Issue: CAPTA Reauthorization
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is a source of funding for certain court programs and is the primary source of prevention funds for child welfare agencies. The eligibility requirements for states to access these funds have been used to dictate state policy and procedure.
State court leaders support reauthorization the Act, but oppose unfunded mandates. CCJ/COSCA Resolution 10-A-10
CAPTA provides discretionary grant funds to public agencies and non-profit providers and formula grants to states for child abuse prevention and treatment programs. The range of projects that can be funded under CAPTA is quite broad. For example, the discretionary funding can be used for developing kinship care programs, visitation centers for court-ordered supervised visitation between abused children and their parents, visitation centers for the safe exchange of children for visits with non-custodial parents in domestic violence cases, and collaborative efforts to identify cases needing intensive supervision. CAPTA also provides competitive grants to states for programs relating to the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases.
In 2008, the National Child Abuse Coalition submitted recommendations to Congress for revisions to the CAPTA. Most of their recommendations would not have impacted state courts. However, one recommendation would have added a requirement on states to appoint an attorney representing each foster child’s legal interests, in addition to the existing requirement that a guardian ad litem be appointed for each foster child to represent the child’s best interests.
COSCA members were surveyed to determine current state practice related to representation of children. The survey results indicated that the appointment of a second person for each foster child would have a significant financial impact on the states. Concern about the financial impact on states was conveyed to the National Child Abuse Coalition and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The Senate HELP Committee staff circulated draft reauthorization language in early June 2009. The draft did not include the proposed legal representation provision. A letter was submitted to HELP Committee leadership on behalf of CCJ/COSCA. APHSA and NCSL also raised a concern regarding the proposed unfunded mandate.
On 9/22/10, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) introduced the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 (S 3817). As introduced, S. 3817 did not include the proposed new legal representation requirement. S 3817 was carefully crafted to ensure bi-partisan support. Congress approved S. 3817, which the President signed on 12/20/10 making it PL 111-320.
CAPTA was due for reauthorization in 2015. COSCA members were again surveyed to determine current state practice related to representation of children. The survey results indicated that all but 7 states either mandate or have the option to appoint legal counsel in addition to appointing a guardian ad litem for each foster child.
Conversations about the reauthorization of CAPTA have begun. The National Coalition on Child Abuse has been meeting to discuss recommendations for the CAPTA reauthorization legislation. The issue of legal representation has been raised again by the ABA and Children’s Advocacy Institute. The Coalition has been advised that state court leaders continue to oppose a new unfunded mandate. Congress is expected to take up reauthorization of CAPTA in 2018. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) replaced retiring Chairman John Kline (R-MN) as the new Chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) remains chairs of the HELP Committee.