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Senate Subcommittee Discusses Child Abuse and Neglect

On June 26, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families held a hearing on the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (P.L. 93-247). Initially enacted in 1974, CAPTA’s purpose, according to Chair Chris Dodd (D-CT), is to “[create] a single federal focus to deal with the problems of child abuse and neglect.”

Sen. Dodd said, “Today in the United States, nearly a million children are abused in some way each year. It is a stunning number. While CAPTA has brought much needed attention and change to the issues of child maltreatment, this number is astonishingly and unacceptably high…The rates of physical abuse have decreased in recent years, but the rates of neglect have remained disturbingly constant.” Speaking to the financial ramifications, he added, “Although child abuse and neglect are preventable, they currently cost this country an estimated $103.8 billion annually…Of course, the true cost is the emotional, behavioral, and developmental effects abuse and neglect have on children long into their lives.”

Dr. Cheryl Anne Boyce, chief of the Child Abuse and Neglect Program at the National Institutes of Health, presented information on “research conducted and supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address the public health problem of child abuse and neglect.” Dr. Boyce stated that “In 2006, an estimated 905,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect, and children ages birth to three years had the highest rates of victimization. Most devastating is that approximately 1,500 children die annually due to child abuse or neglect. Children and adolescents who have experienced abuse and neglect are exposed to various risk factors for subsequent health problems and experience high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, isolation, self-destructive behaviors and comorbid problems, such as tobacco use, misuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as alcohol dependence and neurological impairments.”

Speaking to current NIH research on child abuse and neglect, Dr. Boyce explained several programs, including research on “contextual factors that protect against maltreatment, as well as individual factors that better predict which children are likely to benefit from intervention.” Dr. Boyce also discussed research efforts focused on the “adverse effects [child abuse and neglect have] on academic and intellectual functioning and occupational functioning, which are likely to impact subsequent development and life trajectories.”

Caren Kaplan, director of Child Protection Reform at the American Humane Association, made recommendations for the CAPTA reauthorization, noting that “there is opportunity to encourage states to develop and implement differential response [techniques] to families who come to the attention of the child protection system” and that “statutory language can promote the development of community response pathways…established by state and local public child welfare agencies.” In addition, she urged that “the federal government can provide leadership and guidance to states in the CAPTA reauthorization by providing a clear definition of chronicity or chronic neglect.”

Karen Foley-Schain, executive director of the State of Connecticut Children’s Trust Fund, explained various ways CAPTA-funded programs have helped children throughout Connecticut. She said, “CAPTA has been a catalyst for increasing the state’s efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect. CAPTA has enabled us to raise awareness of the need to prevent child abuse and neglect and to enlist the support of many in this cause. CAPTA has provided the state with the opportunity to show that prevention programs make a real difference in the lives of children and families and to make the case that these prevention efforts must be supported.” Addressing the need for increased child abuse and neglect prevention, Ms. Foley-Schain added that “more and more resources and more and more funding [is] being directed to addressing children and families after a crisis has occurred—when it is much more difficult and costly to intervene. This has led many policy makers to ask if more can be done to avoid these problems. The search for this type of solution [is] at the heart of CAPTA…We hope that you will reauthorize CAPTA at the highest level possible and continue to support our efforts.”

Sen. Dodd questioned how to “make a dent here,” asking if there are “adequate resources [for] states to use these dollars to create an innovative program…to really drive to the prevention side of [child abuse and neglect].” Ms. Foley-Schain responded that while “resources [are] a huge issue…now is the time to seriously invest in these programs and bring them to scale.” Sen. Dodd also addressed the communities most at risk for child abuse and neglect programs, noting that “economics are the driving factor here” and not racial factors.

Also testifying was Tanya Long, a National Parents Anonymous parent leader.

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