FROM "FOCUS," the quarterly report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation for disadvantaged children:
"Thirteen years ago Congress set out to realign the policy framework for the nation's child welfare system. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272), a fundamental reorientation of the nation's protective service systems, encouraged states to stabilize vulnerable, crisis-ridden families rather than rely so readily on removal to foster care as the primary means of securing the welfare of an at-risk child.
"This reform was a response to years of growth in the number of children languishing in public care and an acknowledgment that the trauma experienced by many of these children might have been avoided through practical preventive work with their families. Children's advocates and others hoped that the new law would lead to greater stability and continuity for vulnerable kids and would reaffirm the nation's fundamental belief in family as the best setting for raising children.
". . . Much of the promise of that reform has not yet been realized. In most states, rates of out-of-home care are again rising. The availability of preventive interventions for families in crisis is uneven, as is the quality of such services. And the law's commitment to responsible reunification of children and families remains more rhetoric than reality.
"Many factors have contributed to this disappointing record. One is a failure by the federal government and many states to earmark sufficient resources for the transition to a reformed child-welfare system. Another is increased reports of child abuse and neglect in the 1980s, fueled in part by higher rates of poverty and drug abuse. But one of the most significant barriers to realizing the promise of the 1980 legislation has been the continuing failure of Congress and the administration to define, clarify or otherwise make operational the central provision of the reform law: the 'reasonable efforts' requirements."