Libby Adler

Document Type



In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The Act amends Titltes IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act, which governs states' federally funded child-protective efforts. Under the terms of the Act, states must conduct a permanency hearing within twelve months after a child enters foster care to determine whether the child will be returned to the family of origin or be "freed" for adoption. In this Essay, Professor Adler argues that this requirement forces courts and state decision-makers to choose between two stark alternatives- termination of parental rights and family reunification- and reflects a limited vision of the ideal family, to which only original and adoptive families conform. Professor Adler argues that this pervasive "ideology of the ideal family" is a pillar of American legal consciousness that throughout the history of American child welfare policy has sidelined nonconforming approaches and profoundly and detrimentally affected the lives of foster children. She brings to the foreground a pattern of legal consciousness and proposes that lawmakers embrace a wider array of permissible family structures to make room for a broader range of possible outcomes.

Date of Authorship for this Version



Foster children, Child welfare, Adoption and Safe Families Act, parental rights, Family Law, Law

Original Citation

Originally published in Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 1-36, Winter 2001. Please note that the copyright in the Harvard Journal on Legislation is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College, and that the copyright in the article is held by the author.