Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997

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P.L. 105-89

Amended Title IV-E of the Social Security Act

For the text of the Act visit:

For a fact sheet from the ABA Center on Children and the Law visit:

For an analysis of the impact of the Act visit:

For comments on implementation visit:

For a GAO report on the impact of the Act on States visit:

For a database of State laws passed in response to ASFA visit:

For a discussion of reasonable efforts to ensure permanency visit:

Reasons Bill Initiated

  • Many children in foster care were waiting several years for permanent placement.
  • The focus on "reasonable efforts" to reunify children with their families had led to some placement decisions that were not in the best interests of the child and not adequately focused on child safety.
  • In order to move children into permanent homes in a more timely manner, States needed stricter guidelines for placement and reunification of children within their families.


  • To promote permanency for children in foster care.
  • To ensure safety for abused and neglected children.
  • To accelerate permanent placements of children.
  • To increase accountability of the child welfare system.

Services Provided/Measures Taken

  • Reauthorized the Family Preservation and Support Services Program
    • Renamed it the Safe and Stable Families Program.
    • Extended categories of services to include time-limited reunification services and adoption promotion and support services.
  • Ensured safety for abused and neglected children:
    • Ensured health and safety concerns are addressed when a State determines placement for abused and neglected children.
    • Required HHS to report on the scope of substance abuse in the child welfare population, and the outcomes of services provided to that population.
    • Added "safety of the child" to every step of the case plan and review process.
    • Required criminal record checks for foster/adoptive parents who receive Federal funds on behalf of a child, unless a State opted out.
  • Accelerated permanent placement:
    • Required States to initiate court proceedings to free a child for adoption once that child had been waiting in foster care for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, unless there is an exception.
    • Allowed children to be freed for adoption more quickly in extreme cases.
  • Promoted adoptions:
    • Rewarded States that increased adoptions with incentive funds.
    • Required States to use "reasonable efforts" to move eligible foster care children towards permanent placements.
    • Promoted adoptions of all special needs children and ensured health coverage for adopted special needs children.
    • Prohibited States from delaying/denying placements of children based on the geographic location of the prospective adoptive families.
    • Required States to document and report child-specific adoption efforts.
  • Increased accountability:
    • Required HHS to establish new outcome measures to monitor and improve State performance.
    • Required States to document child-specific efforts to move children into adoptive homes.
  • Clarified "Reasonable Efforts:"
    • Emphasized children's health and safety.
    • Required States to specify situations when services to prevent foster placement and reunification of families are not required.
  • Implemented shorter time limits for making decisions about permanent placements:
    • Permanency hearings to be held no later than 12 months after entering foster care.
    • States must initiate termination of parental rights proceedings after the child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months, except if not in the best interest of the child, or if the child is in the care of a relative.

Credits: National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information

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