children and youth in or at-risk of entering foster care to reconnect with family members. The act also provided the opportunity for federally recognized Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations, and Tribal consortia—for the first time in history—to directly operate title IV-E programs.
Child welfare permanency practice and related policies continue to evolve as agencies, professionals, families, and policymakers strive to achieve a balance that keeps children safe, preferably in their own homes. The following resources summarize the legislative efforts that have been put forth over the past decade.
A Brief Legislative History of the Child Welfare System
Murray & Gesiriech (2004)
Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care
Summarizes the role that Federal legislation has played in ensuring safety, permanency, and well-being for children and youth.
Historical Evolution of Child Welfare Services (PDF - 2,898 KB)
Child Welfare for the Twenty-First Century
Provides an overview of the historical evolution of the child welfare system.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Download (PDF - 391KB)
Permanency: A Balancing Act
Westat & Chapin Hall Center for Children (2001)
Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System
Provides a historical review of child welfare.
Perspectives on Foster Care: A Series of White Papers on the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008
Provides a collection of white papers that share information about the implementation of the Fostering Connections Act, including State and Tribal efforts.