Reasonable efforts is a term used in child welfare to describe the casework and treatment services required to prevent the removal of children from their parents or guardians when children are at risk of abuse or neglect. If removal is necessary to keep children safe, reasonable efforts must be made to return children to their parents or guardians and if this is not possible, to place the children into permanent families. The purposes of these requirements are to preserve families or if this cannot be achieved safely and quickly, to integrate the children into stable and nurturing families and prevent children from shifting between foster care placements, causing disruptions to their parental attachments, schooling, and peer relations.
The 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 96-272) required that states provide services to keep children safe while preventing removal from their families. Prior to approving the removal of children, the courts must rule that reasonable efforts have been made to prevent placement or that the safety of the children cannot be protected while services are provided in the home. Once children are removed, P.L. 96-272 requires the state agency to provide services to children and their parents and guardians to allow the children to be safely returned home. P.L. 96-272 did not supplant the Indian Child Welfare Act, which requires the child welfare agency to provide active efforts to prevent removal and to reunify families, a higher standard, for children eligible for membership in Indian tribes.
Although reasonable efforts are not defined in P.L. 96-272, generally the courts determine if the child welfare agency offered services that were directed at the issues that jeopardized the children’s safety and that were accessible, affordable, and culturally responsive to the families served. Child welfare agencies help families meet basic needs by providing funding or by linking the families to agencies that provide housing, utilities payments, clothing, food, and transportation. Funding for treatment services may be provided by community agencies, Medicaid, and by the child welfare agency when families cannot afford to pay for the needed services. If the reasonable efforts are directed toward reunification, ongoing visitation between parents and children is required if children can be protected both emotionally and physically.
In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act added reasonable efforts requirements for child welfare agencies to find permanent homes for children if the children cannot be safely reunited with their parents or guardians. In addition to searching for appropriate adoptive parents, states are required to search for relatives who can raise the children safely within the extended family.
- Katz, L., Spoonemore, N., & Robinson, C. (2000). Concurrent planning: From permanency planning to permanency action (Rev. ed.). Seattle, WA: Lutheran Social Services of Washington and Idaho.
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (2000). Adoption and permanency guidelines: Improving court practice in child abuse and neglect cases. Reno, NV: Author.
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