Children Need a Family

First President Clinton. Then the House of Representatives. Soon the Senate.

Each has taken steps (or promises to take steps) toward the worthy goal of moving more children, faster, out of the country's elephantine foster care system and into permanent homes.

Last winter Mr. Clinton announced his goal of doubling the adoptions and permanent placements of foster care children by the year 2002. In April, the House passed a bill that would shorten the adoption-hearing process from 18 months to 12 and pay states $4,000 for each foster child adopted. Now, on to the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee recently held hearings on a bill, introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R) of Idaho, that builds on that concept. Among other things, it would require states to document and report their adoption efforts for each child; require criminal checks for foster and adoptive parents; and cut by a third the time a child must wait to be placed in a permanent home. It also would provide financial incentives for states to move children out of, rather than into, foster care.

A few of the provisions in the Senate bill are controversial or, at least, the jury's still out. For one thing, it's more expensive than the House version, since it takes the burden off states to pay for the adoptions of hard-to-adopt kids, to the tune of about $800 million. Some members of the Finance Committee, understandably, are asking how the federal government would pay, and how foster children would benefit. The Senate bill also would reauthorize Family Preservation Services, which, as its name suggests, provides services to try to keep families together. Some in Congress are reluctant to reauthorize without a closer look at what it is actually accomplishing. Fair enough.

But it's also fair to say both the House and Senate bills do what, in the long run, will make the greatest difference: They put the interest - the safety - of the child first. The focus, in both bills, is on adoption, on getting children into caring families. Neither bill abandons efforts to keep families together (Family Preservation Services is an example), but they acknowledge that all too often children are returned to their biological parents only to find themselves right back in the foster care system.

Children need a family - if not a biological family, then a permanent, adoptive one. The House and Senate bills would help ensure they get that.

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