May 26, 2021

Senators Warren, Murkowski Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address the Lack of Funding for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention in Indian Country

The American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was recently reintroduced in the House by Representative Grijalva

Text of Bill (PDF) | Bill One-Pager (PDF) 

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reintroduced the American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (AI/AN CAPTA). First introduced in 2019 with Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the bipartisan bill would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to help provide tribal nations with resources to combat child abuse and neglect. Senate cosponsors include Senators Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

As the primary federal law addressing child abuse and neglect, CAPTA has been crucial in protecting children in the United States. However, it has not gone far enough to address the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native children. Though CAPTA contains specific language regarding tribal eligibility for discretionary grants and an emphasis on American Indian and Alaska Native child maltreatment issues, tribal nations rarely receive federal CAPTA grants, and research projects that focus specifically on unique tribal community issues are largely unfunded.

AI/AN CAPTA helps fill this gap by amending CAPTA to require that tribal nations be included in the equitable distribution criteria for allocating CAPTA federal funding. It also increases the dedicated tribal set-aside for funding to five percent (up from one percent) after overall CAPTA funding increases -- bolstering community funding available for child abuse and neglect prevention efforts and helping to address current limitations in the development of innovative child abuse and neglect prevention program models in tribal communities. AI/AN CAPTA also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on child abuse and neglect prevention efforts in tribal communities that GAO would conduct in consultation with tribal nations.

"Child abuse and neglect don't have a place in our nation, and its prevalence in Indian Country is unacceptable," Senator Warren said. "Our bipartisan bill would ensure that CAPTA protects Native children by dedicating additional funding to help prevent child abuse across tribal communities and get better answers on how to best meet the needs of Native children."

“Alaska Native children are disproportionately represented in our child welfare system and many experience high rates of neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, neglect is one of the leading causes of death among Alaska children. A recent study in 2020, found that 37 percent of children in Alaska are reported as a victim of abuse by the time they are nine years old. We know that adverse childhood experiences continue to negatively impact the health and well-being of Alaskans as adults. This bill will help fill in some of the gaps by providing a five percent set-aside of funds directly to tribes and tribal organizations, to meet the needs within their own communities. We have a moral responsibility, to support each family and child struggling, to ensure they have the services and tools that are needed to prevent continued trauma and abuse,” said Senator Murkowski.

Representative Raúl Grijalva also recently reintroduced AI/AN CAPTA in the House of Representatives. In March, the House passed a bill that includes provisions from AI/AN CAPTA, including requiring a GAO report on child abuse and neglect prevention efforts in tribal communities, and increased funds set aside for tribes, tribal organizations, and migrant programs.

"When we talk about keeping children safe, we must ensure that our actions truly mean all children," said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva. "Decades of underfunding have created circumstances on our tribal nations that make these programs even more necessary, and it's critical that tribes receive a fair portion of these funds. These provisions and funds for culturally-relevant solutions will help tribes safeguard the well-being of their children while respecting tribal sovereignty."

"The National Indian Child Welfare Association applauds the introduction of the American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act," the organization said, adding that that Senators Warren and Murkowski have introduced a bill "that promotes much needed equity for tribal communities in access to federal child abuse and neglect prevention resources. This legislation will increase tribal access to child abuse prevention grants under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act which historically has been limited to two tribal nations each grant cycle. Increasing tribal access and funding will allow many more tribes to establish culturally based child abuse and neglect prevention programs that can help reduce child maltreatment in tribal communities, help reduce out-of-home placements of children, and contribute to the development of models that can be replicated in other tribal communities. We appreciate provisions that instruct the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study, with tribal participation, on promising practices in child abuse and neglect prevention in Indian Country. Little information exists about tribal practices and their benefits in this area, and this study, the first of its kind, will provide valuable data for tribal communities and policymakers to inform additional support for tribal child abuse prevention programming."

"The National Congress of American Indians applauds the leadership of Senator Warren and Senator Murkowski for the introduction of this legislation. This bill will improve the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) by providing additional resources and information for American Indian and Alaska Native children and families. It is well past time to update CAPTA to improve the support for children in Indian Country and AI/AN CAPTA will help us achieve that goal." -Fawn Sharp, President, National Congress of American Indians

"CWLA strongly supports the AI/AN CAPTA, which would direct more resources to the prevention of child abuse among American Indian and Alaska Native children and families, and would also obtain crucial information about many dimensions of this problem.  Not enough is known either about the nature and extent of child abuse among this population nor about the culturally specific prevention services or approaches that hold promise to reduce child abuse and neglect for these children and ensure they are safe and can reach their full potential." -Christine James-Brown, President & CEO, Child Welfare League of America

"Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) grants are foundational to our country's efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect and to significantly reduce the need for child welfare system involvement. Ensuring tribes can provide the high-quality family strengthening services that CBCAP supports - a goal of the AI/AN CAPTA - both helps to ensure that all children and families in America have the opportunity to thrive and is critical to advancing a more equitable child welfare system." -National Child Abuse Coalition

Senators Warren and Murkowski and Representative Grijalva have been advocating for the inclusion of tribal nations and tribal organizations in the planning and fulfillment of public health-related prevention programs, including suicide. In February 2019, the lawmakers reintroduced a bipartisan bill, the Native American Suicide Prevention Act, to address the suicide crisis in Native communities, which they also introduced in September 2018. A version of that bill was enacted in December 2020 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law No. 116-260). Senator Warren and Representative Grijalva also co-authored an op-ed for on the importance of empowering tribal communities in addressing the suicide crisis.