CWLA 2009 Children's Legislative Agenda
Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS) releases the latest national data on child abuse
and neglect every April. For 2006, the latest data available,
the numbers tell a familiar story: More than 900,000 children
were substantiated as abused and/or neglected, out of
the more than 3.3 million child abuse reports made. Children
younger than 1 year had the highest rate of victimization at
24.4 per 1,000 children. Of the estimated 1,530 child fatalities
in 2006, 41.1% were attributed to neglect, with physical
abuse a major contributor to child fatalities.
Of the child victims, nearly 9% were sexually abused,
and 16% were physically abused. A consistent annual statistic
that surprises some is that nearly 65% of the 900,000
children are victims of neglect. These are children whose
mistreatment can be just as serious as those victims of sexual
or physical abuse. It also tells us we are not doing enough
to prevent these children from coming into care or being
brought to the attention of child protective services (CPS).
Another consistent statistic is that of the 900,000
abused and neglected children identified, nearly 40% did
not receive follow follow-up services. With such a high and
consistent percentage going without follow-up help, clearly
services are not being adequately provided at the front end
of the child welfare system. For some children, this may
mean that they will return to the system.
Late in 2008, HHS was working on the release of the
Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect
(NIS). The last one was published in 1996, and, like its predecessor,
the forthcoming congressionally mandated study is
likely to tell us that more children suffer from abuse and
neglect than the official statistics indicate. The NIS includes
children who were investigated by CPS agencies, but it also
obtains data on children seen by community professionals
who were not reported to CPS or who were screened out by
CPS without investigation. This means the NIS estimates
provide a more comprehensive measure of the scope of child
abuse and neglect known to community professionals,
including both abused and neglected children who are in the
official statistics and as well as those who are not.
Prevention of child abuse and neglect is perhaps the
greatest challenge in the continuum of the child welfare system.
All too frequently, prevention of abuse and neglect is
an add-on service instead of a core component of the range
of needed services. The issue of providing or addressing prevention
too often is conditioned on whether a child welfare
agency or department can free up appropriations or funds
by reducing the cost of services, including foster care, which
some describe as "back-end services." In fact, what is
required is an investment in the range of services.
Both child care and Head Start funding and services have
been inadequately addressed in the past decade. In the coming
session of Congress, CWLA will partner with leaders of
the Child Care NOW Coalition, including the Woman's
National Law Center and the National Association for the
Education of Young Children, as they craft a comprehensive
proposal to improve both the quality and accessibility of child
care. CWLA will also work with the National Head Start
Association and other Head Start advocates to expand and
strengthen that program and fully implement the most recently
enacted reforms. Both of these programs represent a key
component of community-based strategies that are necessary
to reduce the level of child abuse and child neglect.
We will withhold comment on the reauthorization of
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for a future
paper. When TANF is reauthorized, however, careful examination
will be necessary, and attention must be paid to how that
block grant can be crafted to ensure the most vulnerable families
are assisted; one of TANF's central target populations is
the very same collection of families that come to the attention
of the child welfare system when all else fails.
The federal government provides some limited funding for
services that can prevent or remedy potential neglect and
abuse situations. Title IV-B part 1, Child Welfare Services
(CWS), and Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable
Families (PSSF), are flexible funding streams that can fund
a range of services, some to support families in an effort
to prevent abuse, but the data and results are not clearly
understood. These funding sources are available on a limited
basis for innovative programs and services that wrap around
vulnerable families. Other federal funds, such as the Social
Services Block Grant (SSBG), may also help the development
of community-based initiatives that have shown promise.
More dedicated sources of funding are needed, but with a
link to outcomes and evidence of what works.
A number of promising approaches nationwide may use
specific interventions, such as home visitation, whereas others,
such as Baltimore's Family Connections program, have a
strategy of using a range of funding sources from public, private,
faith-based, foundation, and other community partners
to show some significant results. The Family Connections
program has shown positive results in reducing the
instances of abuse and neglect by using limited federal
funds to better coordinate communities and services.
Another promising approach is more specific in its structure:
the home visiting model. Home visitation programs
refer to different model programs that provide in-home
visits to targeted, vulnerable, and new families. Home
visitation programs-either stand-alone or center-based-
annually serve at least 400,000 children from birth to age 5.
The eligible families in these home visitation programs
may receive services as early as the prenatal stage.
Because a child's early years are the most critical for optimal
development and provide the foundation necessary for
success in school and life, home visiting can make a lifetime
of difference. Nurses and other trained members of
the community conduct home visits weekly, bimonthly, or
monthly. Program goals include an increase in positive
parenting practices, improvement in the health of the entire
family, increase in the family's ability to be self-sufficient,
and enhanced school readiness for the children. Home visitation
programs rely on a range of sometimes unstable federal,
state, and local funds.
Other programs that hold promise for prevention include
the use of differential response. This is a form of practice
in child protective services that allows for more than one
method of response to reports of child abuse and neglect.
Also called dual track, multiple track, or alternative
response, these programs recognize the variation in the
nature of reports and the value of responding in ways appropriate
to each, avoiding a "one size fits all" approach.
Great variation exists in state and county implementation
of differential response, which generally involves low and
moderate-risk cases that receive a noninvestigation
assessment response without a formal determination or
substantiation of child abuse and neglect. Although states
are attempting several approaches in this area, the basic
policy difference is in how complaints of abuse and neglect
are dealt with and screened into or out of the CPS system.
In some instances, responses to reports of child abuse and
neglect may result in greater family support and services to
address the underlying causes.
The Title V Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Block
Grant also offers great possibility. In September 2008,
Title V received the highest possible rating on the White
House Office of Management and Budget's Performance
Assessment Rating Tool, yet the program is consistently
underfunded. Title V is a federal-state partnership that
funds a diverse array of programs and services specifically
aimed at improving the health of mothers and children,
many of whom are vulnerable and in need of prevention or
States must use at least 30% of their federal allotment
of Title V on preventive or primary care for children, and
30% of their federal allotment on children with special
health care needs. Above and beyond these requirements,
Title V provides wide flexibility to states to determine the
most appropriate use of federal funds, as long as these uses
are in line with Title V's overall mission of building the
maternal and child health infrastructure.
Although the block grant is authorized to receive $850
million in federal money in 2008, actual appropriations for
Title V dropped to $666 million from $693 million provided
in each of the two previous years.
Initiatives that combine the efforts of the courts and
the child welfare community also have shown great promise.
These initiatives, which provide funds to train key personnel--
including judges and child welfare workers involved with the
courts, such as court-appointed state advocates (CASAs)
and CPS workers-have yielded positive results in keeping
families together and addressing the abuse and neglect of
infants and the very young. The Court Teams for Maltreated
Infants and Toddlers Project, spearheaded by Zero to Three,
has shown great promise and results; what it lacks is a
steady source of dedicated funding.
Another innovation being implemented in some areas,
both in terms of CPS and in placement decisions, is family
group decision making (FGDM) and other similar team
meeting models. FGDM and similar initiatives offer an
approach of working with families and communities involved
with the child welfare system. Families are engaged and
empowered by child welfare agencies to make decisions and
develop plans that protect and nurture their children from
enduring further abuse and neglect. These approaches
recognize that families are the experts of in their own situations
and are often able to make well-informed decisions
about their circumstances with the support of family members
and others who have worked with the family.
The Fostering Connections Act offers some limited
national grants to advance the use of FGDM, but overall,
very limited funding sources exist for these initiatives. In
addition to providing designated funds for home visitation,
some flexibility needs to be built into the funds provided
through Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance. This
flexibility should be tied to measurable outcomes and data.
Child protection can trace its origins to the 19th Century
when, in 1875, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children was established in New York City. After publicity
surrounding the treatment of a young girl captured the public's
attention, the president of the American Society for the
Prevention and Cruelty to Animals was approached and, as
a result of his support, existing state legislation to protect
children was vigorously enforced for the first time.
The first White House Conference on Children was convened
in 1909; one of the results of that conference was the
creation of a Children's Bureau at the federal level. Part of
the mission of the new bureau, at the urging of the White
House Conference, was to "investigate and report on all
matters relating to the welfare of children and child life
among all classes of people."
In 1974, Congress passed the first Child Abuse
Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). That landmark
law helped establish national standards for specific reporting
and response practices for states to include in their
child protection laws. CAPTA is the only federal legislation
exclusively dedicated to preventing, assessing, identifying,
and treating child abuse and neglect-the continuum of
child maltreatment services and supports.
CAPTA includes three programs: grants to the states
to develop innovative approaches to improve their CPS
systems; discretionary funds that support state efforts to
improve their practices in preventing and treating child
abuse and neglect; and the Community-Based Family
Resource and Support Program that provides grants to
states to support their efforts to develop, operate, and
expand a network of community-based, preventionfocused
family resource and support programs that coordinate
resources among a range of existing public and
The SSBG is a major source of federal funding that
addresses the needs of vulnerable children and youth. SSBG
represents 11% of federal funding for child welfare services.
When SSBG was converted from a matching entitlement
fund to a capped federal block grant to states in 1981,
states were free to decide whom to serve and what services
to provide. As a capped entitlement, SSBG funding was set
in the statute at $2.8 billion. Congress, however, reduced
funding to $2.3 billion when the TANF block grant was created
in 1996. Although funding was to be restored to $2.8
billion by 2003, it was reduced again to $1.9 billion in FY
1999, and to $1.7 billion in FY 2000. The $1.7 billion total
is what is currently in law. In the 1980s SSBG was used to
assist states in a time of recession. In 2005 and again in
2008 SSBG has been a major funding source for hurricane
relief with Congress allocating more than a half billion in
Although states can use SSBG funds for an array of
social services, such as child care or services for the aging,
child welfare services receive more of these funds than any
other service area. In FY 2006, child protection and foster
care services each accounted for 24% of SSBG expenditures.
Thirty-eight states used SSBG funds to support child protection
services; 37 used SSBG to provide foster care.
- Based on the newly enacted Fostering Connections Act,
the new Administration should assist states in their use
of the new Family Connections funds in expanding the
use of family group decision making.
- Based on the newly enacted Fostering Connections
Act, the new Administration should assist states in the
expanded use of Title IV-E training funds as they now
apply to the training of court personnel, including
members and staff of abuse and neglect courts, court appointed
special advocates, and others to train key
personnel in prevention and successful intervention programs
such as Zero to Three Family Drug Treatment
Court and other model court-community partnerships.
- Under the Fostering Connections Act, the new
Administration should issue regulations that are expansive
and broad in defining the coverage of Title IV-E
training funds as it applies to court-related personnel.
- The new Administration should discontinue the requirement
on states to plan their allotment of Social Services
Block Grant (SSBG) based on proposed budget cuts.
This directive to states can require some local governments
to plan their SSBG spending based on cuts that
Congress has never approved.
- Congress and the new Administration should enact
legislation to fund home visitation programs similar
to the Education Begins At Home Act introduced in the
- Congress and the new Administration should enact
legislation that will provide targeted federal funds that
will encourage the development of programs such as
Baltimore's Family Connections program, the Harlem
Children's Zone, and other similar neighborhood-based
projects. These projects should require an extensive
community planning process involving public, private,
and faith-based agencies, as well as foundations. Any
project must be tied to specific community-designed
data and outcome measures.
- Congress and the new Administration should amend
Title IV-B State Court funding to provide $5 million in
mandatory funds to create a National Court Teams
Resource Center as proposed under the Safe Babies
Act of 2007.
- Congress and the new Administration should add flexibility
to the use of Title IV-E funds for the purpose of
preventing or intervening to prevent child abuse and
link the use of funds to state- or community-based
measurable outcomes and data.
- Congress and the new Administration should fully fund
at their authorized levels programs including Promoting
Safe and Stable Families and Child Welfare Services
and strengthen the programs by gradually developing
methodology and data that can show results and how
funds are invested.
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