Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) have introduced the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 (S. 1927), which would reauthorize and amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The Children’s Defense Fund was proud to endorse this legislation because of its significant increase in funding for prevention, its emphasis on race equity in child welfare, its overdue focus on child abuse and neglect fatalities, and the fact that the law would guarantee right to counsel for children and parents in all cases involving child abuse and neglect allegations.
For too long, funding for child welfare has focused on intervention, rather than prevention of child abuse, creating a system that is more concerned with surveilling and regulating families than pursuing child well-being. Too many children have been and continue to be separated from their parents and pulled into the child welfare system, for reasons that could have been prevented by supporting families and communities. This is especially true for children, families, and communities of color, particularly Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children, families, and communities, who have borne the brunt of the child welfare system’s focus on surveillance and regulation, rather than support. As a result, many of these families and communities have learned not to trust the child welfare system, even when it offers the support they need.
To address this, the CAPTA Reauthorization Act would:
- Shift significant child welfare funding toward prevention.
The CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 would increase funding for the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) program from its current funding of $60.6 million annually to $270 million. CBCAP is crucial, not simply because it increases funding for prevention services, but because those services are delivered by community providers, not the child welfare system. CBCAP allows for family support and strengthening programs that are driven by and for the communities that are overrepresented in the child welfare system, and it allows families to seek the support they need without fear that asking for help will lead to increased surveillance or family separation. Given the distinct needs of AI/AN children and families and the emphasis on community support and family preservation in Native communities, CDF was especially pleased to see the reservation of CBCAP funds for tribes increased.
The $270 million that is authorized by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 is an important first step, but it is only a first step. The Children’s Defense Fund stands aligned with the National Child Abuse Coalition in asserting that it is critical that CBCAP funds be raised to $750 million in the first year and that they increase to $1.5 billion over five years.
- Require states to confront systemic racism in the system.
CDF was also extremely pleased to see policy reforms in the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 meant to confront systemic racism in child welfare. Provisions in the bill will require increased attention on the racial bias that permeates all aspects of the child welfare system. These provisions are critical, as children of color are more likely to be reported to the child welfare system, to be separated from their families, and to face worse treatment in the system, leading to worse outcomes throughout their lives.
- Guarantee right to counsel.
Crucially, the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 guarantees the right to counsel for children and parents in all cases involving child abuse and neglect allegations. Decades of research has shown that the right to counsel for children and parents in these cases is crucial to ensure timely permanency—whether through reunification, adoption, or guardianship—and increased stability for children involved with the child welfare system. Further, providing counsel to children and parents improves judges’ decision-making ability, prevents case delays, and saves money for courts and for the child welfare system. When we don’t guarantee the right to counsel for children and parents, we guarantee that poor children, especially poor children of color, are more likely to be separated from their families and to receive poorer services and supports once they are in the system, all because they cannot afford due process.
- Directly address child maltreatment fatalities.
Finally, the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 draws necessary attention to the prevention of child abuse and neglect fatalities, creating a Title III to CAPTA that focuses on public health approaches to identify and prevent child fatalities and near fatalities. It requires improved data collection measures that will allow us to better understand the scope of these fatalities, but more importantly to better understand the risk factors that lead to fatalities and the programs and services that can be provided to prevent them. This increased sense of urgency is long overdue.
The provisions of the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 represent a crucial re-envisioning of key elements of CAPTA, a necessary and overdue investment in supporting families and communities, and a crucial step to ensuring that children are safe and able to thrive with their families. CDF is proud to endorse the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021.
To become law, the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021 will need to garner strong support in the Senate. If you want to show your support, contact your Senators.