By PAUL LEBLANC
Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia will introduce a child abuse prevention bill in the House on Monday, his office told CNN, setting up deliberations for a considerable child welfare investment as experts warn of an increasingly dire situation for at-risk kids.
The Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act represents a legislative overhaul of the flagship bill addressing child welfare in the U.S.. The new legislation would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish national standards for tracking and reporting child fatalities along with near-fatalities as a result of maltreatment.
The bill would also set up an electronic infrastructure for states to share information from their respective child abuse and neglect registries. The proposed national tracking standards and information sharing infrastructure reflect the repeated calls of advocates to scale-up child welfare coordination among states to produce clearer national trends as it relates to abuse.
“One of the groups that identify child abuse more than any others are schoolteachers, and the fact that the students are not in school suggests that a lot of cases are not being identified,” Scott told CNN in a phone interview last week. “So we want to make sure that we have a strong bill in place so that as students come back to school, we’ll be in a position where we can address all of the problems.”
Figures provided to CNN from states across the country in the early months of the outbreak showed significant drops in child abuse reports as social distancing measures kept kids out of school. While that would usually be welcome news, experts say the decline might really mean more cases are going unnoticed.
In Massachusetts alone, reports of alleged child abuse dropped almost 55% from 2,124 in the first week of March to just 972 by the last full week in April, according to data provided by the state. And compared to 2019, Connecticut, California, Michigan, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Louisiana have all seen double-digit percentage drops as they’ve implemented their own stay-home orders.
The Stronger CAPTA bill had died in the last Congress after failing to get a vote in the Senate. Republican Sen. John Cornyn had introduced his own child welfare bill in the chamber, the Jenna Quinn law, which was narrower than Scott’s bill and based on what he called “successful reforms passed in Texas.” That law would authorize federal grants for increasing evidence-based training on abuse prevention and ensure recipients coordinate with local educational agencies.
Scott – who maintains that the Jenna Quinn Law doesn’t provide for anything not already included in the Stronger CAPTA bill – had offered to fold the language of Jenna Quinn Law into his bill in an effort to salvage negotiations.
But now, with Democrats holding majorities in both chambers, Scott plans to move forward with the bill as is, and says he’s confident it has a path to become law after it’s assigned to the House Education and Labor Committee. A spokesperson for Cornyn told CNN the senator “will do everything he can to pass” the Jenna Quinn Law in the Senate again and maintained that Scott has been “playing politics.”
Child Welfare organizations for months have felt the full weight of the pandemic, and further delay of a federal investment could have far-reaching consequences for their ability to reach at-risk children.
“If we do not develop a national plan to meet these children and families in their moment of crisis, we will be a country cruelly complicit in our apathy,” Daphne Young, chief communications officer for Childhelp, recently told CNN.
“We are filled with hope when we see vaccines slowly trickling into our communities, but there is no vaccine for child abuse and what we can use from Congress is an economic shot-in-the-arm for children in need of help and healing.”