One of Hillary Clinton’s major accomplishments is a largely unknown piece of legislation from 1997 that subsidized adoptions of high risk or hard to place orphans. The government sends checks monthly directly to all Americans who’ve adopted from foster care and many if not most of these families would not be possible without the Federal Adoption Assistance program.
Ideas for the bill originated with both Democrats and Republicans. First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton originally voiced interest in the issue of orphaned children in an article she wrote in 1995. She then held public events to give the issue exposure, and met with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials and private foundation executives over policy questions and recommendations. She cited the Act as the achievement which she initiated and shepherded that provided her with the greatest satisfaction. The bill began in Congress with bipartisan support, then became contentious over issues of terminating birth parents' rights to children and funding levels for programs to keep children out of foster care. Hillary Clinton played a key role in finding a compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the latter issue after negotiations first broke down.
In greeting the final measure, Bill Clinton stated that the bill "makes clear that children's health and safety are the paramount concerns."
A benefit to the Adoption Assistance Program was that it expands both adoptions and federal assistance in general to a wider population of Americans — single adults, including lesbians and gay men, even single elderly people — people usually left out of family focused agenda.
Elderly people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to financially take on a new dependent, can adopt anyway and exploit their unique combination of compassion, need for companionship, availability, time, and experience to teach!
At the megastore-sized Childrens Court waiting room one day I met a widowed woman in her 80’s, healthy and active, with a low fixed income, whose grown children had all moved away and was alone. She adopted a 16 year old and her new born, both arrived at the woman’s home on an emergency foster care placement when they had to leave a group not certified for infants. The epitome of hard-to-place, yet it was a match made in heaven that wouldn’t have, couldn’t have been possible without financial assistance. I met this family of 3 on their adoption day and they were excited, a little nervous, and giddy about what they were doing.
A key obstacle to success, foster teens aging out with no support, became another federal initiative Hillary championed until getting legislation to extend assistance.
...each year, 27,000 children "age out" of foster care, reaching the age limit for their state and moving on to "independence" without ever knowing the security of a permanent family. The results are, predictably, disastrous.
Shortly after the Adoption and Safe Families Act was signed, Hillary Clinton began to work on what became the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 subsidizing life after foster care for young adults who age out of the system.
First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton was instrumental in passage of the bill, first holding a youth conference on the issues involved and then lobbying the United States Congress in support of legislation. It followed in the wake of her support for the earlier Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which made it easier to adopt foster children; the Foster Care Independence Act was intended to ease the transition into adulthood of foster children who did not get adopted.
Passage of the bill itself was non-controversial: H.R. 3443 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 18, 1999, by Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, via the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Commerce, and was passed on the House floor without objection. On November 19, it was passed in the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent.
Of course, mothers who lose their children to foster care still get nothing, multiplied, when they lose custody and are largely left to wither on their own from the trauma of a forced separation. I’m speaking entirely and exclusively from the interests of children already in foster care. But the children centered focus of the ASFA coupled with the financial assistance from AAP have been criticized for shifting momentum away from biological family reunification strategies. That may have been true and there have been numerous updates. However, while the public debates these policy questions, and the bioparents deal with their loss of rights and take parenting classes, the kids are growing up, fast, oh so fast… Hillary’s focus was also the children, not the taking.
Another concern is the arguments for means testing for the AAP. I’ll say it is scary, especially for commitment phobes like me. High risk, they’ve determines so you wonder what that means. The psychiatrists scare with, “little children little problems big children big problems.” What kind of medical bills will come? Other adoptive parents warn of financial difficulties meeting the special needs of children who may have been tossed around in the foster care system and have inherited physical and mental health concerns that will not present for years. The FAAP is designed specifically to remove such barriers.
The public does an extraordinary thing when it takes children from their parents and revokes parental rights. That’s a grave public move that is done only in the child’s best interest, albeit with prejudice. The public now “owns” these children in a process that in and of itself harms the children, so any community participation that can be corralled is vital for the children’s sake. So it makes sense to me that the public should be covering funds that stay with the child until they’re on their own, or after.
The Adoption Assistance Program literature frequently warns families that this money may disappear since Congress keeps cutting. Hillary has been keeping up with reinforcements and in 2004, with Sen. Grassley commissioned a GAO study of obstacles to adoptions.
I only wrote this because there was a guy around here last week pushing an outrage that Hillary was trashing adopted kids and Bernie’s grandchildren and yada, yada, yada. It’s so insane.
Anyway, yes, these soft kinds of accomplishments are not what you put on a resume perhaps, but activism of such high regard and recognition counts. The facts are that without Hillary then, or now, there would be no AAP and that’s of tangible importance to millions of kids, parents, and social workers and everyone involved with adoptions.