Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held an executive session to consider the bipartisan Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Reauthorization of 2021.
Earlier this week, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member and Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, introduced the CAPTA Reauthorization of 2021.
Ranking Member Burr’s Opening Statement:
“Good morning Chair Murray.
“Thank you and your staff for the bipartisan work that has brought us to considering the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 2021.
“I also want to thank all the members on the Committee, as well as members off the Committee, for the ideas that have helped form the first comprehensive reauthorization of CAPTA in over a decade.
“Among all the laws that come before this committee, CAPTA may be the most important for stating who we are as a nation in our relationships with children and families. How we respond to the needs of abused and neglected children directly determines how children will grow into adulthood.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully demonstrated the need for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Emergency room visits due to abuse have climbed while reports of abuse into Child Protective Services have fallen.
“In their role as mandated reporters, K-12 teachers are the most important eyes and ears for the safety of children. With so many K-12 schools closed to in-person instruction, that critical safety net was pulled down for too many children across the country.
“All of us have a role to play in keeping our children safe. I am hopeful the bill before us strengthens all the systems of supports for families to prevent or mitigate child abuse and neglect and to treat the effects of abuse and neglect when it does occur.
“Since reauthorizing CAPTA in 2010, we have learned a great deal more about what Congress got right and what we got wrong in past reauthorizations.
“In crafting this bipartisan reauthorization, we have tried to heed those lessons – doubling down on what we got right and changing course where we made mistakes.
“First, this bill doubles down on prevention of abuse and neglect. This bill emphasizes the provision of community-based family strengthening and prevention services to reduce the number of children ever referred to child protective services.
“Second, one-size-fits-all approaches don’t serve children or families well. We continue to emphasize the use of differential response in instances of abuse and neglect.
“Additionally, while there are instances when children must be removed from their homes to ensure their safety, in far too many instances children are separated from their families due to income or housing insecurity. These families and their children need help, not the trauma of separation.
“This bill emphasizes the implementation of alternative pathways to connect families experiencing basic needs to voluntary community-based services.
“Serving families with basic needs through alternative pathways allows investigators and social workers to dedicate their time to children most at risk of serious harm – children with multiple referrals and children under the age of three.
“Of the 1,800 child fatalities due to abuse and neglect in 2019, 45 percent were children under the age of one, and 31 percent were children ages one to three. These are the children whose safety and lives most depend on a rapid response.
“In our efforts to improve the Child Protective Services system and prevent and treat child abuse and neglect, it’s essential we listen and learn from those with personal experience in the child welfare system. In this reauthorization we have added provisions to include youth, parents, and those who were themselves victims of child abuse and neglect in state and local plans and programs.
“We’ve also added provisions to improve and protect the legal representation of both children and families caught up in the system. Separating children from their parents, whether temporarily or permanently, is a wrenching experience and all parties deserve voice and representation.
“Finally, within this CAPTA reauthorization, we are bringing a public health approach to two areas both Congress and the field have struggled with for years – identifying and preventing child fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect; and infants affected by substance use disorder.
“Through coordinated leadership and shared responsibility at the federal, state, and local levels, this reauthorization seeks to implement data-driven strategies and reforms to prevent child fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect from occurring in the future through the use of improved collection, reporting, and analysis.
“Ensuring data collections can be used effectively to drive policy and supporting State and local child fatality review teams in the review of all cases of child fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect are important steps to understand and learn from each tragedy and improve the system for all children in the future.
“We are also bringing a different approach to infants affected by substance use disorder in this reauthorization. Because it was probably the vehicle moving at the time, this issue got shoehorned into CAPTA two decades ago. As a result, in many places this issue has been viewed as child abuse rather than an issue of addiction.
“In this reauthorization, we are clearly stating that the purpose of plans of safe care is to bring a public health response to infants and their mothers affected by substance use disorder and to support the health and well-being of the infant and mom rather than penalizing the family.
“Although there will be instances when it is safer to remove the child from their mother, far more children and moms would be better served by increasing access to treatment for moms with substance use disorder and providing access to screening, assessment, and intervention service for affected infants.
“I’m also pleased that we have been able to include in this bill the reauthorization of the Adoption Opportunities Act.
“Adoptive families bring great joy and I’m glad we are doing more to help families successfully adopt and grow their family.
“This reauthorization provides additional supports for prospective adoptive parents as well as post adoptive services for families.
“Additionally, the bill seeks to improve adoption opportunities for children who have been waiting too long to find a loving forever home.
“Finally, I want to thank Senators Blunt and Klobuchar for their work on unregulated custody transfers as we all seek to prevent adoption dissolutions from occurring.
“I want to thank all the members again for your work on these important reauthorizations. I know all of us wish there was no need for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
“However, listening to those with personal experience who have lived the child welfare system, I believe we are taking positive steps forward in this reauthorization to preventing future incidents of child abuse and neglect and to better responding to those incidents that do occur.
“I thank the Chair.”