The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is the key federal statute that addresses child abuse and neglect. It is administered by the Children’s Bureau, an office in the Administration for Children and Family, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides funding for states and territories to support public child protection agencies and prevention activities in communities.
Originally enacted in 1974, the statute (P.L. 93-247), was the culmination of a period of growing recognition of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect and the demand for federal action. A key stimulant to the public’s awareness was the publication in 1961 in the Journal of the American Medical Association of a widely cited article on the battered child syndrome. Written by a physician, C. Henry Kempe, the article highlighted the negative consequences of abuse for child development and increased pressure in the medical field to champion this issue. Pressure grew in the states to take responsibility for abused children and between 1963 and 1967 every state and the District of Columbia passed some form of child abuse law, usually establishing reporting requirements for medical and service providers. By the early 1970s there were growing demands for action at the federal level. Congressional hearings brought strong attention to the issue. The hearings that led to the drafting and enactment of CAPTA were held by the Subcommittee on Children and Youth, under the leadership of Senator Walter Mondale, of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.
Key features of the original statute authorized funding of $85 million for 3 years to be spent over 4 years. At least 50% of the appropriated funding was to be spent on discretionary demonstration programs, at least 5% but no more than 20% for grants to states, and no more than $1 million on an in-house advisory board. The statute also defined child abuse, established requirements for state reporting laws and other requirements states had to meet to be eligible to receive these funds, and established a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect within the Department of Health and Welfare. Since enactment, CAPTA has been amended numerous times.
The three main sections of CAPTA are Grants to States, Child Abuse Discretionary Activities, and Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention. Under the state grants program, states have wide authority to use funds for a broad range of activities in improving child protection services, including intake screening, case management, data systems, training, and collaboration with other systems. States must certify that they have in place a variety of protections and system requirements. A new program was added in 2003 to assist states in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and neglect. The purpose of the Community-Based Prevention Program, as noted in Section 201 of CAPTA, is “to support communitybased efforts to develop, operate, expand, enhance, and, where appropriate to network, initiatives aimed at the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and to support networks of coordinated resources and activities to better strengthen and support families to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.”
CAPTA was reauthorized in 2003 (as P.L. 108-36) and requires reauthorization again by September 30, 2008. CAPTA programs were funded in the fiscal year 2006 budget at $95.2 million.
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