Saying efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect are “tragically underfunded,” a pair of U.S. senators have introduced a bill that uses an unconventional approach that could pump hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting the problem by strengthening families in the coming decade.
Although it is the official policy of the United States to use the foster care system as a last resort, Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) say the balance between funding for foster care services and child abuse and neglect prevention remains way out of whack.
“As families and children of color are overrepresented in the child welfare system, this bill would allow our country to make good on our commitment to the most vulnerable children and families by helping them stay together and thrive,” Luján said in a press release announcing the legislation.
To correct the perceived imbalance, Luján and Casey want the government to boost spending on the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, which provides community-based and state grants to be used for preventive services and the investigation process. The Family Strengthening Infrastructure Act would provide up to $500 million for CAPTA in each year through 2031.
The money would allow states to promote a public health approach to child abuse and neglect in America and prevent unnecessary family separation and foster care placements. These strategies are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier this year, the House Education and Labor Committee proposed H.R. 485, which would temporarily expand funding for community-based prevention work under CAPTA. The House passed the bill in March, but no action has been taken since.
Traditionally, CAPTA has been funded as a discretionary program, meaning the amount of money going to it is decided annually by congressional appropriators. Under the Luján-Casey bill, programs would draw their dollars out of “unappropriated” funds the Department of the Treasury may have. Assuming there is $500 million kicking around at Treasury that is unaccounted for, it would go into the two CAPTA programs evenly.
The bill would require states that want the new money to show good faith by committing to continue any state spending they already do on such programs.
The legislation is endorsed by the Children’s Advocacy Institute, Child Welfare League of America, Prevent Child Abuse America, and others.