On Thursday, April 28, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved HR 4843, a bill to amend requirements around the “safe care” plans as described in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).  The Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act was introduced by Reps. Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Katherine Clark (D-MA) and is somewhat similar to a Senate bill that also amends these safe care plan provisions of CAPTA.  Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), said after the Committee action,

“Our nation is facing a growing opioid epidemic that is destroying communities, families, and lives, and some of the most vulnerable children and families are suffering its worst consequences.  This bill is an important part of a much broader effort to address the national opioid crisis. The bill will strengthen protections not only for infants exposed to illegal drugs before birth, but for all children in need of help and care…We have taken an important step to address a real need, and I look forward to advancing these reforms in the weeks ahead.”

The issue of infants exposed and or born addicted due to opioid use captured Capitol Hill attention when a Reuters report in December highlighted the problem.  That report also pointed out that a federal law (CAPTA) requires states to have a safe care plan in place for infants born exposed to alcohol or other substances.

The Senate passed their own bill in March, S 2687.  Their safe care legislation amends CAPTA by expanding on existing directives to states to have a plan of care for infants exposed to illegal substances or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  The provision has never been implemented in any systematic way with any real thoroughness since the 2010 reauthorization of CAPTA but much of that is related to a lack of funding appropriated to CAPTA.

Currents state grants amount to under $26 million a year. That figure represents less than 32 cents per child.

In that light, the House Committee’s background may sound somewhat ironic to some advocates, “The law provides states with resources to improve their child protective services systems. In order to receive funds under CAPTA, states are required to assure the Department of Health and Human Services that they have implemented certain child welfare policies. Such policies include requiring health care providers to notify state child protective services agencies when a child is born with prenatal illegal substance exposure, as well as requiring the development of a “safe care plan” to protect these newborns and keep them and their caregivers healthy.”

A dozen states receive less than $150,000 a year while California, with a general fund state budget of $106 billion, receives the most at $2.8 million to implement the CAPTA requirements.  That creates a challenge for how much leverage HHS has to implement any challenging changes since a threat to deny states their funding would not create a significant burden on state budgets.  

To read more see the CWLA Hot Topics on Substance Use