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June 2005Vol. 6, No. 5Another Look at the Impact of ASFA

A working paper from the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago explores the effects of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) on children's chances of being adopted and time for adoptions to take place. Adoption Dynamics: An Update on the Impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act suggests that the passage of ASFA enhanced the effect of State policies and practices already in place to speed up the adoption process.

The purpose of the study was both to understand the effects of ASFA and to expand statistical methods of looking at adoption outcomes. Researchers used data from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, which includes placement records for about 1.67 million children in foster care. Data from seven archive States (Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio) were used. Instead of looking at data for a particular point in time, researchers looked at how cohorts of children, entering the foster care system during the same year, fared over a longer period.

Conclusions reached by the authors include:

  • Children who were in care after ASFA was passed appear to move to adoption more quickly. However, the authors suggest this trend was already in effect before ASFA was passed. (Data indicate that the probability of adoption increased significantly between 1990 and 1997.)
  • The speed of adoptions appears to have increased during the second half of the 1990s. For early cohorts (1990-1995), the number of children adopted peaked in the fifth year after admission to foster care; for children admitted in 1996 and later, the number of adoptions each year after admission peaked in the fourth year.
  • The report also suggests there has been a slowdown in the reunification process, which the authors believe may be an unintended consequence of ASFA. This may be at least as far-reaching as the impact of faster adoptions, given that many more children in foster care eventually return home than are adopted.

The authors note that as more data become available for later cohorts in the study, findings are subject to substantial change.

Adoption Dynamics: An Update on the Impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, by Fred Wulczyn, Kristen Hislop, and Lijun Chen, is available on the Chapin Hall website at

Related Item

Read more about the impact of ASFA in earlier issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Unclear Whether ASFA Speeds Adoption, Slows Reunification" (May 2003)
  • "GAO Report Examines ASFA's Impact on Foster Care" (Aug/Sept 2002)