APA has drafted recommendations to improve on the main federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, up for reauthorization this year.

Last reauthorized in 2003 as the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act (P.L. 108-36), the law provides states with money to support prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution and treatment activities, and provides grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for demonstration programs and projects.

APA's recommendations urge greater support for prevention for underserved populations and for interagency collaboration.

"They reflect both the latest research and an effort to ensure that prevention and early intervention of child maltreatment remain a priority for policymakers," says APA senior legislative assistant Joslyn Smith, who helped craft the recommendations.

APA received key input in developing the recommendations from members who are experts in child maltreatment prevention, including Mark Chaffin, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Karen S. Budd, PhD, of DePaul University; Nora J. Baladerian, PhD, of West Los Angeles Trauma and Crime Victim Counseling; Sharon G. Portwood, JD, PhD, head of the APA Interdivisional Task Force on Child Maltreatment Prevention; and other members of the interdivisional task force.

APA's recommendations seek more focus on:

  • Prevention. APA encourages states to use prevention-oriented response methods when dealing with child-abuse reports, so that even if a case is not substantiated, at-risk families can still be offered preventive services.

  • Neglect. Child neglect accounted for 64 percent of substantiated maltreatment cases in 2006, yet it is given inadequate attention in the current version of the reauthorization bill. The association advocates a separate definition of neglect in the legislation to shift thinking as much toward prevention as intervention, says Smith.

  • Children with disabilities. More prevention and research efforts should be targeted at children with disabilities, who are abused at 3.4 times the rate of all other children, research shows.

  • Very young children. The legislation should give more attention to children from birth to age 5, who are disproportionately represented in the most alarming statistics. For example, 78 percent of deaths related to abuse or neglect occur in children under age 4, while 39 percent of youngsters in the child welfare system are under age 5.

  • Cultural competence. The new legislation should enhance efforts to provide culturally competent and linguistically appropriate services for children and families. In addition, when reauthorized, the law should support research on evidence-based practices that are effective both across and within specific populations.

  • Interagency collaboration. Strong collaboration among agencies ensures better services, says APA. The law should encourage collaboration between child protective services and domestic violence services in investigating and intervening in reported cases of maltreatment and delivering services to children and families.

As a member of the National Child Abuse Coalition, APA also encourages full funding of CAPTA programs, including $84 million for basic state grants, $80 million for community-based prevention grants, and $37 million for discretionary and research activities, Smith says.

Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.