The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, known as CAPTA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 31, 1974. CAPTA was the result of legislative efforts by Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Representative John Brademas (D-IN), among others. The purpose of the Act was to provide funding for the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The Act authorized modest government research on possible strategies to reduce child abuse and neglect and improve treatment of victims of abuse. CAPTA created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) within the Department of Health Education and Welfare (eventually the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS), and it established a National Clearing House on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. The Act also created two types of federal grant programs: basic grants to states to support new prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution, and treatment activities; and demonstration grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations, including Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, to pilot and test innovations and to train state personnel.
Douglas J. Besharov, the first director of NCCAN in 1975, explained to Congress the problems that NCCAN was attempting to address:
“… Although all 50 states had child abuse reporting laws, the legal framework for child protection work was often incomplete and unnecessarily complex. . . The institutional support necessary to sustain adequate treatment and preventive services was widely lacking. Child protective workers were generally not given the training, skills, and ancillary services necessary to meet their important responsibilities. In almost every community in the nation, there were inadequacies, breakdowns, and a lack of coordination in the child protection protective process. Reports were increasing faster than agencies could handle them, yet detection and reporting remained haphazard and incomplete; protective investigations were often backlogged or poorly performed; and suitable treatment programs were almost nonexistent for the majority of families needing them. . . Studies indicated that as many as three-quarters of the children whose deaths were suspected of being caused by child abuse or neglect were previously known to the authorities.”
The original law has been amended numerous times, including under Title VI, Subtitle F of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act Amendments of 1990. That amendment authorized the HHS Secretary to make matching grants to state and local agencies for the prevention of child abuse and family separation for children whose families are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
The CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 was signed on December 20, 2010. One of its many provisions authorized grants to states to increase adoption of foster care children if grantees could describe how they: a) plan to improve the placement rate of children into permanent homes; b) intend to improve the placement of older children, minority children, and children with special needs; c) will evaluate program effectiveness; and d) will coordinate activities with other services providers.
For four decades, CAPTA has evolved from responding to the occurrence and effects of child abuse to focusing more broadly on risks, protection, prevention, and multi-sector approaches and partnerships.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-88/pdf/STATUTE-88-Pg4.pdf
The Department of Health and Human Services, “Child Welfare Information Gateway,” https://www.childwelfare.gov
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Amendments Act of 1990, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-104/pdf/STATUTE-104-Pg4673.pdf
The CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ320/pdf/PLAW-111publ320.pdf
The Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act: 40 Years of Safeguarding America’s Children, http://www.pal-tech.com/web/NCCAN/files/CAPTA40yrs508.pdf
NLIHC is recognizing its 40th anniversary throughout 2014, culminating in a commemorative event on Monday, November 17 in Washington, DC. Please save the date.