In 2016, 47 states enacted more than 360 bills addressing a variety of child welfare topics.
Below is a summary of 2016 enacted legislation in each of these categories, with common themes identified. Note that this is not a comprehensive summary of all enacted legislation. To access information about all 2016 enacted legislation, visit NCSL’s Child Welfare Enacted Legislation Database.
This report was prepared using StateNet, a legislative tracking database, to perform bill searches and analysis. Summaries provided in this document and in the 50-state, online searchable database, are provided by StateNet.
This report is intended to provide an overview of significant enacted legislation in a limited number of sub-categories in states. It does not represent a comprehensive list of enacted bills and does not include all child welfare legislative enactments. In addition, this document does not contain bills with technical changes, state budget appropriations bills, adopted resolutions, or Executive Orders. Please note that the total number of enacted bills do not add up due to bills that address multiple topics.
Approximately 22 states enacted 31 bills addressing various adoption issues. Some common themes include unlawful custody transfers, also referred to as rehoming, access to adoption records and post-adoption contact, pre- and post-adoption services and supports, who may adopt, and the termination of parental rights and consent to adoption.
For example, two states (New Hampshire and North Carolina) prohibit the unlawful custody transfer, or rehoming, of minors. Seven states (Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin) enacted legislation addressing access to original birth certificates and adoption records, and post-adoption contact agreements. Several states (Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin) enacted legislation on pre- and post- adoption services and supports. Three states (Arizona, Connecticut and Louisiana) enacted legislation related to who may adopt, including step-parent and intra-family adoptions. At least seven states (Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin) enacted legislation regarding the termination of parental rights, surrender of a child for adoption and other consent to adoption provisions.
See NCSL’s Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates LegisBrief for more.
Child Fatality and Near Fatality
Eight states enacted approximately 10 bills addressing child fatalities and near fatalities. Legislation generally fell into two areas: information sharing between agencies and amendments to child fatality review commissions, panels and councils.
For example, several states (California, New Hampshire and Rhode Island) enacted legislation to allow or require information sharing about a child’s medical records following a fatality or near fatality between various entities, including the child welfare agency, law enforcement and the medical examiner.
In addition, approximately three states (Delaware, Louisiana and New Hampshire) amended the membership or duties of their child fatality review councils, or related commissions and panels, while Oklahoma created the Child Welfare Review Committee for the Death or Near Death of Children with Disabilities.
See NCSL’s Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities webpage for more.
Nearly 70 bills were enacted in 35 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico on the broad topic of child protection. General themes of this legislation were placement on and access to child abuse registries, children’s ombudsman and advocate offices, the intake, investigation and removal of children suspected of experiencing abuse or neglect, statutes of limitation and the temporary delegation of parental authority or power of attorney to guardians or other caregivers.
For example, seven states (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont) enacted legislation related to child abuse registries. Indiana detailed the required contents of the registry and made the registry publicly available. Minnesota and Vermont addressed an offender’s ability to change information or petition for expungement from the registry, while the rest detail access by various agencies to information on the registry for decision-making purposes.
A few states (Colorado, Massachusetts and Nebraska) enacted legislation addressing children’s ombudsman and advocates offices. Colorado and Massachusetts clarified the duties of the Child Protection Ombudsman and child advocate respectively. Nebraska enacted legislation related to the access to records for and investigation by the Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. See NCSL’s Children’s Ombudsman Offices webpage for more.
In addition, several states (Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Utah) addressed the intake of reports of child abuse and neglect, the investigation of abuse and neglect and the removal of a child from the custody of their parents. Arizona directs the adoption of rules and the establishment of clear policies relating to the determination of circumstances under which removal of a child from the custody of a parent, guardian, or custodian is appropriate and requires the uniform application of those policies. Three states (Arizona, Connecticut and Michigan) enacted legislation related to the intake hotline, family assessment response and centralized intake in each state respectively. Three states (Illinois, Kansas and Utah) enacted legislation with regard to child abuse investigations, referrals to community service programs and the use of evidence informed or evidence based safety and risk assessments.
Tennessee and Virginia extended the statute of limitations for the prosecution of various child sexual abuse and sexual assault offenses. See NCSL’s State Civil Statutes of Limitations in Child Sexual Abuse Cases for more.
Several states (Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi) enacted legislation allowing for the temporary delegation of certain power and authority for the care and custody of a child through a power of attorney.
Child Sex Trafficking and Exploitation
Twenty states enacted more than 30 bills addressing child sex trafficking and exploitation. General themes included compliance with the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, funding child sex trafficking services, the creation of commissions and task forces to study and address human trafficking of children, and including human trafficking in the definition of child abuse.
For example, at least five states (Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) enacted legislation to come into compliance with the requirements of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014. Iowa and Pennsylvania generally addressed children in the custody, control and supervision of the Department of Human Services who are victims of sex trafficking and missing and abducted children at risk of being trafficked. Maryland, Maine, and Wisconsin enacted legislation addressing the reporting and notification procedures to the National Crime Information Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, when a child has been identified as at-risk of being trafficked and is currently missing, as required by the Preventing Sex Trafficking Act. See NCSL’s Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act for more.
Two examples of states that provided specific funding for child sex trafficking services are Florida and New York. New York provided general funding for services while Florida provided specific funding for a program that provides individualized, holistic, and therapeutic safe homes for children traumatized by child sex trafficking. See NCSL’s Human Trafficking State Laws: Funding and Services for more.
Six bills were enacted in five states (Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and Nevada) to create or amend a human trafficking council, task force, workgroup or committee. Visit NCSL’s Human Trafficking State Laws: Administration and Coordination page for more about state coordination of efforts to address human trafficking.
Seven bills in seven states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin) addressed the inclusion of child sex trafficking in the definition of child abuse and the reunification efforts if a parent was involved in trafficking the child. California and Indiana provided that reunification services are not necessary when the parent or guardian participated in trafficking the child. Colorado, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin amended their definition of child abuse or child in need of services to include child sex trafficking.
Courts and Legal Representation
Twenty states enacted approximately 32 bills addressing courts and legal representation in child welfare proceedings. More than one-third of those bills in 10 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, Washington) dealt with the representation of indigent parents and the representation of children in adoption and child welfare proceedings. The remaining legislation in this topic addressed court procedure and court related issues.
Education of Children in Foster Care
Approximately 16 bills were enacted in 11 states to address the education of children in foster care, including access to education, post-secondary support and funding.
Eight states addressed access to education, including transportation and educational liaisons to support children and youth in foster care (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and Washington), as well as post-secondary support for older youth who have reached the age of majority or who have aged out of foster care (Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana and Maryland), including the provision of tuition waivers for these students. In addition, California and Idaha provided funding for the education and training of current and former foster children.
More than 50 bills from 32 states were enacted to address foster care issues, including provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act and foster parent and foster home licensing standards.
Nearly half of these bills, in 17 states and D.C. (California, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming) related to the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, including definitions of the reasonable and prudent parenting standard and other normalcy provisions, such as allowing for a child’s participation in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities, in addition to transition planning and providing important health records and identification documents to foster children who are aging out. Also, a few of these bills created a foster child or foster parent bill of rights. See NCSL’s Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act and Foster Care Bill of Rights pages for more.
In addition, several states (Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington) enacted legislation to amend the licensing standards of foster parents, foster homes and residential facilities, including requiring background checks for potential foster parents and others living in the home with the foster child.
Nearly 20 bills from 17 states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Washington) were enacted to provide specific funding for foster care services and services for child sex trafficking victims, among other programs.
Health and Mental/Behavioral Health
Seventeen states and D.C. enacted 24 bills addressing the healthcare, mental health, and behavioral health needs of children in foster care. General themes of this legislation were psychotropic medications, health care services generally, and access to healthcare by older youth and children in kinship care placements.
For example, three states (California, Pennsylvania and Utah) enacted legislation related to the prescribing of psychotropic medications to children in foster care. California required specified departments to report patterns of psychotropic medication prescription and related services for children and minors in foster care and Utah established a psychotropic medication oversight pilot program for children in foster care.
Seven states (Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio and Washington) and D.C. enacted legislation to provide general access to healthcare services, including behavioral and mental health services, and, substance abuse treatment and dental care for children in foster care. Additionally, eight states (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington) enacted legislation to identify barriers to access, and to assist older youth and children in kinship care placements access health care services.
Infant Abandonment/Safe Surrender
Three states (Louisiana, Ohio and South Carolina) enacted four bills addressing infant abandonment and/or safe surrender of children. This legislation generally amended the age by which a child can be surrendered to a safe haven, and required safe havens to have uniform symbols or images to identify them as safe havens for the surrender of a child.
Nearly 20 states enacted more than 30 bills addressing kinship care. General themes are locating and notifying relatives and giving relatives priority as guardians for a child who has been removed from their home, financial assistance to relative caregivers and successor guardianship.
Three states (California, Illinois and New Mexico) enacted legislation to ensure that all efforts have been taken to identify, locate, and notify relatives and/or fictive kin of a child in out-of-home care. Other legislation in three states (Connecticut, Georgia and Michigan) prioritized the placement of a child with an adult who is a relative or fictive kin of the child, amended the definition of relative, added a definition of half-sibling, and required notification of support services for foster parents and relative caregivers.
Five states (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin) enacted legislation to extend or clarify the accessibility of financial assistance for relative caregivers. Additionally, five bills from five states addressed successor guardianships and the transfer of guardianship to a relative caregiver.
See NCSL’s Supporting for Relative Caregivers of Children page for more
Oversight, Administration and Interagency Collaboration
More than twenty states enacted 33 bills addressing the oversight and administration of child welfare agencies as well as interagency collaboration. General themes are data sharing across state systems and the establishment of or amendments to various task forces, work groups, and commissions to foster cross-system collaboration.
Eight states (Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania) and D.C. enacted legislation to improve the sharing of information between state agencies; sixteen states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia) enacted legislation to establish or amend a task force, work group or commission designed to improve communication and collaboration across state agencies.
Prevention and Treatment of Abuse and Training
Twelve states enacted 21 bills to increase awareness about child abuse and foster care, in addition to requiring schools to post information about how kids can report abuse or neglect.
Six states (Alabama, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee) passed resolutions to recognize or declare April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and May as National Foster Care Month in order to bring awareness to the issues. In addition, six states (California, Delaware, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee) passed legislation requiring schools to create and post information on reporting child abuse or neglect, including an appropriate telephone number for the child abuse hotline.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
More than 20 states enacted legislation addressing the reporting of child abuse or neglect. General themes are the reporting of abuse or neglect by military personnel and mandatory reporting and reporters.
Three states (Illinois, Indiana and Oklahoma) enacted legislation requiring notification to military authorities, including the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program, if there has been an allegation of abuse or neglect and the alleged perpetrator is a member of the military.
Eight states (Alabama, California, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota) enacted legislation clarifying when a report of child abuse or neglect must be made, declaring certain people as mandatory reporters, including emergency medical technicians and paramedics, employees and volunteers of an education program, and requiring certain training requirements for mandatory reporters.
Services for Older Youth
Thirteen states (Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Utah) enacted 20 bills addressing services and supports for older youth. General themes were protections for youth aging out of foster care, including identify theft and consumer credit protections, services for homeless and runaway youth services and transition planning for older youth in foster care. See NCSL’s Supports for Older Youth in Foster Care page for more.
Five states (Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma and South Carolina) and D.C. enacted nearly 10 bills to provide for ongoing connections between foster children and their siblings, including prioritizing joint placements for siblings or visitation between siblings who are placed in foster care.
Termination of Parental Rights
Eight states (Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia) enacted nine bills addressing termination of parental rights, including who may petition for termination, the grounds for termination of parental rights, the reinstatement of parental rights and the court procedures required in an action for termination of parental rights.
Three states (Arizona, Michigan and Washington) enacted four bills related to tribal child welfare, including amendments to Arizona’s State Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, definitions of relative, sibling and half sibling to include the term as defined by an American Indian or Alaskan Native child’s tribal code or custom, and allowing federally recognized tribes to request a federal name-based criminal history record check when an emergency out-of-home placement of a Native American child is made.
See NCSL’s Indian Child Welfare Resources page for more.
Thirteen states (Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin) enacted 17 bills addressing workforce qualifications and training, including training of education professionals and judges on child abuse and neglect and background checks of both the child welfare workforce and employees of child welfare providers and foster parents.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com.