On December 13, the Boston Globe and ProPublica released their findings on the first national survey they conducted on state’s compliance with the only federal child abuse law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The reporters found that not one state complied with all of the legal requirements. CAPTA requires states to comply with 27 provisions, including to report on child abuse, create plans of safe care that ensures protection for infants affected by drugs and provide children with representatives in court proceedings, for the state to receive federal funding.

The Boston Globe and ProPublica asked all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to complete a survey in an attempt to obtain information on five key areas of CAPTA including plans of safe care, legal representation for children in court proceedings, and the requirement to make public the name and some basic information of child abuse and neglect deaths, including fatalities and near fatalities.

With 41 states providing data on the approximately 7,000 child fatalities between 2011 to 2015, the reporting was off by at least 200 percent claim experts. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) is the voluntary reporting system that was designed to track child abuse and neglect statistics since 1988. Still, the federal government is unsure of how many children die from abuse and neglect. Wyoming, Montana, and Kansas provided the investigation team with no data, and other states left out data points. Researchers claim that the 1,500 deaths reported annually are low numbers, and the true numbers could be upward of 3,000.

As far as the mandate that children receive representation (Court Appointed Special Advocate or guardian ad litem) for any court proceedings when child maltreatment is suspected, 49 states and Puerto Rico were unable to show that they complied. Some states provide children with attorneys. Still, it was reported that in Vermont and Hawaii, many children receive attorneys at the last minute, and in Puerto Rico, many children go unrepresented. The tracking of legal representation for children is flawed, and many states, including the 13 that track representation, stated that it is not consistent. In Florida, more than 20 percent of children with maltreatment cases do not receive representation. Only New Jersey and North Carolina provides representation to every child with a hearing.

The failure of the state and federal government is an ongoing failure to combat child abuse effectively. The Children’s Bureau is responsible for enforcing CAPTA requirements, and the Globe and ProPublica indicated that they fail to follow the law. The Children’s Bureau stated that “they do not question states’ annual reports claiming to follow the law and that the assurance that is submitted to the federal government is compliance for the state.”

The reauthorizations of CAPTA were approved in the House with several updates, and robust funding this past May, and the Senate HELP Committee passed their version last month. CWLA’s Vice President of Public Policy, John Sciamanna, stated that “we just don’t have a huge stick right now because the funding for CAPTA is so low. We’re making progress increasing funding, but we have a long way to go.” Funding for CAPTA is a major issue stated by many state officials of the unfunded mandate to comply with all CAPTA provisions. Many state officials reported that Congress has issued new mandates but has not increased funding. The House passed reauthorization bill, Stronger CAPTA, tripled funding for CAPTA at $270 million for both Titles; however, the Senate hearing this month did not propose funding increases. States are struggling to keep up with CAPTA because of the lack of resources.

The Boston Globe and ProPublica’s CAPTA series can be accessed below:

How many children die from abuse? The Globe and ProPublica wanted to find out

The federal government has one main law to prevent child abuse. No state follows all of it

How Mississippi falls short in complying with federal child abuse law

About the state child abuse survey

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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