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Home > Advocacy > CWLA Testimony and Comments > CWLA Testimony on Child Protection


Child Protection

CWLA Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families for the Hearing on the Reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention And Treatment Act (CAPTA)

June 26, 2008

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Chairman Dodd and Senator Alexander and members of the Subcommittee, the Child Welfare League of America submits this statement on the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CWLA represents hundreds of state and local direct service organizations including both public and private, and faith-based agencies. Our members provide a range of child welfare services from prevention to placement services including adoptions, foster care, kinship placements, and services provided in a residential setting. CWLA believes that keeping children safe from child abuse and neglect should always be the first goal of any child protective services response. The best ways to ensure that children are safe from all forms of maltreatment are comprehensive, community based approaches to protecting children and supporting and strengthening families. As a collective, public and private agencies, in collaboration with individual citizens and community entities, can prevent and remedy child maltreatment, achieve child safety and promote child and family well-being.

History of Child Protection

Child protection can trace its origins back to the nineteenth century when, in 1875, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established in New York City. 1 After publicity surrounding the treatment of a young child captured the attention of the public, 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. Other states and jurisdictions would eventually follow in enacting their own laws. In 1899, Illinois became the first state to create a Juvenile Court to address issues of dependence, delinquency, and neglect. By 1907 twenty-six states had followed with their own juvenile court laws.

In 1909, the first White House Conference on Children was convened and 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." 2

Throughout the following decades other laws where enacted at the federal and state level but, in 1960, Dr. C. Henry Kempe's work on "battered child syndrome" raised the importance of communities in their efforts to protect children and led the medical community to improve methods of identifying and protecting children from abuse. In 1974, the Congress acted with the adoption of the first Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). That landmark law enacted through this Committee established national standards for specific reporting and response practices for states to include into their child protection laws.

The Role of Legislation

CAPTA, as significant as it is, is only one part of a system we call the child welfare system. Other important laws that play a direct or indirect role in child protective services (CPS) include enactment of the 1935 Social Security Act which included the Aid to Dependent Children section that required public agencies to provide child welfare services to protect children who were neglected, dependent, homeless or in danger of becoming delinquent. Later changes were made to that law as it became Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and states were required to provide for children in foster care. The Social Services entitlement was a source of funds to states to address some of the support services that might assist families in leaving AFDC, it also served as the major source of funds for state CPS systems. In 1981, this funding became the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Title XX of the Social Security Act. SSBG still remains the single biggest federal source of funds for CPS. In 1978, Congress recognized some of the earlier injustices carried out under federal law against Native Americans and passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA--PL 95-608). Two years later PL 96-272 created Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance. Throughout the last three decades numerous amendments have been made to these laws and CAPTA has been reauthorized six times.

The Challenges Before Us

A few months ago the latest national data on child abuse and neglect were released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The numbers tell a familiar story: over 900,000 children substantiated as abused and neglected, out of the more than 3.3 million child abuse reports made. In 2006, children in the age group of birth to 1 year had the highest rate of victimization at 24.4 per 1,000 children of the same age group in the national population; More than 40 percent (41.1%) of the estimated 1,530 child fatalities in 2006 were attributed to neglect; physical abuse also was a major contributor to child fatalities. 3

Of the child victims almost nine percent were sexually abused and sixteen percent were physically abused. It is little recognized that nearly sixty-five percent 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 that we are not doing enough to prevent these children from coming into care or being brought to the attention of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system.

A consistent statistic from year to year including 2006 is that of the 900,000 abused and neglect children identified nearly 40 percent did not receive follow up services. 4 There are several reasons for this including the way in which data is collected, how states provide services, and in some instances the reluctance on the part of some families to access services. Still with such a high and consistent percent going without follow-up help, it is clear that services are not being adequately provided at the front end of the child welfare system. For some that may mean they will return to the child welfare system.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the Third National Incidence Study (NIS) of Child Abuse and Neglect. The NIS is a congressionally mandated, periodic research effort to assess the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the United States. The fourth study is currently underway and is expected to be released later this year. The NIS gathers information from multiple sources to estimate the number of children who are abused or neglected and to provide information about the nature and severity of the maltreatment, the characteristics of the children, perpetrators, and families, and the extent of changes in the incidence or distribution of child maltreatment since the previous NIS.

In the 1996 study, a significant correlation was found between the incidence of maltreatment and family income. It found that 47% of children with demonstrable harm from abuse or neglect and 95.9% of endangered children came from families whose income was less than $15,000 per year.

Children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 as compared to children from families with annual incomes above $30,000, were over 22 times more likely to experience some form of maltreatment that fit the study's harm standard and over 25 times more likely to suffer some form of maltreatment as defined by the endangerment standard. 5

The stress created by living in poverty may play a distinct role in child abuse and neglect. Parents who experience prolonged frustration in trying to meet their family's basic needs may be less able to cope with even normal childhood behavior problems. Those parents who lack social support in times of financial hardship may be particularly vulnerable. Parents who are experiencing problems with employment are frequently rated by child protective services staff as being at moderate to high risk of child maltreatment.

These figures also tell us that we can prevent more children from coming into the system with the right kind of investments both in services and in the CPS system.

Keys Issues for CAPTA Reauthorization and the Committee

Funding for CAPTA
CPS systems in the fifty states are funded by a variety of sources. The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) serves as a major source of funding with forty-one states spending $257 million in SSBG funds in 2005 for child protection. 6 SSBG is once again threatened with a potential reduction of $500 million in the President's proposed FY 2009 budget as it was in the previous two budgets. At one point, shortly after CAPTA was created and before SSBG became a block grant it was the primary source of funding for state CPS systems. At $1.7 billion SSBG is well below its historic high levels that came close to $3 billion. In fact, SSBG supports more than 30 different types of human services and populations, well beyond child protective services.

The CAPTA state grants that are intended to support state child protective services systems stands at little more than $27 million. There has been little change in the last decade, actually little change in funding levels since 1974. The table below indicates the allocation that states represented by Senators on the full committee receive. In comparison you will notice the state grants represent a very small part of your respective state's budgets and what they need for CPS. Yet it is on this less than modest money that we hang numerous mandates and policies.

If Congress is serious about the practices we hope to promote through the reauthorization of this Act, then the appropriations process must work in conjunction with this reauthorization. Perhaps in considering improvements in CAPTA the Committee should consider some form of funding triggers that might cause this program to receive greater support. There are a number of requirements in CAPTA including those around mandatory reporting of child abuse, data collection and services for vulnerable children. These mandates may become more enforceable and in fact realistic if Congress can give this law the priority it deserves.
StateState Allotment 7
North Carolina745,961
New Hamphsire150,196
New Mexico211,725
New York1,552,099
Rhode Island130,161

The Foundation of Prevention, Protection and Child Welfare: Workforce
Whatever the challenge in child welfare whether we are discussing preventing abuse from taking place, moving children from foster care toward reunification with his or her family, placing a child in a kinship or adoptive family, finding more foster families, training of parents, or investigating abuse effective services are built on a strong workforce.

The investigation and prevention of child abuse including acting and making decisions that should always be about the best interest of the child, come down to a strong and competent workforce. A competent workforce includes being fully staffed, with adequate and competent supervision with training that prepares the new worker and assists the current worker with on-going skills.

Although CWLA recommends caseload/workload measures for each area of child welfare practice, workloads are best determined through careful time studies carried on within the individual agency. They should be based on the responsibilities assigned to complete a specific set of tasks, or units of work, for which the worker is responsible. For those agencies interested in developing their own specific workload figures, time required for the conduct of the following tasks should be calculated to include:
  • Direct contact with children and families;
  • Travel;
  • Collateral visits, outreach activities, and court schedules;
  • Emergencies that interrupt regular work schedules;
  • Supervision, case conferences, consultation, and collaboration;
  • Work with community service providers;
  • Attendance at staff meetings, staff development, professional conferences, and administrative functions; and
  • Telephone contacts, reading of records, dictation, reports of conferences and consultations.
Services for Abused or Neglected Children and Their Families (Includes CPS):
Initial Assessment/Investigation12 active cases per month, per 1 social worker
On-going Cases17 active families per 1 social worker, and no more than 1 new case assigned for every 6 open cases
Combined Assessment/Investigation and On-going Cases10 active on-going cases and 4 active investigations per 1 social worker
Supervision1 supervisor per 5 social workers

Whatever actions this Subcommittee takes in regard to CAPTA reauthorization and increased funding, there are actions both the Committee and Congress can and must take to address the workforce issue.

Perhaps the best place to focus this discussion is in this Subcommittee and the full committee because this is not just a human service issue but also a workforce issue. We need a national strategy that will build on the work of experts in the field of child welfare but also other human service fields facing some the same challenges that are brought on by our ever changing society. We must also strengthen child welfare work with and between the higher education communities. There are few CWLA meetings held with our membership on the biggest challenges within child welfare that do not include a discussion of what many of our member agencies label "a workforce crisis". Regardless of whether we are talking to local agencies, local governments or state agencies, we hear their on-going concerns about where the next set of workers will come from and how to maintain a current well-trained staff.

What we need most of all is leadership at the national level that will make this part of our national agenda and national economic strategy for the 21st century.

Fortunately, Congress is beginning to take some first and significant steps. In the remaining months we urge members of both parties in both houses to follow through on some key initiatives.

First, the HELP Committee is working diligently with their House counterparts to complete a final reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Within these discussions is the possible inclusion of a House proposal to provide for loan forgiveness to social workers who work and remain at a child welfare agency. Under the proposal a worker would receive a loan forgiveness benefit of $2000 for each of the first five years the worker continues in the field. We urge Congress to include this in a final Higher Education bill. It is an important tool and can become a building block to a workforce strategy in this area.

Second, in recent days the House, working through the Ways and Means Committee, has passed a bipartisan child welfare bill, the Fostering Connections to Success Act (H.R. 6307). This bill includes an important provision that will allow the current Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance training funds to be used for private agencies as well as public agencies. Similar to child care, child welfare has built much of its services on a combination of non-profit and faith based agencies as well as public agencies. This extension of training funds, long a part of the CWLA agenda, is also found in legislation recently introduced by a member of the Committee, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), as part of the Child Welfare Workforce Improvement Act (S. 2944). We encourage the Senate leadership and members of the Committee to get behind this proposal. This source of funding would assist in both on-going training of current workers as well as offer an incentive for these workers to remain in their occupations.

Third, S. 2944, also calls for a national workforce study by the National Academy of Sciences. This study would examine contributing factors to staff turnover, make recommendations on appropriate workloads and caseloads, examine training needs, and examine the use of data. The resulting findings and the directives to the Department of Health and Human Services could enhance a national strategy in the area of child welfare workforce development. This proposal could be adopted through the CAPTA reauthorization and we urge members to assure that the needed funding is provided so that it is carried out.

Promise in Prevention and Intervention
CAPTA reauthorization can serve as a way to encourage innovation but we also point out that there are other legislative proposals currently before Congress and this Committee that could enhance CAPTA.
One example of a program that could help address prevention of child abuse and that is currently under consideration as part of another bill is home visitation. 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 programs or center-based programs-serve at least 400,000 children annually between the ages of 0 and 5. 8

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 on a weekly, bimonthly, or monthly basis. 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.

We recognize the value both in human and economic terms, and the great benefits to our nation and to vulnerable families and children by enacting policies that prevent the need for ever placing a child in foster care. There is no simple model for prevention of child abuse and in fact we believe that a commitment to preventing child abuse will involve multiple efforts and strategies. Greater investment and support for home visitation is one critical part of such a strategy.

Currently home visitation programs rely on a range of federal, state and local funds. Unfortunately these funding sources can be unreliable, even for programs that are demonstrating effectiveness in a range of areas. In recent years, states have utilized funding sources including the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Title IV-B part 1, Child Welfare Services, Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF), the Child Abuse Prevent and Treatment Act (CAPTA) state grants and Community-Based Family Resource and support grants. All of these funding sources are used to fund a range of other services, and all have been subject to reductions or proposed reductions in each of the last five budgets. This highlights the need for specific funding for home visiting programs to strengthen and stabilize the funding.

All families benefit from information, guidance, and help in connecting with resources as they meet the challenges of parenthood and family life. For families with limited resources, or those that face additional challenges, the need for support and assistance is even greater.

Families are central to child safety and well-being. Children develop the ability to lead productive, satisfying and independent lives in the context of their families. Family ties especially those between parent and child are extremely important in the development of a child's identity. Through interaction with parents and other significant family members, children learn and come to subscribe to their most cherished personal and cultural values and beliefs. They learn right from wrong, and gain competence and confidence. Family relationships must be nurtured and maintained to meet the needs of children for continuity and stability, which support healthy development.

Home visitation services stabilize at-risk families by significantly affecting factors directly linked to future abuse and neglect. Research shows that families who receive at least 15 home visits have less perceived stress and maternal depression, while also expressing higher levels of paternal competence. 9 Research shows that participating children have improved rates of early literacy, language development, problem-solving, and social awareness. These children also demonstrate higher rates of school attendance and scores on achievement and standardized tests. Studies show that families who receive home visiting are more likely to have health insurance, seek prenatal and wellness care, and have their children immunized. Home visitation programs may also reduce the disproportionality or overrepresentation of children and families of color in the child welfare system, while improving outcomes for these families.

The HELP Committee has before it S.667, the Education Begins at Home Act, sponsored by Senator Clinton and Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO). Its companion bill, H.R. 2343, passed the House Education and Labor Committee last week. We encourage the HELP Committee to build on this action.

Reauthorizing CAPTA provides an opportunity to explore a number of issues involving child abuse and neglect. Some states use the differential response method to address reports of abuse and neglect. Differential response is a form of practice in child protective services that allows for more than one method of response to reports of child abuse and/or neglect. Also called "dual track", "multiple track", or "alternative response", this approach recognizes the variation in the nature of reports and the value of responding differentially.

There is great variation in state and county implementation of differential response, which generally involves low- and moderate-risk cases that receive a non-investigation assessment response without a formal determination or substantiation of child abuse and neglect. While 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.

Another innovation to be examined under reauthorization is Family Group Decision Making (FGDM). FGDM offers a new approach to working with families 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. The FGDM approach recognizes that families are the experts of their own situation, and therefore, are able to make well-informed decisions about their circumstances.

We propose that the Committee examine ways to assist states in developing policies and procedures which encourage the development of differential, multiple responses for referral of families and children not at risk of imminent harm to a community organization or voluntary prevention services; and policies and procedures encouraging the involvement of families in decision-making pertaining to cases of abuse and neglect of children.

Again, additional funds must be increased if the Committee is serious about making improvements in child abuse prevention, even if such funding is suggested as a pilot or experimental use.

The Disproportional Representation of Children of Color and Ethnic Groups in the System
CAPTA reauthorization also offers policymakers an opportunity to address the issue of disproportionality and disparate outcomes in the child welfare population. A recent study issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that while African American children make up only 15% of the national child population, they represent 34% of the foster care population. 10 Similar statistical profiles exist for Native American and Hispanic children in certain states or parts of the country when there is a higher concentration of Native Americans and Hispanic populations.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) 11 and GAO have found that there are several factors contributing to a disproportionate number of African American children entering and remaining in foster care, including bias or cultural misunderstandings between child welfare decision makers and the families they serve. GAO noted in its study that in all of the states they visited a lack of adequate support services contributed to disproportionality and disparate outcomes. The report notes "GAO was told that poorer families without access to supportive services may have a more difficult time weathering problems of substance abuse or emotional issues."

CAPTA may provide a way to reduce the over representation of certain children in the entire child welfare system through the use of family group decision making, deferential response, home visitation, and other emerging practices. If policymakers only deal with this fact when children are already in foster care or being moved toward adoption, then we will have missed the key avenue to address this, when children enter care.

The White House Conference on Children and Youth
CWLA indicated in its opening comments that the best ways to ensure that children are safe from all forms of maltreatment are comprehensive, community based approaches to protecting children and supporting and strengthening families.

We believe any action you take on this reauthorization as well as any action that may be taken to reform the Title IV-E programs will not be enough. That is not a reflection on Congress or your efforts but it is a reality that whatever happens in Washington can only be complete if there is engagement and commitment from communities all across America.

To be sure, CWLA believes the federal government could be doing much more in the area of child welfare, including greater investment of federal dollars in the system. That includes investment for prevention and it also means a commitment to children already in care and families struggling to come back together. Commitment to the front end of services should not be conditioned on a lack of commitment at the other end or parts of the system.

CWLA also recognizes that dollars and federal action alone cannot reduce the level of child abuse or the number of children in foster care. This has to be a partnership at the federal, state and local levels. It is for that reason that late last year CWLA called on Congress to act to restore the oldest White House Conference, the White House Conference on Children and Youth and to focus it on these most vulnerable families and children.

There are now twin bills in Congress. In the House H.R. 5461 has been introduced by Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Congressman Jon Porter (R-NV) along with its 50 other cosponsors, and on the Senate side, S. 2771 has been introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) along with more than a dozen other sponsors including the Chair of this Subcommittee and several other HELP Committee members.

This Conference was once held every ten years but has not been held since President Nixon called it in 1970. Its results have been noteworthy. We listed earlier its call for the creation of a Children's Bureau in 1909 and the Bureau's mission in regards to child protection. It should also be of interest to this Subcommittee that one of the results of the 1970 convening was a recommendation to create a designated Senate committee on children's issues and we are sure the members of this subcommittee recognize their own value over the years since.

The White House Conference would be, like its cousin the Conference on Aging, a two year event. In 2009, there would be several focused state and national meetings. In addition to official meetings, the policy committee that the legislation establishes would provide an opportunity for communities and states to organize their own focused events resulting in perhaps hundreds of meetings across the country. Meetings and events that would allow systems of health and mental health, providers of housing, substance abuse treatment experts, social service providers, schools, churches as well as other parts of the child welfare community to open a dialogue on how their cities and neighborhoods can come together to address these needs of these families in crisis. If we can get it right for our most vulnerable children and families we can get it right for all. Only after all of these voluntary efforts and official gatherings would there then be a national gathering or convention at the White House.

We urge the Subcommittee and the full committee to act on this legislation this year. It is bipartisan and bicameral and offers Congress an opportunity to reach beyond the politics of this year. But there is a much more significant reason for this White House Conference. It represents a vision of how communities can come together all across the country to engage in a discussion of not just needed federal support but local community action; how systems can coordinate and communicate to prevent abuse and neglect wherever possible; and when not possible how to act in the best interest of the child so that he or she has a permanent and loving family.

The Child Welfare League of America thanks the Subcommittee for these hearings and its attention and we look forward to working with you on these key issues.

  1. Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). (1999). CWLA Standards of Excellence for Services for Abused and Neglected Children and Their Families. Washington, DC: Author. back
  2. Ibid. back
  3. Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). (2008). Child Maltreatment 2006, Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). back
  4. Ibid. back
  5. Sedlack, A. J. & Broadhurst, D. D. (1996). Third national incidence study of child abuse and neglect: Final report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. back
  6. Administration for Children and Families (ACF). (2007). SSBG 2005: Annual report on expenditures and recipients, 2005. Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. back
  7. Administration for Children and Families (ACF). (2007) CAPTA State Allotments. Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. back
  8. Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. (2006). Challenges to building and sustaining effective home visitation programs: Lessons learned from states. Chicago, IL: Author. back
  9. Daro, D., Howard, E., Tobin, J., & Hardin, A. (2005). Welcome home and early start: an assessment of program quality and outcomes. Available online. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. back
  10. U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2007). African American children in foster care: Additional HHS assistance needed to help states reduce the proportion in care. [GAO-07-816.] Washington, DC: Author. back
  11. Congressional Research Service. (2005). Race Ethnicity and Child Welfare. Washington, DC: Author. back

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