Child-Snatching to Reap Federal Funds: The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997

An article called “The 7 Most Horrifying Cost-Cutting Measures of All Time” decries the role of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 in children being snatched from loving families by state officials and then put into foster homes by Child Protective Services (CPS).  According to the 1997 law, “for each child adopted into a foster family, the responsible state receives $4,000 to $6,000, with an additional $20 million bonus if it exceeds the average number of adoptions from previous years.”  The article says that that incentive “encourages CPS to make an increasingly liberal interpretation of the term ‘rescue.’  Consider that, a few years ago, CPS employee Pat Moore was fired for refusing to put a child in a foster home simply because everyone in the foster family had a felony conviction, and the family occasionally hired a convicted sex offender to babysit. ”  Similarly, the article alleges that “when Vanessa Shanks’ child was taken away and she fought the decision in court, CPS responded . . . by taking away children of her relatives, and after Shanks finally won in court, they took away her attorney’s children.”

The problem of government officials seizing children and adopting them out to receive bonuses is even more severe in England, as I explained a few years ago at Point of Law.  But improper seizures of children from loving parents is also a problem in the United States, as I previously chronicled.

English children have been taken from their parents based on mere speculation that they may abuse them in the future, even if the government concedes the child has never actually been abused.

Most newspapers and legal commentators don’t cover this sort of thing, assuming that such actions are either non-existent, or isolated aberrations, and that CPS officials are omniscient and wise when they seize children from their parents.  A few exceptions are the Washington Examiner, and Walter Olson, the dean of law bloggers.  Olson has discussed the subject, and the devastating effects when parents are not in fact abusive or dangerous yet are put through investigations, or worse yet see their children taken away, at his web site Overlawyered, the world’s oldest law blog, which has been cited by federal court rulings on other subjects.

Children seized by CPS often experience devastating harm. In Doe v. Lebbos, 348 F.3d 820 (9th Cir. 2003), Judge Andrew Kleinfeld’s dissent described the tragedy that befell a little girl who was seized from her father as a result of false abuse accusations:

After being bounced around in the agency and foster parent bureaucracy for over a year, Lacey . . . was ‘diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing voices, and suicidal ideation.’ She was put on anti-psychotic medication. She had taken to smearing feces and to other abnormal and highly disruptive behavior. . . what the county did to her to ‘protect’ her apparently destroyed her. Something in this experience, perhaps being ripped away from her father for whom she consistently expressed love during the whole miserable period, perhaps having strangers strip her and search her heretofore private parts, perhaps being put with caretakers instead of her father, amounted to a trauma that was too much for her.

Ironically, after CPS seizes your kid and places him or her with a foster family, it will sometimes argue that the child should not be returned to you even if you prove you did nothing wrong and that the allegations were false.  Why?  They’ll argue that the kid has bonded with the foster family and thus would suffer emotional harm from being returned to you.  Yet the emotional harm that kids experience being taken away from their parents in the first place seems to be given little weight.