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The National Association of Counsel for Children is currently working on federal advocacy involving the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.   

   

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was first enacted in 1974. It is the only federal legislation exclusively dedicated to the prevention, assessment, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect.  

Since its enactment, Congress has amended the law several times to strengthen state child protective services and promote child abuse prevention.  CAPTA provides federal funding to states to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect.  As a condition of receiving state grant funds under that act, states are required to have certain procedures in place for receiving and responding to allegations of abuse or neglect and for ensuring children’s safety.

CAPTA is pending reauthorization in 2019.  Please click here for a summary of recommended priorities and changes in the reauthorization issued by the National Child Abuse Coalition.

NACC is supporting reauthorization, and, advocating for changes in the law to ensure the right to counsel for children.

Currently CAPTA requires"...that in every case involving a victim of child abuse or neglect which results in a judicial proceeding, a guardian ad litem, who has received training appropriate to the role, including training in early childhood, child, and adolescent development, and who may be an attorney or a court appointed special advocate who has received training appropriate to that role (or both), shall be appointed to represent the child in such proceedings"

 

This language confuses and conflates the role of a lawyer with the role of a lay advocate and lets states decide whether to provide children legal representation or volunteer lay advocacy, or both (NACC's position is for states to provide both, which does work well in many states).

 

According to the most recent edition of A Child’s Right to Counsel: A National Report Card on Legal Representation of Abused & Neglected Children, 39% of states do not require legal representation for children in dependency proceedings.  The lack of access to counsel denies children an advocate with legal expertise to file motions, call witnesses, demand treatment, develop plans for family or sibling reunification, and obtain better life opportunities.  While a volunteer CASA or non-attorney GAL can be helpful to the court and the child, they are not substitutes for legal counsel.  Last year the federal Children’s Bureau acknowledged “there is widespread agreement in the field that children require legal representation in child welfare proceedings.”

 

Advocates expect Congress to consider reauthorization of CAPTA during 2019, although they could act earlier if they decide to do so.  CAPTA legislation is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

If you have relationships with members of these committees and/or their staff and wish to support NACC's efforts please contact Advocate@NACCchildlaw.org.

NACC is monitoring developments regarding CAPTA reauthorization and will post all action alerts on this page.

You can also follow NACC on Facebook and Twitter for more information and/or sign-up for our newsletter here.

 

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