Adoption Laws

Merle GuttermanAdoption

Major Federal Laws Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption

The primary responsibility for child welfare services rests with the States. Each State has its own legal and administrative structures and programs that address the needs of children and families. However, States must comply with specific Federal requirements and guidelines in order to be eligible for Federal funding under certain programs.

Beginning with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 1974, the U.S. Congress has implemented a number of laws that have had a significant impact on State child protection and child welfare services.

  1. Such legislation frequently requires Federal departments and agencies, such as the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to issue or amend Federal policy and regulation.
  2. New legislation also prompts responses at the State level, including enactment of State legislation, development or revision of State agency policy and regulations, and implementation of new programs.

The largest federally funded programs that support State and Tribal efforts for child welfare, foster care, and adoption activities are authorized under titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act (the Act). These programs are administered by HHS and include the title IV-B Child Welfare Services and Promoting Safe and Stable Families (formerly known as Family Preservation) programs, the title IV-E foster care program, the title IV-E adoption assistance program, and the title IV-E John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood. The Social Services Block Grant is authorized under title XX of the Act and funds a wide range of programs that support various social policy goals.

To provide a framework for understanding the Federal legislation that has shaped the delivery of child welfare services, this publication presents a summary of Federal legislation since 1974 that has had a significant impact on the field. It provides an overview of each act and its major provisions. To browse or search the summaries of acts included in this publication, visit the Major Federal Legislation Index and Search.

The full text of the acts included in this publication can be found on Information Gateway’s Index of Federal Child Welfare Laws. In instances when the names of programs have changed over time, the name used in this fact sheet is correct as of the time of the relevant legislation’s enactment.

For the full report and more information about the Child Welfare Information Gateway, go to: