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Among the increasing number of federal statutes impacting family law two continue to impact child permanency and parental rights. First, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 mandates that state courts find that the state child welfare agency made reasonable efforts to reunite a dependent child with his or her parents prior to termination of parental rights. The child is dependent because a state court held that there was sufficient clear and convincing evidence to remove the child from the parents’ home. Often that evidence results from parental poverty, mental or physical disability, or the parents are undereducated and unworldly. Once the child is removed states are required to provide reasonable efforts to all parents to promote reunification and to provide permanency of placement for children. Second, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act is impacted by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and the continuing economic malaise adversely affecting state budgets. These two federal legislative efforts, although purportedly in the best interest of children, shorten the time parents have to cooperate with reasonable state efforts; failure to meet the statute’s deadline requires the state to begin procedures resulting in termination of parental rights.

What constitutes reasonable reunification efforts differs according to the individual circumstances. But there has been a uniform challenge occasioned by the formidable obstacles resulting from the national recession commencing in 2008. Decreasing state revenues reduces state expenditures for reasonable reunification efforts, to include treatment programs and classes that could assist parents in overcoming addictive behavior or in developing better parenting skills. Will the recessionary reduction in reasonable state reunification efforts compound the specified time frame that parents have to cooperate with these state efforts prior to termination of their parental rights? A few state courts have already concluded that decreasing state budgets may constitutionally reduce reasonable reunification efforts. Yet, without ongoing reunification efforts parents may not be able to rectify the causes that occasioned the removal of the child or children from their home. And if the causes are not remedied within a specified period of time termination of parental rights will ensue. Inequality results from the varying budget reductions among the states due to the economic recession; inequality also results because the poor, undereducated, unworldly and disabled are singularly targeted for termination of parental rights.

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