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At the National Association of Counsel for Children, we’re dedicated to advocating for laws and policies affecting the rights of children, including the right to counsel.

 

See NACC's Infographic on the history and arguments supporting children's right to counsel. Today, we seek to advance this right through CAPTA Reauthorization.

 

CAPTA Reauthorization

 

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.  It is also currently the only piece of federal legislation to address the representation of children in their dependency cases.

 

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

 

NACC is supporting a robust reauthorization and advocating for changes in the law to enhance the current representation language to move towards clear party status and a right to legal representation 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 as if these roles were interchangeable 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 their procedural and substantive due process as well as an qualified attorney uniquely qualified to file motions and appeals, call and cross-examine witnesses, give voice to their client’s counseled wishes, 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 in conveying critical information to the court, 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.”

 

On May 2, 2019 bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2480was introduced to reauthorize CAPTA (titled The Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act). The legislation as written does not include a provision requiring that children receive legal representation, nor does it clarify that children must be deemed parties to their own cases. It does propose to ensure that children remaining in extended foster care through Fostering Connections can retain whatever representation they have for their entire duration in care. And the bill does recommend very significant funding increases for the chronically underfunded law, but it remains to be seen how appropriators in the House will respond and what the Senate will propose and pass. NACC will continue to advocate for children's legal representation to be required in CAPTA as well as in stand-alone legislation.

 

 

 

Read the press release regarding CAPTA reauthorization including links to bill summaries and text here

 

The National Association of Counsel for Children is engaged in on federal advocacy to strengthen the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as it moves through the reauthorization process.

 

CAPTA legislation is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the House Committee on Education and Labor.

 

NACC has signed on to a letter sent to Congress on May 24, 2019 requesting substantial increases in federal funding for CAPTA.

 

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

 

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

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