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The National Association of Counsel for Children advocates for laws and policies advancing the rights of children, including the right to counsel.  See NACC's Infographic on the history and arguments supporting children's right to counsel.

 

CAPTA Reauthorization & Action Alert

 

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted in 1974 to support the prevention, assessment, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect.  It is currently the only piece of federal legislation to address the representation of children in dependency cases.  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 supports a robust reauthorization of CAPTA and advocates for changes in the law to mandate party status for children and a right to legal representation for children.

 

CAPTA currently states: "...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 licensed attorney 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 states must provide legal representation, and may also appoint a lay advocate.

 

According to the most recent edition of A Child’s Right to Counsel: A National Report Card on Legal Representation of Abused & Neglected Children, 34% of states still 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.  In 2017 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, The Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, H.R. 2480 was introduced to  reauthorize CAPTA.   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.  The bill also recommends significant funding increases for this chronically underfunded law.   

 

 H.R. 2480 passed the House of Representatives and is now pending in the Senate.  The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

 

ACTION ALERT: NACC Letter to Senate HELP Committee

On September 6, 2019, NACC sent a letter to the Senate HELP Committee and individual committee members supporting a robust reauthorization of CAPTA and an amendment to ensure legal representation for children and ensure they are a party to their own case.

 

ADD YOUR VOICE AS A CONSTITUENT by sending a copy of NACC's letter with your own letter to your U.S. Senator.  Here is a link to the names and addresses of all U.S. Senators.  It's important for Senators to hear from you, their home-state experts, on why federal protections are necessary to strengthen access to counsel for children in dependency cases.  If possible, partner to include the voices of impacted youth.

 

If you live in a state with a Senate HELP Committee member, you may send your letter with a copy of NACC's letter to those individual members:

 

Alabama  Alaska Connecticut Georgia Kansas Kentucky
Louisiana Maine Massachusetts    Minnesota    Nevada     New Hampshire
North Carolina    Pennsylvania    South Carolina  

Tennessee  

Utah Vermont
 Virginia Washington  Wisconsin Wyoming    

 

Please share your letter with NACC and let us know if you have relationships with HELP Committee Members or their staff (locally or in Washington, DC).   Thank you!

 

Email Policy@NACCchildlaw.org with your letter, comments, or questions.  

 

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

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

 

H.R. 2480 bill summaries and text are linked here, and here are some videos from the proceedings in the House:

 

 

 

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