Reauthorizing Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act is Key to Realigning Toward Prevention

Teri Covington
Teri Covington, National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention

 Legislation to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is moving through Congress, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing a version out of committee and the U.S. Senate marking up their version last month. 

This reauthorization is long overdue and a critical link in efforts to track and prevent child abuse and neglect fatalities.

The National Child Abuse Coalition and Within Our Reach, an office of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, have long supported a public health approach to addressing child abuse and neglect fatalities with an emphasis on prevention and enhanced reporting and data.

We recognize and support the need for increased funding for CAPTA, which serves as the primary vehicle for state funding for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. We need to ensure that the resources and funding are in place to support this policy and systems change. And, there is some good news to report in this year’s appropriations.

In fiscal year 2019, the annual budget only included about $125 million for CAPTA. Fortunately, the House and Senate have agreed to increase that amount by $20 million for this year. While we are pleased at the increase for a program that has been essentially flat funded since 2005, the coalition and many child welfare experts agree that a greater investment is needed. Most advocates have landed on a total increase to $1 billion, with $500 million for state funds and $500 million for community-based grants.

Another important component to CAPTA has been reporting requirements that help policymakers better understand which children are most at risk. As a former commissioner with the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, and director of the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention at the Michigan Public Health Institute, I have also long advocated for the creation of a national standard definition of a maltreatment fatality.

As the commission noted in its 2016 report, Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, “There is no standard, mandated reporting system for child abuse or neglect deaths in this country. Definitions, investigative procedures and reporting requirements vary from state to state.” 

While the House version of CAPTA called for a national standard definition of a child welfare fatality, that language was not included in the Senate markup.

That omission may be remedied, however, by a new bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The Child Abuse Deaths Disclosure Act would require states to collect data on all deaths that stem from child abuse or neglect, and to identify ways to prevent them. In a statement, Sen. Blunt noted: “We have an obligation to do all we can to keep children safe. Having a complete and accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding every child abuse-related death will give policymakers, law enforcement, and public health officials the information they need to prevent these heinous deaths.”

We agree and support the move to standardizing how states both count and report child maltreatment fatalities. We also believe that reviewing near deaths is an important data point that could enhance prevention efforts.

As the commission pointed out in its report, child abuse deaths are not inevitable; but rather are preventable. By aligning resources with a greater body of knowledge based on better data and research, greater leadership and accountability, and a multidisciplinary approach to child safety, we can prevent and reduce these tragedies.

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Theresa Covington is the director of the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. She is the former director of Within Our Reach at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, and previously served as a commissioner on the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.

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