2012 Child Welfare Legislative Enactments Overview


Group of childrenState lawmakers enacted various policies aimed at improving child welfare in their states. In 2012, at least 41 states passed 257 or more enactments related to child welfare. These enactments included policies on adoption, foster care, kinship care, child protection, reporting child abuse or neglect, child abuse prevention and training, oversight and administration, courts, child fatality, Indian child welfare, termination of parental rights, infant abandonment, funding, and child welfare workforce.  A majority of the enactments overlap in more than one of these policy areas. Below is a summary of state legislation by policy area. Click here to view the online searchable database of 2012 enactments.



At least 18 states enacted 23 or more polices related to adoption. The adoption topics states addressed include: legal requirements and court proceedings, birth parent visitation, relative adoptions, punitive father registries, financial assistance programs, home study requirements, access to case files and foreign adoptions.

Foster Care

At least 31 states enacted 62 or more bills concerning foster care. 
At least 13 laws from 10 or more states related to kinship care. These enactments include: kinship care payments; relaxing foster home requirements for kin placements; and expanding the definition of kin to include close family friends.
At least 11 of the foster care-related laws from at least eight states provided services for older youth including: extending foster care services to age 21, which is allowed under the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008; transitional living support; scholarships and college assistance, and foster care youth credit checks.
At least nine laws affected educating children in foster care. The majority of these laws related to the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requiring school stability and continuity for children in foster care. Other enactments provided scholarships to youth in foster care. 
And at least two of the laws addressed sibling placement and visitation which is also provided for under the federal Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.
Other foster care-related laws enacted by state legislatures included: procedures to remove a child from a foster home; foster care training or home visits; licensing requirements; credit checks for children in foster care; increasing permanency; guardianship requirements; interstate placement; dental care; and, foster care payments. 

Child Protection

In at least 33 states, 87 or more laws were enacted related to child protection.
At least 18 bills were enacted creating new child abuse crimes or expanding upon what constitutes child abuse, child sexual abuse, neglect, or other civil or criminal activity related to child welfare.
At least 10 laws related to child protection response to an allegation of child abuse including establishing differential response systems; requiring home, socio-emotional, or developmental assessments; and establishing when a child may be removed from the home.
 At least six new laws criminalized the failure to report a deceased or missing child.
At least five laws were enacted related to the creation or revision of investigative teams, review teams or oversight committees.
Other child protection-related laws enacted by state legislatures included: information disclosure; court involvement; child abuse registries; child abuse education; victim’s rights and notification; Child Abuse Prevention Month; and, substance exposed infants.

Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect

At least 19 states passed 47 or more bills related to reporting child abuse and neglect. The majority of these enactments expanded the state’s list of mandatory reporters to include one or more of the following groups: coaches, athletic directors, specific higher education personnel, commercial computer technicians, nurse’s aides and other health care professionals, early education providers, youth activity providers, and child and youth camp employees. Other enactments criminalized failure to report; changed the penalty for failure to report; provided protection for reporters; and clarified what information needs to be reported.


In at least 18 states, 23 or more laws were enacted implementing child abuse prevention and training programs or initiatives. The enactments included: training for peace officers and/or education personnel; Child Abuse Prevention Month; child abuse and child sexual abuse education in schools; Children’s Trust fund uses; community-based resource centers; reporter protection; and, home visits for at-risk children.

Oversight and Administration

In at least 18 states, 25 or more bills related to child welfare oversight and administration were enacted. Topics included: creation of oversight commissions, committees, or investigative teams; the reorganization of child welfare departments; annual reporting requirements; private child welfare contracts; and, department strategic planning.

Courts and Legal Representation

In at least 17 states, 28 or more bills were enacted related to the role of the court system in child welfare cases. Topics covered by these enactments included: court jurisdiction; adoption hearings, permanency hearings, parental rights and reunification proceedings; Guardian Ad Litem appointments and procedures; Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs; victim’s rights; children’s rights to counsel; and, electronic records.

Child Fatality

At least 8 bills in at least 6 different states were passed related to Child Fatality/Near Child Fatality Review. The topics covered included: establishing Child Fatality Review Teams and describing team requirements; defining near fatality; establishing what information should be made available to the child fatality review team and what information the team should release.

Indian Child Welfare/ Tribes

At least five states passed legislation related to American Indian Child welfare. These topics included: compliance with the federal Indian Child welfare Act; disclosure of child fatality/ near fatality records to Tribes; and extending an Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council.

Termination of Parental Rights

In at least eight states, laws were enacted regarding the termination of parental rights (TPR). These enactments covered the relationship between infant safe surrender and TPR; termination processes and procedures; and, birth parent rights and protections.


At least 17 states addressed child welfare funding mainly through appropriation and budget bills.


Two states passed laws related to the child welfare workforce.  These laws established employment standards for family protection specialists and family protection workers and implemented training requirements.

About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or childwelfare@ncsl.org.

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or cyf-info@ncsl.org.