U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 marked the U.S. government’s first significant step toward orchestrating a national response to the problem of child abuse.

Summary of Event

From 1964 through 1973, the U.S. Congress proposed a number of child protection bills that were never passed. Senator Walter Mondale selected the issue of child protection as a focus as he moved toward his candidacy for the office of president and was able to achieve success in 1974 with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which is sometimes called the Mondale Act. With the support of cosponsors, Mondale introduced CAPTA in March, 1973. The act would establish the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), which would serve as a clearinghouse for information on child abuse, monitor research in the area, and produce and disseminate training materials designed to assist in the prevention of child abuse. Other provisions of CAPTA included demonstration grants for training and funding for projects aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect and treating child abuse victims. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (1974) Mondale Act (1974) [kw]U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse (Jan. 31, 1974) [kw]Congress Protects Children Against Abuse, U.S. (Jan. 31, 1974) [kw]Children Against Abuse, U.S. Congress Protects (Jan. 31, 1974) [kw]Abuse, U.S. Congress Protects Children Against (Jan. 31, 1974) Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (1974) Mondale Act (1974) [g]North America;Jan. 31, 1974: U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse[01520] [g]United States;Jan. 31, 1974: U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse[01520] [c]Human rights;Jan. 31, 1974: U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse[01520] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Jan. 31, 1974: U.S. Congress Protects Children Against Abuse[01520] Mondale, Walter

The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 13, 1973. It was then amended and reported to the Senate on July 10, 1973. The House of Representatives amended the bill and reported it on November 30, 1973. On January 31, 1974, the bill was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, Richard M.

Once CAPTA was enacted, requests for proposals were developed for demonstration grants designed to train individuals in fields such as medicine, law, education, and social work. The bill authorized expenditures in fiscal years 1974-1977 with funding ranging from $15 million in the first year to $25 million in 1977. Federal funds through CAPTA were available only to states that passed laws that were in compliance with the federal act. In 1976, many states were in a funding crisis due to the economic recession. Within five years, all fifty states passed laws that entitled them to take advantage of CAPTA’s social welfare funding. This is significant given that such changes would ordinarily take approximately fifteen to twenty-five years.

CAPTA also provided funds for mandated investigations into the national incidence of child abuse and neglect and for research to determine whether incidents were increasing in number or severity over time. The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was responsible for coordinating programs established under the bill’s provisions.

CAPTA established the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later it became part of the Department of Health and Human Services), and in 1976, NCCAN solicited requests for proposals for the design of the first large-scale comprehensive research project to document the extent of child abuse and neglect in the United States. The successful research provider designed the procedures for a set of studies called the National Incidence Studies, National Incidence Studies which became a congressionally mandated periodic project of the Department of Health and Human Services. The first National Incidence Study (NIS-1) was conducted in 1979 and 1980; the results were published in 1981.

The purpose of NIS-1 was to provide a baseline against which researchers could compare further study findings to track trends in child abuse and neglect as well as the progress made against these problems in the United States. Another purpose of the study (and the subsequent follow-up studies) was to go beyond the cases of child maltreatment that come to the attention of child protective service agencies and attempt to assess the overall scope of child maltreatment in the United States (with an eye toward prevention). The NIS-1 researchers also did the important work of standardizing definitions of types of child abuse and neglect and establishing a standard methodology that could be used and replicated over time.

Significance

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act represented a major step in awareness of the scope of child abuse and neglect in the United States. By funding a major baseline study and forming an agency within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the federal government demonstrated that it placed a high priority on the prevention of child abuse.

One important theoretical concept that emerged from NIS-1 was the idea of the “tip of the iceberg”: that the cases of child abuse and maltreatment that come to the attention of child protective services represent only one small piece of the total picture. Educational efforts based on NIS-1 findings greatly increased the numbers of people who were alert to signs of abuse and neglect in children. Following the enactment of CAPTA, many organizations whose operations involve contact with children began to mandate training in child abuse detection and reporting, ensuring that more people would have heightened awareness of the problem and could help to report it. This resulted in increased education for medical professionals, teachers, child-care workers, and others who come in contact with young people, helping them to identify the signs of child abuse and neglect, report possible cases of abuse and neglect, and obtain services for children who are physically, emotionally, or otherwise abused or neglected.

Since the passage of CAPTA, several reauthorizations of the act have taken place. One criticism of CAPTA, especially its reauthorized versions, has focused on the possibility for errors in the reporting of child abuse and neglect. Criminal penalties are levied against professionals in certain fields (such as medicine and education) who fail to report child abuse, and sometimes overzealous reporting causes legal problems for innocent individuals. Another criticism has focused on the possibilities that exist for abuse in the management of funding for social welfare programs in general. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (1974) Mondale Act (1974)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Costin, Lela, Howard J. Karger, and David Stoesz. The Politics of Child Abuse in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Chronicles the history of government and political efforts to deal with the problem of child abuse in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horton, Connie B., and Tracy K. Cruise. Child Abuse and Neglect: The School’s Response. New York: Guilford Press, 2001. Resource guide, designed for use by school personnel, deals with schools’ legal duties in regard to child abuse prevention and treatment legislation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nelson, Barbara J. Making an Issue of Child Abuse: Political Agenda Setting for Social Problems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Traces the political and social policy issues involved in bringing national attention to the problem of child abuse in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vieth, Victor I., Bette L. Bottoms, and Alison Perona, eds. Ending Child Abuse: New Efforts in Prevention, Investigation, and Training. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2006. Collection of essays by social scientists and legal scholars discusses concepts in the field of child abuse prevention as well as training methods, prosecution strategies, and other issues.

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