Freedom To Be Safe From Harm

Children deserve to grow up free from abuse and neglect, yet, all too often, children in America do not grow up in a safe environment. An estimated one in seven children experienced abuse or neglect in the last year. Children with disabilities are at higher risk, while at least 20 percent of girls suffer sexual abuse during childhood. These are not isolated issues. Our Nation has also seen the systemic failures of some of our most trusted institutions, from the Catholic Church to institutions of higher education, to protect children and young adults from abuse and criminal behavior.

Federal, state and local governments have an obligation to commit resources to ensure that children are protected from abuse and neglect, that families are stabilized where possible and that children are removed from unsafe environments when necessary. The federal government should act as a full partner with state and local governments by providing robust funding to strengthen families in order to prevent child abuse and neglect. It should also support caseworkers, child welfare organizations, law enforcement and non-profit organizations to help protect our Nation’s children and investigate potential wrongdoing perpetrated against them. Sadly, the federal government has historically underfunded these priorities. 

One result of inadequate funding for our Nation’s child welfare system is that caseworkers are overwhelmed and far too many children fall through the cracks. A 2017 report from the Pennsylvania State Auditor General found that administrators, caseworkers and supervisors from 13 counties cited large caseloads as a major source of burnout for workers. Meanwhile, research from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests growing caseload rates nationwide as a direct result of the opioid epidemic and the increase in the number of parents struggling with substance use disorder. Cases associated with substance use disorder tend to be more severe and complex, which further strains the capacity of child welfare systems. It is clear we need a renewed federal commitment to ensuring that all children grow up safe and secure.

Policy: Expanding Investments in Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment

Background on Policy

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides funding to states to improve child protective services and support community-based activities that prevent child abuse and neglect. This federal law helps to maintain the “front door” to services provided by child welfare agencies, as it requires states to have a system to receive and respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, and outlines policies that must be included as a response. Funding through CAPTA is mostly subject to the annual appropriations process, and, unfortunately, has historically been limited and uneven, with total funding for CAPTA split between several accounts. A larger, longer-term source of funding through CAPTA would help state and local governments to bolster their child welfare systems and child protection efforts, as well as to strengthen families and promote resiliency to prevent abuse in the neglect in the first place.

CAPTA consists of four major components, three of which are discretionary and one of which is funded through the federal Crime Victims Fund as described below.

State Grants to Improve Child Protective Services: Funded at $90 million in FY 2020 these formula grants are intended to improve local child protective services (CPS), including a system to receive and respond to reports of child abuse and neglect. Specifically, these grants provide support to states to improve intake, assessment, screening and investigation, risk and safety assessment protocols, CPS staff training, procedures for identifying and preventing child abuse and neglect, and the development and implementation of procedures for collaboration among CPS and other agencies, such as those focusing on domestic violence or assisting individuals with disabilities. In FY 2020, $60 million of this funding is designated to help states to implement “plans of safe care” for infants impacted by substance use disorder, while $30 million is going to state child protective services.

Discretionary Activities: Funded at $35 million in FY 2020 CAPTA’s discretionary funding provides competitive grants and contracts to organizations for research, demonstration, technical assistance and data collection on preventing, identifying, assessing and responding to child abuse and neglect.

Grants for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention: Funded at $55.6 million in FY 2020 these formula grants to states support community-based services and activities to prevent child abuse and neglect. Among other things, funds can support voluntary home visiting programs, parenting programs, family resource centers, respite and crisis care and parent mutual support.

Children’s Justice Act Grants: These are formula grants to the states to improve their multi-disciplinary response to child abuse and neglect. They are not currently funded through the annual appropriations process, but rather through an annual set-aside from the federal Crime Victims Fund. Some of the activities funded through these grants include establishing or enhancing child advocacy centers, establishing and supporting state and local child fatality review teams and developing training for law enforcement, CPS and health care professionals. Funding for these grants is determined via a formula based on how much money came into the Crime Victims Fund the previous year, with this program receiving a maximum of $20 million per fiscal year.

Total appropriated CAPTA funding for FY 20, not counting the set-aside through the Crime Victims Fund, is roughly $180 million.

Policy Description

This legislation will provide a significant expansion of resources, $5 billion over 10 years, for child abuse prevention and treatment, specifically by providing additional resources to states to improve child protective services, and also by expanding investments in grants for community-based child abuse prevention. First, it will boost CAPTA funding to state grants for CPS by $2.5 billion over 10 years, or $250 million annually. Second, it will provide for a similar increase of funding for grants for community-based child abuse prevention, $250 million annually, or $2.5 billion over 10 years. All of this funding will be mandatory.

Expected Impact of Policy

Providing a long-term authorization for these provisions of CAPTA coupled with a significant funding boost for those programs, will allow state and local governments to expand their efforts to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect. An immediate, large boost in funding will allow state and local child welfare agencies to make long delayed investments in their programs. 

Policy: Formula Grants for States’ Attorney General Offices

Background on Policy

Over the past decade, widespread abuse has been uncovered at some of our most well-known institutions—from the Catholic Church to Penn State University and Michigan State University. These episodes have illustrated how easily a few perpetrators can take advantage of an institution’s systemic failure to report, respond to and protect children from abuse. Furthermore, they have illustrated the necessary role for timely government intervention and oversight.

Most child abuse allegations and investigations fall to local police, while state AGs primarily focus on large systemic investigations or internet crimes related to children. Furthermore, since many child abuse victims do not speak out until years after the alleged abuse occurred, many investigations run into issues related to the statute of limitations and an inability to prosecute certain crimes. These issues are highlighted by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s recent investigation into the Catholic Church’s history of clergy abuse.

Many states have child advocacy offices which review individual complaints or monitor the effectiveness of child protection systems across state agencies, though additional resources would surely enhance their ability to establish more robust child protection services. Few resources, if any, are dedicated specifically to addressing large scale, systemic child abuse and neglect.

Policy Description

This proposal recommends the creation of a formula grant program to state Attorney General offices to strengthen their capacity to prevent, investigate and prosecute institutional child abuse and neglect. Though the funding will be provided specifically for activities related to child abuse and neglect, state Attorney General offices will have significant flexibility to use the funding in a manner that is best suited to child protection needs in their states provided that, among other activities, they specify a senior official in the office with responsibility over children’s issues and they dedicate resources specifically to recognizing, reporting and preventing institutional child abuse and neglect. Furthermore, since local law enforcement plays an integral role in preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect as well, a portion of the funds will be set aside to award a percentage of the formula grant funds to local agencies to implement preventive programming. This legislation provides $250 million annually, or $2.5 billion over 10 years. This is sufficient funding to ensure that all states who meet minimum requirements can receive a substantial grant, with additional funding allocated to states with larger populations.

Expected Impact of Policy

Providing state Attorney General offices with an influx of funding dedicated specifically to reporting and investigating systemic child abuse will allow state Attorneys General to prioritize the health and safety of children across the states. By increasing education about reporting and prioritizing these investigations, prosecutors may be more capable of pursuing charges before the statute of limitations expires on some of these criminal behaviors.