Bill would bring spending up to $540 million for 2022, includes national registry connection and prohibition on foster care in poverty cases
Citing a “troubling rise” in child abuse and negect since 2010, a bipartisan bill out of the House Education and Labor Committee would at least temporarily explode spending under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), and puts forth some other federal provisions that are sure to prompt a lively discussion.
Among them: requiring that children “are not removed from their homes due to poverty,” and the creation of an online exchange where states can share information from child maltreatment registries.
“At a time when state governments are particularly strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this legislation will help ensure that states can meet the growing need for services that protect children and strengthen families,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who chairs the committee. “Importantly, the proposal will help not only treat child abuse and neglect, but also prevent maltreatment from happening in the first place.”
Scott’s reference to a “troubling rise” in maltreatment seems to be based on the 2011 figures included in the 2015 version of the federal Child Maltreatment report, which estimated 658,000. Youth Services Insider is guessing that perhaps the comment compares this to the 2018 report, which until a week ago was the most recent federal data on abuse and neglect, and reported 678,000 victims.
There is certainly concern among some child advocates and researchers that the coronavirus pandemic, and related societal restrictions and economic stressors, has produced a yet-to-be-captured surge in abuse and neglect. But the most recent federal report, Child Maltreatment 2019, puts the number of identified maltreatment victims at 656,000, the lowest on any annual report going back to the late 1990s.
The most recent National Incidence Study on Child Abuse and Neglect studied a yearlong period covering 2005 and 2006. That study identified 1.25 million children who had experienced abuse or neglect that year; as a rate, this was a 26% decline from the previous iteration of the incidence study.
Following here is a breakdown of some key elements of the legislation, H.R. 485, which was introduced in the last Congress as well and begins in this one with three Democratic co-sponsors and four Republican co-sponsors, including ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).
Way More Money (Maybe): The bill reauthorizes CAPTA for five years, through 2027. For years starting in 2023 the bill is agnostic on authorization, using the standard “such sums as necessary” language.
But for 2022, it authorizes CAPTA at more than half a billion dollars, with $270 million set for state grants and $270 million for community-based prevention work. Ultimately it will be up to appropriators to follow the authorization or go lower (or higher), but it is a strong suggestion by the committee of a need for a COVID-19 funding surge in this area.
Tracking the Worst Outcomes: The Department of Health and Human Services would establish a set of uniform standards for tracking and reporting to the federal government on fatalities and near-fatalities that result definitively from abuse or neglect. This was among the recommendations put forth in 2016 by the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. States would be able to keep their own definitions, but would have to issue reports to the feds using the new standardized method.
The inclusion of near-fatalities is interesting. It is a far greater pool of data to learn from, since the commission staff estimated that there are probably 10 near-fatalities from maltreatment for every actual death. But it is also inherently far murkier to establish something as a near-fatality when compared to an outcome that involves a child who is deceased.
Poverty Response: The bill would require states to handle reports of maltreatment related to a “child’s living arrangements or subsistence needs through services or benefits,” according to the section-by-section analysis issued by the Education and Labor Committee. It requires that children “are not removed from their homes due to poverty.”
In the national discourse around child welfare reform, there is probably no phrase used more often than: “We need to stop confusing poverty with neglect.” So federal instruction setting a bright line on reports that could not be mitigated with foster care is significant. In Youth Services Insider’s humble opinion, a provision in CAPTA might not make an impact unless the appropriation here truly continues to be at a half billion or more. Even the law’s most ardent supporters know that with as little money as is attached to its provisions each year, it is pretty toothless in terms of eliciting adherence from states.
Tack a poverty command onto Title IV-E, you might see a different reaction.
Connecting Abuse and Neglect Registries: H.R. 485 would establish an “electronic interstate data exchange system” that allows states to share information from their child abuse and neglect registries with other states. YSI predicts this provision will draw some howls: state registries really vary in how they are operated, and who is included on them, and for how long.
YSI asked Chapin Hall Executive Director Bryan Samuels about the concept of a national registry, back when he was commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families for former president Barack Obama. Samuels, who seems to be in the mix for a post with the Biden team, expressed wariness:
“The idea of a national registry, in concept, makes sense. But if it is based on tying together registries from each of the states, I’d be reticent to sign on to that program until we could say that there is good continuity and consistency in terms of the quality of the data and the oversight of the databases, and what I know today wouldn’t suggest that we could meet that standard.”
Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence: The bill adds improving services to families struggling with substance abuse or domestic violence as a priority within CAPTA-funded grants and research.
The reintroduction of CAPTA legislation was welcomed by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, which represents hundreds of youth and family service providers in the United States.
“We know that child abuse is not inevitable, it’s preventable, and we know what works to prevent it," said Ilana Levinson, Alliance's senior director for government relations. "CAPTA is a critical next step after the Family First Prevention Services Act in reimagining a child and family well-being system that is more prevention focused."