American Humane Testifies for Reauthorization & Expansion of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, Plus Increased Use of ‘Differential Response’ and Other Approaches

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In testimony today before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, Caren Kaplan, MSW, director of child protection reform for the American Humane Association, strongly urged Congress to reauthorize and increase funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the landmark 1974 legislation that addresses child abuse and neglect.  The hearing was titled “Preventing Child Abuse and Improving Responses to Families in Crisis.”

American Humane, a national nonprofit organization, was created 132 years ago to protect the welfare of both children and animals.  Kaplan’s testimony reflects well over a century of American Humane advocating at the federal, state and local levels for laws that protect children and animals from abuse and neglect.

Kaplan urged that CAPTA include language that supports and enhances interagency collaboration between the child protection system and animal welfare agencies to address what American Humane calls The Link®, which is the connection between animal abuse and other forms of social violence such as child abuse, elder abuse and spousal violence.

Kaplan recommended that, in reauthorizing CAPTA, Congress encourage child welfare agencies to more fully utilize an emerging and promising approach to dealing with reports of child abuse or maltreatment, namely “differential response” or “alternative response,” in addition to the traditional investigative approach that continues to be most appropriate for allegations of severe maltreatment and cases that have the likelihood of serious harm to the child. She also encouraged widespread integration of what are known as family involvement and leadership models that build on the protective capacities of the family group, both immediate and extended, to give those families more decision-making abilities about their children, and she recommended having the federal government provide additional leadership to the state and local levels in dealing with chronic neglect, which is the ongoing, serious pattern of depriving a child of his or her basic physical, developmental and/or emotional needs by a parent or caregiver.

“Differential response allows for and promotes the use of interventions that do not alienate or demonize parents, but rather engage parents in addressing their needs so they can successfully and safely parent their children,” Kaplan said.

“Throughout the United States, a primary responsibility of child protection agencies is to receive and respond to all reports of alleged child abuse and neglect,” Kaplan noted.  “Historically, there has been one response by the child protection agency to accepted reports of alleged maltreatment – an investigation. Given that the majority of families who come to the attention of the agency are at low or moderate risk of maltreatment, and are not experiencing immediate child safety issues, a developing trend has emerged over the past 15 years among public child welfare agencies to respond to these families differentially in a manner that is more responsive to their needs.”

Kaplan explained that differential response is based on several foundational underpinnings: In particular, the severity of each family’s situation is never identical to another, and it is crucial to be responsive to these differences. Another tenet is based on the fact that national child welfare data indicate that over many years, many families receive no post-investigation services.  After being identified and labeled as ‘child abusers’, these families refuse services and the case is closed. A significant proportion of these families will return to the attention of the child protection agency because there was no intervention to remediate their difficulties. Some will eventually require juvenile or family court involvement and they will be ordered to comply with court decisions.

“Thus, our historical approach with these families has produced incentives to ‘meet an obligation’ and resist anything that resembles comparable interference and enforcement instead of breeding the cooperation and motivation of families to change – which is the aim of differential response systems,” Kaplan testified.

Differential response approaches emphasize the value of child and family assessments without requiring a determination that maltreatment has occurred. It allows for access to available resources and services rather than solely investigating the occurrence of maltreatment. Services are provided to families without a formal determination of abuse or neglect or labeling someone as perpetrator and listing them in the central child abuse registry.

In making American Humane’s recommendations, Kaplan noted that differential response has been implemented either statewide or in selected jurisdictions in about 20 states, and the number continues to grow.  She said initial research indicates positive results:

  • Child safety is not compromised and, in some cases, is attained sooner.
  • Repeat cases of abuse and neglect decrease.
  • There are higher rates of family cooperation and participation.
  • There is a lower placement rate of children into foster care.
  • Costs, although higher upfront, are actually lower over time.
  • There is increased satisfaction, both with families and child welfare workers.

“American Humane hopes this CAPTA reauthorization serves as a foundation and impetus for the reduction of children who experience abuse or neglect, and an increase in the number of families who have sufficient strengths, capacity and supports to keep their children safe from harm,” Kaplan concluded.

Kaplan’s entire written testimony, including more details on family involvement and leadership models, chronic neglect and The Link between social violence and animal abuse, can be found at www.americanhumane.org/CAPTA.


About American Humane Association

Since 1877, the historic American Humane Association has been at the forefront of every major advancement in protecting children, pets and farm animals from cruelty and abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding human-animal interaction and its role in society. As the nation’s voice for the protection of children and animals, American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses. You can help make a difference, too. Visit American Humane Association at www.americanhumane.org today.

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