UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 11/24/97

Hillary Clinton speaks to foster children and adoption experts at UC Berkeley forum today

by Jesús Mena

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will underscore the government's dedication to move children out of foster care and into permanent families during a UC Berkeley forum today with Bay Area foster children and adoption experts.

The forum is co-hosted by UC Berkeley's National Child Welfare Research Center and the San Francisco Youth Law Center, a children's legal protection group. Their conversation with Mrs. Clinton will celebrate passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act signed into law by President Clinton Nov. 19.

Mrs. Clinton has argued that with the right policies in place, as many as 100,000 of the nation's most vulnerable children could be removed from the foster care rolls each year and given permanent placement with new parents.

The new federal law aims to do this by the year 2002 and is expected to double the number of children adopted annually. Research from UC Berkeley's Child Welfare Research Center was used in the development of such reforms, said Richard Barth, UC Berkeley Hutto Patterson Professor of Social Welfare and a speaker at the forum. Other speakers include Carole Shauffer of the Youth Law Center and UC Berkeley's Chancellor Robert Berdahl, as well as Mrs. Clinton.

"This is an extremely important issue and we are delighted that Mrs. Clinton has chosen to highlight the center and our faculty's work with this visit to Berkeley," said Berdahl.

Congressional testimony based on work of the UC Berkeley child welfare center "showed that even very young children too often remain in foster care for extraordinarily long times," said Professor Barth. "Even after six years, more than 20 percent of children who enter foster care as infants remain in foster care."

Additionally, a child's age makes all the difference when up for adoption. Children younger than 12 months when placed in foster care are five times more likely to be adopted than those who enter the system between the ages of three and five, the UC Berkeley center found.

"Adoption is quite time-sensitive, so children who wait in foster care gradually see their chances for adoption slip away," said Barth.

For those who are not adopted, the foster care experience can be traumatic, involving separation from one set of caretakers after another. Half of all infants who remain in foster care can expect to live with three or more families during the first six years of life, according to UC Berkeley research.

"Many people say if foster parents are committed to kids, foster care can be as permanent as adoption," said Barth. "This may be true for individual cases, but as a rule, foster care provides nowhere near the stability of adoption."

Foster care moves are "not generally the young child's fault," said Barth. "They haven't run away or stolen the family car or dropped out of school." Rather, shifts in the health or financial situation of foster families are sometimes unavoidable, and "changes of heart, yes, that's part of it too," said Barth. "For whatever reasons, adoptions are much more long-lasting than foster care."

However, this lack of stability harms children, said Barth. "Kids need to get oriented to the world. If they are always trying to understand the unexpected, they don't have much emotional and cognitive capacity left to relax, to relate to people, and to learn."

"If I moved every year to a new family, I would sure lose a few IQ points myself," he said.

Barth said the new law addresses these concerns in several ways, including:


  • Reauthorizing money for family preservation and support, so children can avoid unnecessary placement in foster care.

  • Paying states a bonus for improving programs so more adoptions take place.

  • Clarifying that the health and safety of children takes precedence over efforts to reunite families.

  • Reducing the time children must wait in foster care before they are released from their biological parents.

Overall, "the Adoption and Safe Families Act continues commitment to family preservation, but limits exposure of children to harm when they can't go home," said Barth.

Barth said about 200,000 children enter foster care each year in the U.S. and there are now "between 50,000 and 100,000 children living in foster care who might have been adopted under different policies."

National estimates show that about 25,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year.

UC Berkeley's Child Welfare Center was established under federal grant in 1990 as one of three centers of excellence in the country. It was recently awarded two major projects, one to conduct a national study following the outcome of 6,000 children after they enter the child welfare system. The other initiative involves evaluating a project to waive federal statutes so child welfare agencies can test new service approaches.

The Youth Law Center, co-sponsor of the forum, is a non-profit, public interest law organization working to protect abused and at-risk children. With offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the center works nationally to serve children, focusing particularly upon the problems of children living apart from their families in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

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