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50 Years of CAPTA: What You Need to Know About This Harmful Law

This month marks 50 years of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Under the guise of protecting children, this law has resulted in unwarranted intrusion into families’ daily lives and has led to the separation of millions of children from their families.

Here are four things you should know about CAPTA and why national experts are calling on the government to repeal it.

  1. CAPTA has failed to prevent or treat child abuse. CAPTA gives government agents the legal authority to forcibly separate children from their parents, families, and communities and detain them in the foster system. But there is no evidence that the law has reduced the mistreatment of children. Instead, for 50 years, CAPTA has enabled the growth of a massive family regulation system that makes children less safe.
  2. 1 in 3 children—and over half of all Black children—will be subjected to a child protective services (CPS) investigation. CAPTA’s mandated reporting requirement is a traumatic and unnecessary intrusion into private life. Not only does it create mistrust among families who are then afraid to access the very social service resources that can improve their circumstances, but it strips helping professionals—like social workers, teachers, and healthcare providers—of their judgment and ability to actually help children and families in need.
  3. The system is not designed to address poverty—a primary factor in driving families into the child welfare system. Instead of acknowledging the lack of access to quality food, housing, childcare, healthcare, mental health supports, and other necessities as systemic failures rooted in inequality and racism, child welfare agencies and courts label parents “unfit” and fail to give them the financial resources and community supports they need to care for their children.  
  4. Most of CAPTA’s funding goes to support the family regulation system. Federal funding under CAPTA grants states $105 million (nearly half the budget) for child welfare agencies to surveil, investigate, and separate families rather than for resources that strengthen communities and families to support children’s safety, health, and well-being. 

As a member of the Repeal CAPTA Workgroup, a bipartisan coalition that aims to put an end to the harmful effects of CAPTA, we sent a letter to members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The letter outlines the negative impacts that CAPTA has on children and families and proposes to prioritize the reallocation of funds towards community-based support programs that promote the well-being of children and families.

Children’s Rights exposes injustices in our government systems and fights to hold them accountable for kids—including, whenever possible, keeping them at home where they belong. 50 years is a long time for a law that has utterly failed to keep kids safe. It’s time to stop the harm caused by CAPTA and turn to solutions that provide parents and children with what they need to feel safe and secure in their homes

Want to be an informed child advocate?

Ask the Children’s Rights’ team of policy experts and attorneys your questions about the U.S. child welfare system, today more often referred to as the family regulation system.