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Child Abuse Prevention Programs Subject of House Subcommittee Hearing

Poised to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) later this year, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Select Education held an August 2 hearing on the successes and failures of child abuse prevention programs.

Subcommittee Chair Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) noted that, “Today’s hearing is designed to provide an overview of how CAPTA has been implemented and administered since the last authorization in 1996, and to specifically look at what has worked and not worked in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.”

Dr. Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services told the subcommittee that major changes to CAPTA and two other safety programs for children, the Adoption Opportunities Act and the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act, “are not needed.” He stated, “The 1996 reauthorization of these programs established a strong framework for the critical services they provide,” he said.

Dr. Horn highlighted some of the initiatives in the President’s FY2002 budget “that will further our efforts in preventing child abuse and assisting troubled families.” The FY2002 budget “proposes funding the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program at $505 million, a $200 million increase over the current level.” He continued, “Within the context of the Safe and Stable Families program, the President is also asking to provide $67 million to fund activities to mentor children of prisoners, to improve social outcomes for children and support positive family reunification.” The President also “has requested $64 million to invest in strengthening fatherhood and marriage, and $33 million for maternity group homes to ensure that mothers have access to safe and stable environments that offer child care, education, counseling and advice on parenting skills,” he added.

During the question and answer period, Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) noted that “there is a $16 million reduction in research and demonstration programs” to address child abuse. Dr. Horn responded that “the administration removed the earmarks from the program,” and added, “Let me point out that we did increase funding for the Safe and Stable Families program.”

Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA) expressed concern about striking a balance between the role of families and government. As a former social worker, he said “caseloads were very heavy and there was a disproportionate number of minorities.”

“We need to do a better job of working with these parents,” answered Dr. Horn. “If we intervene during the very early years, we will have fewer abuse cases,” he said. “Men are interested in getting more information about their young children, and we have to do a better job of reaching out to men,” he added.

Participating on the second panel of witnesses, Richard Gelles of the University of Pennsylvania called CAPTA “a rather modest piece of federal legislation.” He said that “generating public concern and the establishment of a child protective service system are perhaps CAPTA’s major successes,” adding that, “the real problem is that the child welfare system is under-staffed, under-funded, under-trained and limited by legal constraints and judicial decisions.”

Each year “between 1,500 and 2,000 children are killed by their caretakers, and half of these children are slain after they or their families have come to the attention of the authorities,” he continued, and “on any given day, as many as 600,000 children reside in some form of out-of-home care, largely due to their being victims of abuse and neglect.”

He recommended that the subcommittee consider four critical issues. “Consider whether the definition of child abuse is too broad, whether mandatory reporting is working, whether there are any technologies that can aid the child welfare system in monitoring children at risk, and whether the provisions of CAPTA are consistent with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA),” he said. “Less than half of 3 million reports are substantiated annually, the major technology of child welfare is the telephone and the pager, and four years after passage of ASFA, child protective workers and administrators are still unclear about their primary obligation to children and families,” he added.

Charles Wilson of San Diego’s Children’s Hospital and Health Center testified that “CAPTA has an important role to play in the federal response to the protection of abused and neglected children.” He told the subcommittee that, unfortunately, the federal government role “bears no relationship to the extent of the problem of child maltreatment in our society,” and that federal dollars are focused “on paying billions of dollars for the removal of children from homes where they are no longer safe.” He added, “Relatively few federal resources are directed at helping states and communities in their response to protecting children at the first instance of harm, or preventing that harm from happening at all.”

Deborah Strong of Prevent Child Abuse America urged the subcommittee to reauthorize and increase funding for CAPTA. “Title II of CAPTA represents the only source of federally dedicated funding for primary prevention, enabling families to get the support they seek before they come to the attention of the Child Protective Services system,” she said. “We request your support for an increase in FY2002 funding for CAPTA to the authorized level of $66 million,” she said.

The committee also heard testimony from Pat Fagan of the Heritage Foundation. “If the federal government wants to see a decrease in the rates of child abuse, it must commit itself to restoring marriage particularly amongst the poor,” he recommended. Another problem is that “a huge proportion of the investigations of child abuse triggered by anonymous reports turn out to be without foundation and these investigations eat up a massive amount of the resources needed to deal with real child abuse and neglect,” he said, adding that the simple remedy would be that “anonymous calls to the case worker or police should not be acted upon.” He suggested that “at least the police or case workers should know who the caller is and how to contact them.” Mr. Fagan clarified that, although he works for the Heritage Foundation, his testimony at the hearing was personal.

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