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Barletta Statement: Markup of H.R. 4843, "Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act"

Substance abuse is a problem that afflicts millions of Americans, and it is something that I consistently hear about when I am back home in Pennsylvania. While its damaging effects are felt across our society, the most tragic cases are those involving newborns. Children who are exposed to illegal substances before they’re born are helpless in avoiding the pain and suffering caused by addiction, and so many infants enter this world without even a fighting chance.

In fact, every 25 minutes in this country, a baby is born having already been exposed to drugs and suffering from opioid withdrawal. These children will pay the price for something they had absolutely no control over—something they were defenseless against. That’s why it’s so important we do everything we can to prevent these heartbreaking situations and ensure all children have the protection and care they need. This priority is one that reaches across party lines, and it’s the reason we are here today.
Federal policies have long supported state efforts to identify, assess, and treat children who are victims of abuse and neglect. One of those policies is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA. Enacted in 1974, CAPTA provides states with resources to improve their child protective services systems—provided they assure the Department of Health and Human Services that they have put in place certain child welfare policies. Those policies include requiring health care providers to notify state child protective services agencies when a child is born with prenatal illegal substance exposure, as well as requiring the development of a “safe care plan” to protect these newborns and keep them and their caregivers healthy.

Unfortunately, even with this process in place, it’s become clear that the system is failing some of our most helpless children and their families. The report that Chairman Kline discussed revealed the administration is not fulfilling its responsibility to properly enforce the law. As a result, some states are getting federal funds without having the necessary child welfare policies in place. That means taxpayer dollars are being wasted and—more importantly—children who need help, aren’t getting it.
That’s unacceptable, and it’s why Representative Clark and I—along with a number of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle—introduced the bill before us today, the Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act. This proposal demands that HHS do better when it comes to enforcing policies meant to protect children from abuse and neglect. It requires the department to review and confirm states have put in place policies required by CAPTA; it strengthens protections for infants born with illegal substance exposure; and it improves accountability related to the care of those infants and their families. It also includes provisions to provide states with best practices for developing plans to keep infants and their caregivers healthy and safe and to encourage the use of information made available through other child welfare laws in verifying CAPTA compliance. Finally, the bill will prevent HHS from adding new requirements to state assurances and plans.
Together, these measures will ensure current policies are being enforced and will strengthen efforts to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect. In doing so, the bill will help put an end to a pattern of neglect that has led to shocking and deadly consequences and ensure children and families receive the help and care they desperately need.
The substitute amendment I am offering today is the product of discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders to provide additional clarification and make technical changes to the underlying bill. These changes would clarify that the HHS secretary should provide states information on safe care plan requirements, that substance use disorder treatment needs should be considered as part of those plans, and that states should monitor their use. The amendment would also make it clear that the secretary cannot create new requirements for states under CAPTA and change the title of the bill to the Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act. I urge my colleagues to support the substitute, as well as the underlying legislation.