State Legislatures Pass Critical Child Welfare Policy in 2013

Many state legislatures are wrapping up the 2013 agenda, with bills going to governors for signature and others remaining stagnant in the committee process.  This year, as in many previous ones, there have been a lot of child welfare issues brought before state bodies for clarification, instituting, or developing opportunities for children involved in the child welfare system.   Some of the legislation was brought forward in response to Fostering Connections for Success and Increase Adoption Act of 2008, which extended the Title IV-E eligibility age up to 21, and established the Guardianship Assistance Program.  During the 2013 session, more than 113 pieces of legislation were introduced related to mandatory reporting requirements of child abuse and neglect, largely in response to the sexual abuse scandal that occurred at the University of Pennsylvania.  Other areas of legislation addressed issues of child fatality, Guardian Ad Litems, prevention, home visitation, and reinstatement of parental rights. New laws passed in several states include the following:

Child Fatality 
Arizona House Bill 2067 requires the Department of Economic Security to disclose child protection services information to the county medical examiner when investigating a child death.
Kentucky House Bill 290 establishes an external child fatality and near fatality review panel in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.  It requires the cabinet, agency, or organization involved with the child to confidentially provide records of the services provided.  It allows records to be provided to the panel, clarifies Open Records request, and clarifies closed session provisions of the panel.
North Dakota Senate Bill 2161 authorizes the child fatality panel to review near deaths alleged to have resulted solely from child abuse and neglect.
Colorado Senate Bill 255 streamlines and strengthens oversight of the state’s child fatality review process .

Courts/Guardian Ad Litem
Idaho House Bill 148 requires the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) for all children in dependency cases unless the court finds that such appointment is not appropriate for children 12 and older. It clarifies that an attorney may be appointed as counsel or GAL, but not both.  It also clarifies that a GAL attorney has the same rights and responsibilities as a non-lawyer GAL may have.

Virginia House Bill 1646 established that a child placed in care through an agreement with the parents and a public agency (other than child welfare agency) or who is receiving services to prevent foster care placement is eligible for state funds designated for comprehensive services for at-risk youth and families.
Colorado Senate Bill 231 allows county child welfare agencies to apply for a Title IV-E waiver using the state’s authority received from the Administration for Children and Families.

Kinship Care
Arkansas House Bill 1684 allows a fictive kin, defined as an unrelated person, but who has a strong positive emotional attachment to the child and plays a positive role in the child’s life may be considered for placement.

Prevention/Home Visitation/Services
Arkansas Senate Bill 491 requires key state agencies to develop a home visitation program that includes face-to-face home visits by nurses, social workers, and other early childhood and health professionals to support health families and improve the lives of children; build healthy parent and child relationships; improve maternal, infant, and child health outcomes; promote positive parenting practices; and reduce the incidence of child maltreatment and injury.

New Mexico Senate Bill 365 creates a statewide, standards-based home visiting services program that includes periodic home visits to improve the health, well-being, and self-sufficiency of eligible families. It requires face-to-face visits by nurses, social workers, and other professionals or trained lay workers to be culturally and linguistically appropriate.  It requires the department to work with early learning advisory council to develop and share home visiting data.
Arkansas Senate Bill 976 ensures that children involved in maltreatment investigations at child safety centers receive specialized mental health services.
Colorado House Bill 127 creates a statewide hotline for reporting all child abuse and neglect referrals and an intense training for workers in the screening of child abuse and neglect calls.

Reinstatement of Parental Rights
Utah House Bill 156 permits children, age 12 or older to submit a petition to restore terminated parental rights under certain conditions.
Utah Senate Bill 49 permits a parent whose rights were terminated, or a relative of the child, to petition for guardianship of a child when he or she is not adopted within one year of termination or when adoption seems unlikely, or if the adoptive parents return the child to the custody of the state.
Virginia Senate Bill 1076 creates a procedure for restoring parental rights to a parent of a child at least 14 years or older if the child has not achieved permanency and provides for special counsel to be appointed to provide services to the child who is the subject of restoration of parental rights.

Support of Older Youth
Florida Senate Bill 215 allows participation in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, and social activities by children in out-of-home care.  It provides for the use of “reasonable and prudent parent” standard for decision-making for children in foster care.
Kentucky Senate Bill 95 extends the five year tuition waiver eligibility period for adopted children when they are unable to enroll in or complete an academic term due to active duty in the U. S. Armed Forces, serving in the Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps.