Reforming foster care: A history of New York's Child Welfare Reform Act
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New York State's 1979 Child Welfare Reform Act was the culmination of a decade of social reform activity. Although the Act affected the delivery of all child welfare services, an assessment of its history demonstrates it is best understood as a comprehensive reform of the most institutionally entrenched service, foster care. This study takes special note in the reform process of the role of social workers, as agency providers, researchers and professionals who had historic responsibility for the development of the service.;Blumer and Mauss provide the theoretical perspective for studying the history of the Act as a social reform. Both argue that reform occurs in stages, defined here as coalescence, enactment and implementation. During coalescence, the problem of foster care, known as foster care drift, emerged and received social legitimation with the formation of the Temporary State Commission on Child Welfare. Under the charismatic leadership of State Senator Joseph Pisani, the Commission afforded parties affected by reform the opportunity to shape and define the social problem.;The disparate strengths of the affected parties are reflected in the enactment of the law. Adoptive parent groups, who lent political strength to the reform movement, secured immediate and substantial gains. Voluntary agencies, historically the providers of foster care in the City, were co-opted into the reform process in coalescence and had their professional autonomy restricted by expanded governmental monitoring.;Charged with responsibility for implementation, the State Department of Social Services provided a continuity of reform for most sections of this far-reaching law. But the absence of an effective feedback mechanism, the phenomenon of goal displacement and certain bureaucratic concerns produced results not intended by the reformers and a downsizing of the capacity of the foster care system.;The study also argues that permanency planning was the ideology of the reform movement. Using the theories of Selznick and Giddens, the study examines the underlying values and components of permanency planning and how it functions as ideology to create a coalition for reform.;The study concludes with recommendations and suggestions for stimulating the continuation of reform in the next decade.