Below, we summarize some key US federal laws that affect children in foster care and those who are adopted from care. For more information, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Recent Comprehensive Child Welfare Legislation
- The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 seeks to prevent children from entering foster care, support kinship caregivers, and reduced reliance on group care. Key provisions include:
- permits states and eligible tribes to receive federal reimbursement under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to support family preservation services for children at risk of entering care
- limits federal Title IV-E reimbursement to states and tribes for maintenance payments—also known as room-and-board payments—for children placed in group settings
- extends various child welfare programs, including the Adoption and Guardianship Incentive Payment Program
- allows states to use Title IV-E funding to offer evidence-based kinship navigator programs
- establishes an electronic interstate case-processing system
- reinstates the eligibility link for children under age 2 whose adoptions are finalized between January 1, 2018 and June 30, 2024
- The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families of Act of 2014 — Created more protections for children in foster care to prevent sex trafficking, added incentives for guardianship placements, and required states to use new federal IV-E funds for post-adoption and guardianship support. Key provisions include:
- required states to identify children at risk of sex trafficking and develop policies to support these children
- gave foster parents and other caregivers the right to allow children in foster care to participate in the normal activities of childhood
- reduced the use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (AAPLA) for children under age 16
- empowered youth to participate in their own case plan
- required states to provide youth with key documentation such as birth certificate and Social Security card
- added a guardianship incentive to the adoption incentive program; changed the incentive program to be based on the rate of adoption/guardianship rather than the number of adoptions from foster care
- required states to track and reported on increased federal Title IV-E adoption assistance funds due to the Fostering Connections Act and to spend at least 30 percent of those funds on post-adoption and post-guardianship services and services to prevent foster placement
- required data gathering on adoption and guardianship disruptions and dissolutions
- The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 — Increased opportunities for children to be placed with relatives, expanded incentives to encourage adoptions from foster care, expanded federal support for adoption assistance, and increased options for supporting youth in foster care after age 18. Key provisions:
- provided federal funding for subsidized guardianship programs
- required notice of relatives when children enter care
- waived licensing standards for kin
- funded Family Connections Grants to support kinship navigator, family group decision-making, and other programs
- enhanced the adoption incentive program
- expanded Title IV-E adoption assistance benefits to children who would otherwise not be eligible because of their birth parents’ income; expanded eligibility is phased in over time until 2018
- required states to inform prospective adoptive parents about the adoption tax credit
- extended independent living and education vouchers for youth in care
- required states to work on transition plans for youth at risk of aging out of care
- allowed federal reimbursement to states that offer support youth in foster care at ages 19, 20, and 21
- provided tribes with an opportunity for direct Title IV-E funding
- required states to track health information for children in care, promote school continuity and success
- expanded federal funding for training for caregivers and professionals
Key Adoption Laws
- Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) — Sought to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in foster care, accelerate the permanent placement of children in care, and increase the accountability of the child welfare system. Key provisions:
- clarified “reasonable efforts” agencies must make to reunify families before terminating parental rights;
- required permanency hearings to be held within 12 months after a child enters care;
- required states to begin termination of parental rights proceedings in certain cases;
- promoted concurrent planning;
- required criminal records checks;
- established adoption incentive payments for states that increase the number of children adopted from foster care;
- required states to provide health insurance coverage to all children for whom there is an adoption assistance agreement in place and who cannot be placed without medical assistance;
- prevented states from delaying or denying placements based on geographic barriers; encourage states to plan for effective cross-jurisdictional placements; and
- continued Title IV-E eligibility for children whose prior adoption ended through adoption dissolution or the adoptive parents’ death.
- Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) — Authorized appropriations for adoption and foster care assistance to the states; and required states to provide adoption assistance to parents that adopt children whose parents had low incomes (were AFDC-eligible) and who were deemed to have special needs. For foster care assistance, required states to make reasonable efforts to prevent placement in care or to reunify children with their families.
Legislation Related to Race and Ethnic Background
- Multiethnic Placement Act [of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994] (P.L. 103-382), and the Interethnic Placement Provisions [of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996] (P.L. 104-188) — MEPA included three major provisions that:
- Provided for the “diligent recruitment of foster and adoptive families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in the state for whom foster and adoptive homes are needed”;
- Prohibited federally funded foster care and adoption agencies from delaying or denying placements or otherwise discriminate in make a placement decision based solely on the race, color, or national origin of the involved parents or child;
- Prohibited federally funded foster care and adoption agencies from preventing any person from becoming a foster or adoptive parents based solely upon their race, color, or national origin, or the race, color, or national origin of the child involved; and
The Interethnic Placement Act, now known as MEPA’s Interethnic Provisions (IEP) removed the word “solely” from the MEPA provisions described above and thus prohibited any consider of race, color, or national origin.
- Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-608) — Established standards for the placement of Indian child in foster or adoptive homes. Key provisions mandate that:
- tribes and Indian custodians receive notice when a child is placed away from home or freed for adoption through termination of parental rights;
- jurisdiction over child welfare cases be transferred to a tribal court under certain conditions;
- tribes have a right to intervene in state court cases;
- social service agencies that attempt to remove a child from an Indian family provide proof that the child would suffer serious emotion or physical harm if not removed;
- social service agencies undertake “active efforts” to prevent removal and reunify Indian families
- parents who voluntarily place or relinquish an Indian child give their informed consent to such an action, and hold special rights to revoke that consent; and
- foster and adoptive placement preferences favor extended family members, other Indian families, and other tribally approved homes or institutions.
Adoption Tax Credit
- Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-16) —Included provisions to extend permanently the adoption credit; increased the maximum credit to $10,000 per eligible child, and increased to $150,000 the beginning of the income phase-out range. Made the credit a flat tax credit for special needs adoptions, meaning that parents do not need to document expenses for special needs adoptions.
- Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (104-188) — Included a tax credit to help families defray adoption costs and promote the adoption of foster children; credit was $5,000 for most adoptions and $6,000 for special needs adoptions; the credit began to be reduced for incomes above $75,000 (maximum income was $115,000).
- Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-145) — Reauthorized the adoption incentive program under Title IV-E; provided additional incentives to states for increasing the number of children age nine and older who are adopted from foster care.
- Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-36) — Extended and amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act; the Adoption Opportunities Act, the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act, and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.
- Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001 (P.L. 107-33) —Extended and amended the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program; amended the Foster Care Independent Living program. The legislation increased funding for the program and noted that adoption increases had created a “growing need for post-adoption services and for service providers with the particular knowledge and skills required to address the unique issues adoptive families and children face.” The amendments also authorized funding for college or vocational education vouchers for: (1) youth 18- to 12-years old who are aging out of foster care; (2) youth adopted at age 16 or older; or (3) youth 21 to 23 who are enrolled in school full-time and making progress toward completion.
- Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-169) — Amended title IV-E of the Social Security Act to provide states with more funding and greater flexibility in carrying out programs designed to help children make the transition from foster care to self-sufficiency. Key provisions:
- authorized funds to help children who are aging out of care get an education, receive vocational training, find employment, access health care, and find mentors; and
- encouraged states to extend Medicaid coverage to youth ages 18 to 20 who have aged out of care;
- Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act of 1978 (P.L. 93-247) — Reauthorized through fiscal year 1981 and amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act; initially funded the Adoption Opportunities program to facilitate the adoption of children with special needs.