Hillary Clinton’s bipartisan effort in 1997 gave thousands of adopted kids a new home.
A bipartisan push for reform.
When Hillary was a law student at Yale, she volunteered at the local legal aid clinic under a young lawyer named Penn Rhodeen. It was there that she saw how important it was for children to have their own advocates in the legal system.
Together, Hillary and Penn represented a woman who had fostered a 2-year-old girl since birth and wanted to adopt her. At the time, Connecticut’s social services department had a strict policy against foster parents adopting, and so the child had been taken from her—even though she was the only mother the little girl had ever known.
Unfortunately, Hillary and Penn lost that case—and that experience inspired her to advocate for foster children within the legal system.
So when Hillary became first lady of the United States, she made sure improving our adoption and foster care system was a top priority. She convened child advocates and adoption experts in a series of White House meetings and those conversations led to a plan that was ultimately passed as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. This groundbreaking piece of legislation improved our country’s foster system and helped thousands of children move from the foster care system to permanent, adoptive homes.
The legislation represents a fundamental shift in the philosophy of child welfare, from a presumption that the chief consideration ought to be returning a child to his biological parents to one in which the health and safety of the child is paramount.The Washington Post reported at the time.
Within five years of the law’s passage, the number of adoptions from foster care nearly doubled across the country—and thousands of American children who waited for a stable, loving home were finally able to find a place to call their own.
But Hillary wasn’t going to stop there…
Hillary still understood that an estimated 20,000 young people “aged out” of the foster care system when they turned 18 each year, and many didn’t have anywhere to go.
“Just as they confront the critical transition to independence, they become ineligible for federal financial support, and a disproportionate number of them become homeless, living without health insurance or other crucial assistance,” Hillary wrote in her memoir, Living History.
She set out to change this, working with Republican Senator John Chafee and Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller on what became the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999. The legislation made sure that young people aging out of foster care could still get access to health care, job training, housing assistance, and other support services they needed to transition into adulthood.
One of those young people was Shane:
Hillary first met Shane in the 1990s when she was working on the Adoption and Safe Families Act. At that time, Shane had aged out of the foster care system. Hillary asked Shane about his story and what would have made difference in his life.
“Aging out of foster care is one of the cruelest things we can do to a child. People aren’t jumping up and down to take in a 14-year-old black boy. Foster children are the forgotten children,” Shane remembers.
Hearing the personal experiences of foster children like Shane were fundamental in shaping the Foster Care Independence Act.
“Hillary has never forgotten about foster children,” Shane noted. “Once she was made aware that America had children languishing in foster care, that were just not moving, her attitude was: Not on my watch. Not while I’m first lady. That was groundbreaking.”
Watch Shane’s story: