September 2002

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Starting in 1997, Elizabeth Bartholet a law professor at Harvard Law School, researched and wrote Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative.

The book analyzed both the current strategies for protecting abused or neglected children and the shortcomings in prevailing foster care and adoption policies.

As part of the research, the principal investigator reviewed the legal, medical, and social science literature; conducted interviews with key players in child welfare; and participated in conferences and workshops on child welfare policy. Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative was published by Beacon Press in 1999. Nearly 4,000 copies had been sold as of March 2001.

Key Conclusions

  • Child abuse and neglect are growing problems.
  • The traditional societal response to child abuse and neglect, which focuses on family preservation, gets triggered only after severe abuse and neglect are evident, and it achieves too little, too late.
  • More effective alternatives would include earlier intervention in families with problems as well as permanent removal of children to adoptive homes when the family has fallen apart and abuse and neglect are occurring.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with two grants totaling $309,990 from January 1997 to March 2000.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
 Back to the Table of Contents


THE PROBLEM

Increasing numbers of children spend large parts of their childhoods in foster and institutional care. Recent child welfare policies and priorities — which emphasize family preservation and reunification — provide no apparent solution. Indeed, many child protective service workers say they are seeing children who are far more damaged than those served in previous decades. Many agree that the system must either move more quickly to help dysfunctional families cope with their difficulties or arrange for a permanent alternative family for such children. Elizabeth Bartholet, principal investigator for the project, is a professor of law at Harvard University.

 Back to the Table of Contents


THE PROJECT

These grants from RWJF funded production of a book that analyzed both the current strategies for protecting abused or neglected children and the shortcomings in prevailing foster care and adoption policies.The project was proposed as a synthesis of law, public policy, and social science that would assess the empirical evidence for societal efforts made in response to child abuse and neglect; that would analyze existing laws and regulations in order to understand how they have helped structure the current system; and that would explore the legal changes needed if that system is to change.

As part of the research, the principal investigator reviewed the legal, medical, and social science literature on such topics as early intervention and family support, abuse and neglect, kinship care, racial and other barriers to adoptive placement, and family preservation programs. She also conducted interviews with key players in child welfare and participated in conferences and workshops on child welfare policy.

The 320-page book Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative was published by Beacon Press in fall 1999. The book was written to appeal to lay readers, but the publisher marketed it also as a teaching book for social work schools, social welfare departments, and others.

Other Funding

Additional support for the project was provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation in the amount of $35,000 and by Joseph Puma, a private philanthropist, who provided $22,000.

 Back to the Table of Contents


CONCLUSIONS

In her book Nobody's Children, the author develops three key themes:

  • Child abuse and neglect are growing problems. According to the author, at least 3 million American children annually are subjected to serious forms of abuse and neglect. The author illustrates the severity of the problems through presenting several case histories.
  • The traditional societal approach to child abuse and neglect, which focuses on family preservation, achieves too little, too late. The central critique is that the traditionalist approach intervenes only when a level of severe abuse and neglect has been reached or at the point when families have irremediably fallen apart. Allowing children to remain with abusive parents merely because they are biologically related is not a viable option. Parenting classes — the principal corrective strategy offered by traditionalists — are not helpful. Repeated child abuse and neglect merely continue the cycles of abuse and neglect, thereby leading to further substance abuse, crime, and poverty. The author also assails the practice of racial and ethnic matching in adoption — another strategy of traditionalists. Because the children who need help are overwhelmingly black and the parents who adopt are overwhelmingly white, large numbers of children remain in the foster care system — without permanent families.
  • More-effective alternatives would include earlier intervention. The hallmarks of such an activist state would be earlier intervention in families with problems, with a focus on home visitation, and permanent removal of children to adoptive homes when the biological family has fallen apart and abuse and neglect are occurring.

Recommendations

  • Enforce current federal law. The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 was designed to ensure that foster placements and adoption do not get either delayed or denied due to race, color, or national origin. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 was designed to protect children and to expedite the placement of foster children in permanent families.
  • Expand the use of family drug courts. The author notes that 80 percent of all abuse and neglect cases stem from parental alcohol and substance abuse.

Communications

Nearly 4,000 copies of Nobody's Children had been sold as of March 2001. The author published six articles based on the research, including one in the Yale Law Journal. She also made 23 presentations at conferences and workshops, and she gave invited testimony on interethnic adoption to the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee's Human Resources Subcommittee in 1998. Eleven reviews of Nobody's Children have been published, and the author was interviewed by several local and national television and radio outlets. (See the Bibliography for details.)

 Back to the Table of Contents


AFTER THE GRANT

The author continues to give presentations on issues related to adoption and child abuse and neglect.

 Back to the Table of Contents


GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Research to Develop Policy Models Aimed at Assuring That Children Grow up in Nurturing Homes

Grantee

Harvard Law School (Cambridge,  MA)

  • Amount: $ 230,000
    Dates: January 1997 to December 1999
    ID#:  029782

  • Amount: $ 79,990
    Dates: October 1997 to March 2000
    ID#:  031323

Contact

Elizabeth Bartholet
(617) 495-3128
ebarthol@law.harvard.edu

 Back to the Table of Contents


BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Books

Bartholet E. Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1999.

Articles

Bartholet E. "A Boost for the Adoption Alternative." Connect for Kids, Guidance for Grown-Ups, on the Connect for Kids Web site, July 28, 2000.

Bartholet E. "Response to Martin Guggenheim's Book Review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative." Harvard Law Review, 113(8): 1999–2008, 2000.

Bartholet E. "Taking Adoption Seriously: Radical Revolution or Modest Revisionism?" Capital University Law Review, 28(November): 77–90, 1999.

Bartholet E. "Reporting on Child Welfare and Adoption Policies." Nieman Reports, 53(Fall): 74, 1999.

Bartholet E. "Private Race Preferences in Family Formation." Yale Law Journal, 107(May): 2351, 1998.

Bartholet E. "More Than Ever, State Should Cast Wide Net in Search of Foster Parents." The Boston Globe, April 14, 1997 (an op-ed piece). Reprinted in the Harvard Law Record (as "Fitness to Foster"), April 25, 1997, and in Harvard Law Bulletin, Summer 1997.

Presentations and Testimony

Elizabeth Bartholet, "The Debate between Open versus Closed Adoptions," at the Many Phases of Adoption Conference, part of the Cambridge Series sponsored by the Cambridge Hospital Department of Psychiatry, January 11, 1997, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Selected Issues in Contemporary Adoption Policy and Law," at Advocacy for Adopting Parents, MCLE Conference Center, January 14, 1997, Boston, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Adoption and the Politics of Parenting," keynote presentation at the San Diego Conference on Responding to Child Maltreatment, January 28, 1997, San Diego, Calif.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "International and Transracial Adoption: Issues of Identity and Heritage" (workshop), at the San Diego Conference on Responding to Child Maltreatment, January 28, 1997, San Diego, Calif.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Debunking the Adoption Stigma" (workshop), at the Open Door Society's Annual New England Adoption Conference, May 17, 1997, Milford, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Race Separatism in the Family: The Debate over Transracial and International Adoption" (workshop), at the Organization for the Protection of Children's Rights' Third International Conference on the Child, May 21, 1997, Montreal, Canada.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Beyond Biology: The Politics of Adoption and Reproduction," keynote speech at the Organization for the Protection of Children's Rights' Third International Conference on the Child, May 22, 1997, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Barriers to Permanency" (panel), at the Family Preservation: Who Wins, Who Loses? conference hosted by the Massachusetts Appleseed Center, June 23, 1997, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Unmarried Motherhood: From Conception to Consequence" (panel), at the ARCO Forum of Public Affairs, Harvard University, October 22, 1997, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Achieving Permanency for Foster Children," testimony before the Massachusetts Legislature Committee Hearing on Issues Related to Achieving Permanency for Foster Children, February 23, 1998.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "International Adoption: The Opportunity," at the Conference: The Legal Basis of Adoption, keynote presentation sponsored by the Georgian Ministry of Education and the Constitutional League), April 13–15, 1998, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Debunking the Adoption Stigma" (workshop), at the Open Door Society's Annual New England Adoption Conference, May 16, 1998, Milford, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Two Stories of a Family at Risk for Child Maltreatment," Harvard Law School Faculty Colloquium, July 20, 1998, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Hearing on Implementation of the 1996 Interethnic Adoption Amendments to the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994," testimony before the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee's Human Resources Subcommittee, September 15, 1998. Written request from E. Clay Shaw Jr., chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, August 26, 1998.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Taking Adoption Seriously: Radical Revolution or Modest Revisionism?" keynote speech, presented as the Sullivan Lecture, at Capital University Law School, February, 9, 1999, Columbus, Ohio.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Family Preservation in the Millennium," keynote speech at the National Council for Adoption Annual Conference, April 12, 1999, Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Children's Rights," panel presentation at the Children's Rights Symposium, Brandeis University, May 12, 1999, Waltham, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Politics of Family Violence," at the Mt. Auburn Thursday Morning Talks, January 13, 2000, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Nobody's Children Themes," keynote address at the Harvard Children's Initiative Monthly Children's Seminars, January 18, 2000, Cambridge, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "The National Challenge: Where Are We Now? Where Do We Go from Here?" at the Kids at Risk: Working Together to Protect America's YouthConference, organized by Congressman Thomas DeLay (R-Texas) and sponsored by the Public Forum Institute, February 24, 2000, Houston, Texas.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Ethical and Legal Issues in Adoptive Multicultural Families" and "The Ethics of Genetic Testing in Adoption" (panels), at the Colloquium on the Ethics of Adoption, University of Massachusetts, March 9, 2000, Boston, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Debunking the Adoption Stigma," at the 27th Annual New England Adoption Conference on Education for the Building and Sustaining of Foster and Adoptive Families, sponsored by Open Door Society of Massachusetts, Inc., April 8, 2000, Milford, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "All in the 'Biological' Family," keynote speech at the National Council for Adoption Annual Meeting 2000, April 11, 2000, Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Current Legal Issues in Adoption," at the Annual Pediatric Meetings, May 12, 2000, Boston, Mass.

Elizabeth Bartholet, "Revolution in Child Welfare Thinking?" keynote speech at the Massachusetts Association of School Counselors Association Annual Conference, October 26, 2000, Worcester, Mass.

Book Reviews

Anonymous, a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1999.

Babb LA, PhD, "Adoption in the New Millennium," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Adoptive Families, January/February 2000.

Collins J, "Elizabeth Bartholet Challenges the Child Welfare System," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Harvard Law Bulletin, Spring 2000.

Daulton DD, "Thicker Than Water," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Newsletter of American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, June 2000.

Devaney S, a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Library Journal, October 1, 1999.

Gelles RJ, "Putting Children First," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in The World & I, February 2000.

Guggenheim M, "Book Review: Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Care Drift, and the Adoption Alternative," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Care Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Child Welfare Watch, March 14, 2000.

Guggenheim M, "Somebody's Children: Sustaining the Family's Place in Child Welfare Policy," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in Harvard Law Review, 113(7): 2000.

Morey A-J, "Saving the Children," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in the Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1999.

Nickman S, "Book Review," a review of Nobody's Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, August 2000.

Radio Coverage

"Talk of the Nation," ethical and social questions surrounding new technologies in assisted reproduction, National Public Radio, September 29, 1999.

"CBS Evening News," New Jersey transracial adoption case, CBS, October 1, 1999.

"Greater Boston with Emily Rooney," extreme neglect case, WGBH-TV, October 6, 1999.

"All Things Considered," wrongful adoption and disability issues, National Public Radio, November 1, 1999.

"48 Hours," The Baby Makers: Choosing What Kind of Baby to Have, CBS, December 30, 1999.

"Radio 1," British Columbia Court of Appeals race and custody case, Canadian Broadcasting Company, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 5, 2000.

 Back to the Table of Contents


Report prepared by: Robert Crum
Reviewed by: James Wood
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Program Officer: Robert G. Hughes

Most Requested