In the past ten years, policymakers and child welfare researchers have expressed the need to establish the "minimum level of care" and "good enough parenting" necessary for children to return to their families following removal from the home by a child welfare worker. This need derives in part from the sweeping mandate of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997.
To investigate ASFA's impact on the construction of the good enough family, this policy implementation study posed four interrelated questions: (1) How has child welfare policy reflected and/or enacted notions of the "good enough" family over time? (2) Which kinship arrangements and family forms does ASFA authorize in theory? (3) How do caseworkers and judges define "good enough" families in theory? (4) How do caseworkers and judges define "good enough" families in practice?
Based on an analysis of secondary historical documents, 42 semi-structured interviews with caseworkers and judges, 18 court observations, and 23 case file reviews, this research concludes that throughout its existence, child welfare policy has construed good enough' in relation to dominant social relations. Moreover, while ASFA represents a decisive rhetorical shift from the rights of the parents to the needs of the child, its implementation in four Oklahoma counties was inconsistent and even contradictory. Caseworkers and judges, despite a variety of beliefs, still attempted to reunify families rather to facilitate adoption. ASFA's biggest impacts are expedited permanency decision-making timeframes, which have transformed expectations about normative time from removal to family reintegration.
At the federal level, policy recommendations include finding a more realistic and less punitive approach to the impact on families of large scale changes to the economy, such as globalization. At the local level, this study proposes that stable family reunifications can be promoted by: retaining workers with more direct practice experience, reunifying families within a six to 12-month timeframe, fostering good relationships between child welfare directors and judges, providing a more optimal array of substance abuse and mental health services, and reducing poverty.