The US House Committee on Education and Labor recently announced the introduction of the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or “Stronger CAPTA,” to amend the primary federal statutes dealing with how child welfare agencies across the country operate.
Bobby Scott (D-VA) is the lead sponsor on the bill, joined by a bipartisan collection of his committee colleagues—Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (OR), Kim Schrier (WA), and Haley Stevens (MI) from the Democrat side and Reps. James Comer (KY), Dusty Johnson (SD), Elise Stefanik (NY) and Virginia Foxx (NC) from the Republicans.
As the 109-page bill was just released late Monday (January 25), we have not yet had a chance to review everything in it and we have not reached a final conclusion on whether it is good or bad. Ultimately, as one would expect, it has some elements of both.
Our aim as an organization will be to support the good and urge the committee to rework the bad into something that respects families while protecting children at risk of abuse.
On the good side, this bill acknowledges some of the biggest problems we have observed in the child protection system, and calls for them to be studied and corrected. Here are five examples:
First, it calls for the gathering and reporting of data on how often anonymous, erroneous, and sometimes knowingly false reports take resources away from the efforts to find and protect abused children.
It also recognizes and looks to relieve racial bias in the system.
And it builds on recent advances to fund preventive programs—those aimed at keeping families together rather than breaking them apart—so that fewer children end up in foster care.
We are especially excited to see the bill call for better definitions of “neglect,” so that fewer children will be removed from families simply because of poverty. We call this principle “poverty is not neglect,” and as simple and obvious as that sounds, it will be a new and exciting concept in federal law and in many of the states.
And, finally, Section 106 of the proposal would change the removal standard to “imminent harm,” meaning a child should not be removed from their home unless there is an immediate risk to their physical health.
Not everything in the bill has us excited, however.
Our biggest concern is the call for “an electronic system that allows states to share data from their child abuse and neglect registries with other states.” (Source: House Committee on Education & Labor Fact Sheet)
If there were proper protections in place to safeguard innocent families by granting due process before a name goes on the registry, this would not be such a problem. But as it stands, a large majority of the names on state registries do not belong there. Roughly 80% of those listed on a registry, if they appeal, will see their names removed.
By providing a system to link these registries, this bill will take the damage caused by an improper listing and spread it nationwide. Instead of being unable to get a job in one state for being wrongly registered as a child abuser, one will be unable to get a job anywhere in the country.
Should this bill pass, our state-level reforms to keep innocent names off these lists will become just that much more important. Though we have resisted this “national registry” and will continue to do so, yet these state reforms can limit (though not entirely eliminate) the damage such a system would cause.
While those are the highlights we know so far, the bill is over 100 pages long and repeatedly references and amends the current version of CAPTA, making reading and understanding this proposal a long process.
To put it simply, there is still a lot in the bill we do not know.
We will be studying this bill further to find all the hidden nuggets, both good and bad.
Given the split nature of the current Congress, a bill with this kind of bipartisan support is likely to pass, at least in the House. At this point, we have no indication of what the Senate committee thinks of these reforms.
But if the bill is going to pass, there will be opportunities between now and then to bring about at least minor changes to its content. We are already in discussion with coalition partners to schedule a (virtual) meeting with Congressman Scott and his staff to address those parts of the proposal that concern us.
We will be doing all we can to make the most of our opportunities so that the final bill will protect families from unnecessary intrusion while still protecting vulnerable children from abuse or neglect.
If you are in a position to help us in this effort, you can do so through your gift to ParentalRights.org here.
Thank you for standing with us as we defend families, protecting children by empowering parents.