More Money for Child Abuse Services, Background Checks

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By Amy Bracken

President Bill Clinton, whose proposed budget for next year keeps funding for child abuse programs flat and cuts at least one program, last month signed legislation to increase funding for child abuse prevention and treatment.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act increases funds for child abuse and neglect programs, and provides money to improve criminal background checks on prospective foster parents and others who work with youth.

While abuse prevention and treatment advocates welcomed the legislation, they noted an irony: the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, which is authorized for up to $166 million, is actually funded at just $68 million. In addition, President Clinton's proposed Fiscal Year 2001 budget "level funds" ( that is, keeps at the same level as this year) Child Abuse state grants at $21 million and Child Abuse Discretionary Grants at $18 million. It also level funds Abandoned Infants assistance, Child Welfare Services and Child Welfare training, while eliminating all $17 million in Family Violence funds.

"Anything that is invested in prevention is a good thing," said Kevin Kirkpatrick, spokesman for Prevent Child Abuse America, whose Ohio chapter worked with Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) to develop the bill. But, he said, "We need more funding for prevention programs" - specifically, full funding for the Child Abuse Prevention Act.

The new law, sponsored by Rep. Pryce and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), passed by 410 to 2 in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate. It amends three existing laws: the Crime Identification Technology Act of 1998, by improving the "delivery" of criminal record information about prospective youth workers to child welfare agencies and programs; the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, by broadening the use of drug control and system improvement grants for use in child abuse prevention and enforcement; and the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, by increasing funding for child abuse victims. The law doubles (to $20 million) funding for child abuse prevention and treatment programs under the Crime Victim's fund. The bill also authorizes the Attorney General to provide grants for states to improve reporting of unidentified and missing persons.

The two congressional opponents of the bill were Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho), both right wing Republicans. "She opposed the bill not because she's in favor of child abuse," said Keith Rupp, Chenoweth-Hage's chief of staff. She opposed what he called the unconstitutionally large role that the law grants the federal government, noting, for instance, that the bill does not define the "child welfare agencies, organizations and programs" that would get access to a national criminal history database.

The law says the agencies must be "engaged in the assessment of risk and other activities related to the protection of children."

"It does the opposite of getting the federal government involved," said Tom Birch, legislative counsel at the National Child Abuse Coalition, which helped to draft the law. He said block grants provided under the act will give states a lot of flexibility in spending child abuse funds.

According to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, more than three million children were reported abused or neglected in the United States in 1997 - an increase in reports of 41 percent from 1988. The committee says that every day three children die as a result of abuse or neglect, a rate that increased by 34 percent between 1985 and 1996.

The reason for the legislation's Ohio roots, Birch said, is that Reps. Pryce and co-sponsor Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), along with Sen. DeWine, are former prosecutors who handled child abuse cases. "The principal sponsors of the legislation all had some professional experience with abuse and neglect," Birch said.

Contact: Sen. Mike DeWine (202) 224-2315.