Field Center helps craft federal child abuse prevention legislation

Field Center

The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research, an interdisciplinary collaboration between Penn’s schools of Social Policy & Practice, Law and Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, works to creatively address critical issues facing the child welfare system and improve the lives of victims of child neglect and abuse.
Recently, the Center’s policy work and advocacy provided the basis for a change in the reauthorization of the national Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).
Faculty directors at the Center became aware of several instances in which no one would assume the responsibility to investigate allegations of child abuse because the incidents involved two separate states. In one instance, when the child’s doctor attempted to file a report with the appropriate authorities, the neighboring state would not accept it because the child was not a resident. Meanwhile, the child’s home state would not accept the doctor’s report either because the incident did not happen in the child's state of residence.

“This alarmed us,” says Debra Schilling Wolfe, executive director of the Field Center. “We advocated for a change in federal policy and laws to protect these children who can fall through the cracks.”

Richard J. Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice and faculty director at the Center, says the CAPTA reauthorization represented an opportunity to solve a significant problem in the child abuse investigation system.

“In foster care, there are inter-jurisdictional compacts that allow states to cooperate in placing children across state lines,” he says, “but there’s no such agreement when it comes to investigating child abuse allegations.”

The Center testified about these issues before the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Education and the Workforce Committee in late 2009. And last November, one of the legislative fellows visited the Center seeking guidance in crafting the bill. As a result of the Center’s recommendations, language relating to the need for cross-state cooperation in investigations was included in the re-authorization of CAPTA in December.
“The new iteration of the Child Abuse Prevention & Treatment Act has an opening to develop procedures for cross-state cooperation investigations,” Gelles says. “I consider that half the battle. The other half that did not get accomplished just yet was flexible funding for foster care, and that is the responsibility of a different set of committees.”


Originally published on January 27, 2011