Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: Children, Families, and Foster Care Volume 14 Number 1 Winter 2004

Safety and Stability for Foster Children: The Policy Context
MaryLee Allen Mary Bissell


Even though federal laws have had a major influence on foster care and child welfare policy for more than 40 years, additional reforms are needed to ensure safe and stable families for children in care. This article describes the complex array of policies that shape federal foster care and observes:

  • A number of federal policies addressing issues such as housing, health care, welfare, social security benefits, taxes, and foster care reimbursement to the states, form the federal foster care policy framework.

  • The Adoption and Safe Families Act significantly altered federal foster care policy by instituting key changes such as defining when it is reasonable to pursue family reunification, expediting timelines for making permanency decisions, recognizing kinship care as a permanency option, and providing incentives to the state for increasing the number of adoptions.

  • Courts play a key and often overlooked role in achieving safety and permanency for children in foster care. Efforts to improve court performance have focused on increasing the responsiveness and capacity of courts.

The article concludes with policy recommendations that are needed to improve the lives of children in foster care, such as increasing investments in children and families, redirecting funding incentives, addressing service gaps, and enhancing accountability.