The Road to a Federal Family Court

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The family court became a “federal” family court in the 1990s and early 2000s when the federal government transformed the court into a full partner with state and local child protection agencies in monitoring families. Federal funding mandates that had shaped and expanded state child welfare, foster care, and adoption systems since the early 1970s began to be applied more purposefully to address the role of family court in supervising those systems. The Clinton administration developed and implemented the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1996 (ASFA) as a mechanism to harness the runaway size of the nationalized child protection system. ASFA was a time-limiting remedy to accelerate decision-making by child protection authorities and family court judges, focused especially on achieving adoptions. Preventive efforts made to keep families safely together or reunite them were largely abandoned. Instead, vast numbers of families were torn apart permanently through termination of parental rights and many anticipated adoptions never happened, leaving thousands of children ageing out of foster care without a legal family. The family court largely abandoned its independent decision-making authority under this new collaborative and monitoring regime.


Family Law | Law

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