On Thursday, December 12, the Senate HELP Committee approved the reauthorizations of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (S. 2971) and the Adoption Opportunities Act (S. 2969) by voice vote.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) remarked that today, the Senate HELP Committee approval of legislation would help states prevent child abuse and ensure the safety and welfare of children. “CAPTA will fund crucial services that strengthen families and reduce abuse and neglect, including programs in Washington state, like coaching for parents, programs to assist families with trauma related to violence or homelessness, and programs for rural communities to support new parents,” stated Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). Senator Murray emphasized that Adoption Opportunities support programs with critical resources for facilitating adoptions and training to help make it easier for parents to adopt.

The National Child Abuse Coalition, which includes CWLA, sent a letter commending the Senate HELP Committee for taking the step to the reauthorization of CAPTA. The Coalition highlighted the provisions of CAPTA that address primary prevention, rapid response for children under age three, and training for mandated reporters as strengths of the Senate bill and the Coalition look forward to strengthening CAPTA further.

Preventing child maltreatment before it occurs is a critical component of CAPTA, stated Senator Doug Jones (D-AL). Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) emphasized the importance of the CAPTA reauthorization and mentioned how legal responsibility of mandated reporter is crucial as he described the scandal in Pennsylvania with Jerry Sandusky and the clergy where child abuse was covered up. Senator Casey’s legislation, Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act (SPEAK Up Act) would require states to implement a consistent standard for child abuse reporting to state authorities.

As the sponsor of the reauthorization of the Adoption Opportunities Act, Senator Jones was enthused to support the bill that would provide funding for programs that helps kinship/grandparents raise the children in their care and post-adoption services. The reauthorization includes a new study by HHS to both examine the number of children in foster care who had been adopted previously and to include information on post adoption services.

If the Senate passes the bill, then they will have to negotiate their differences over the House bill that reauthorizes the Adoption Opportunities Act and CAPTA. The House CAPTA bill provides $270 million for the two CAPTA titles, which would be significantly higher than current funding. The Senate bill for both CAPTA and Adoption Opportunities is unclear at this point, with some Republican senators opposed to any increases in authorization levels even if it does not bind future appropriations.

The Coalition stated that:

It is very important to recognize that the improvements in this bill will not be achieved unless CAPTA receives more robust funding. We look forward to working with you during the annual appropriations process and during the negotiations around the drug pricing bill to ensure Congress makes a down payment on the reforms they are hoping to achieve in CAPTA reauthorization.”

The Committee also passed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) that would reauthorize programs that prevent and addresses family violence and fund shelter and supportive services for victims of family violence. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) shared her sentiments that FVPSA did not provide enough resources for tribal women and families and that more work is needed for protecting tribal communities. The House bill does not have a reauthorization of FVPSA. It has been a part of the reauthorization package in past reauthorizations of CAPTA but the Senate version has raised concerns on the part of some advocates in the domestic violence field.

Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) were co-sponsors of the reauthorizations of CAPTA and the Adoption Opportunities Act. Thursday marked Senator Isakson’s last day with the HELP Committee since announcing that he would be stepping down at the end of the year due to health reasons; he gave his farewell speech on Tuesday, December 10, on the floor of the Senate.