In recent months, I’ve been very proud to work on an issue that every Member of Congress can wholeheartedly support – protecting our nation’s children from abuse and neglect. 

The safety and security of some of our most vulnerable members of society, our nation’s children, is of the utmost importance to me. For several months, I have worked with my colleagues on the House Committee on Education and Labor to hold hearings and lead the reauthorization of federal efforts to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect. On May 20, I was thrilled to see the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Stronger CAPTA) pass the House of Representatives to help turn the tide on child abuse and neglect in the United States.

In 2016, child protective services (CPS) received over 4 million referrals involving 7.4 million children. Teachers, law enforcement, and social services professionals accounted for over half of all referrals. Of those 4 million reports, 2.2 million received a direct response from CPS. Of that number, approximately 676,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimated in 2017 that 1,720 children died as a result of abuse and neglect. That is a staggering five children a day, and these numbers are likely even higher as studies show significant under-reporting of child maltreatment facilities by state agencies. In that same year, more children received an investigation or response from CPS agencies for child maltreatment than any other time in the decade prior. In Kentucky alone, 1 in every 45 children is a victim of abuse. These numbers reflect real people, real children whose lives are at stake. These are heart-wrenching statistics to come to terms with, and they are simply unacceptable.

Due to the increase in demand for services, agencies are struggling to adequately respond with increasingly limited resources. These harrowing statistics highlight the need to renew our strategies, provide quality education to personnel on the front lines, and improve effective coordination to continue this fight. Families and children should not have to suffer long response times, compromised quality of services and lack of prevention services. The bottom line is that no child should ever have to endure the pain of abuse or neglect by a parent or caregiver, and it is our responsibility to see that effective policies are in place to protect our nation’s most vulnerable.

Stronger CAPTA will provide states with the resources they need to address the recent rise in child abuse and neglect by providing strategic funding to improve the quality of CPS and to build networks of prevention services designed to strengthen families. The bill will create strategies and best practices to reduce abuse linked to parents’ substance abuse and provide funding for research and technical assistance to enhance providers’ and administrators’ knowledge of treatment strategies for abused and neglected children. It will also strengthen interstate coordination among agencies to promote access to physical and mental health services for families. And importantly, this legislation will help educate our child welfare professionals on the front lines about best practices to effectively recognize, treat, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

At the start of the 116th Congress, I stepped into a new role as Republican Leader of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services. Understanding the jurisdiction of this subcommittee, I knew that we would be tasked with developing policies to effect change for vulnerable populations of society. It has been a great honor of mine to help craft a solution to combat this problem and I hope this legislation will carry great weight for the futures of our younger generation.

In the wake of rising rates of child maltreatment linked to the opioid crisis, the bipartisan Stronger CAPTA will help provide necessary resources to families and states to prevent child abuse and neglect across the U.S. Knowing that this bill will soon be on its way to creating real change for children in need gives me great confidence that Congress is taking meaningful strides in the fight to end child abuse and neglect.

Rep. James Comer is a United States Congressman for the 1st Congressional District, which spans from south central Kentucky to the river counties of far western Kentucky. Contact him with any questions or concerns in his Washington D.C. office at (202) 225-3115, or in the Tompkinsville Office at (270) 487-9509.