There are more than 400,000 children and youth in foster care; May has been designated as National Foster Care Month in order to bring awareness of the experiences of these children and youth. This year's theme is "Change A Lifetime" in order to encourage individuals to work to change the lives of children and youth in foster care.
One way to change many lifetimes for youth in foster care is through policy. Sometimes it takes a large media and public outcry to make changes (which may or may not be ideal; for instance, see this Huffington Post article about why Caylee's Law was a bad idea); other times, it just takes persistence and lobbying by concerned citizens.
As a policy wonk, I wanted to share with you some notable pieces of federal legislation that were signed into law over the last few decades, whose purpose was to promote better outcomes for youth in foster care and thus, change their lifetimes. By no means is this list comprehensive, nor does it include state-level laws. For more federal foster care legislation, please see the Administration for Children & Families' and the Child Welfare Information Gateway's webpages on this topic. Additionally, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has a brief on major federal legislation that is worth a look.
|Bill||Key Foster Care Provisions||Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011||Monitor/treat emotional trauma resulting from removal from home & psychotropic drug use, focus on developmental needs of children under 5 in foster care, promote educational stability for youth in care, provide older youth with a free consumer credit report|
|CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010||Included provisions aimed to promote adoption of older youth from foster care|
|Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008||Provide support for kinship care/family connections and older youth transitioning from care, coordinated health services, improved educational stability, adoption incentives and assistance, and direct access to federal resources for Indian tribes (resource)|
|Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003||Reauthorized CAPTA and included provisions related to promoting adoption of older foster youth|
|Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001||Allowed the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to provide education & training vouchers to youth who aged out of care|
|Foster Care Independence Act of 1999||Made changes to improve the Independent Living Program (such as increasing the amount of assets allowable for children in foster care and asking that states provide medical assistance to 18-20 year-olds who aged out of foster care)|
|Adoption & Safe Families Act of 1997||This bill's purpose was to promote the adoption of children in foster care|
|Interethnic Adoption Provisions of 1996|
(Section 1808 of Title I, Subtitle H, Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996)
|Amends MEPA by removing language permitting states to consider race and ethnicity as a factor in determining the best interests of the child to be placed for foster care or adoption; states may not deny anyone the opportunity to foster or adopt based on race, color, or national origin of the parent or child|
|Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994|
(Title V of Improving America's Schools Act of 1994)
|Prevent discrimination based on race, color, and/or national origin in foster/adoptive placements; required states to develop plans to recruit foster/adoptive families that reflect ethnic/racial diversity of children in care; allowed states to consider cultural, ethnic, or racial background of a child and of the foster/adoptive parent's ability to meet the needs of that child|
|Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980||Established the adoption and foster care assistance programs|
|Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978||Established standards for foster/adoptive placements of Indian children and for preventing break-up of Indian families|
|Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974||This bill was the first major piece of legislation that worked to prevent, identify, and treat child abuse and neglect|