Is There Justice in Children's Rights? The Critique of Federal Family Preservation Policy
Dorothy E. Roberts
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), enacted in November 1997, represents a shift in federal child welfare philosophy from an emphasis on reunification of children in foster care with their biological families toward an emphasis on adoption. The promotion of ASFA and the critique of family preservation policy is framed as a defense of children¹s rights. The debate surrounding the law pitted children¹s interests against the state¹s interest in keeping families together, and children¹s right to be safe against parents¹ right to custody of their children. This paper uses the perceived antagonism between children¹s rights and family preservation policies to explore the politics of children¹s rights. I argue that there are both pragmatic and philosophical flaws in ASFA¹s emphasis on adoption that undermine the claim that the law advances children¹s rights. America¹s foster care problem stems more from the removal of too many children from their homes than from the failure to place enough children in adoptive homes. I also argue that the passage of ASFA reflected contemporary developments in race and class politics, particularly welfare reform and changes in federal policy on transracial adoption. A grossly disproportionate number of children placed in substitute care are poor and Black. I conclude by making a case for injecting a deliberate attention to social justice in discussions about children¹s rights.
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