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Public Hearing Bill 19-466 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Amendment Act of 2011

Friday, January 13, 2012
Testimony of General Counsel Lionel Sims

Government of the District of Columbia
Child and Family Services Agency

Testimony of Lionel C. Sims Jr. Esquire
General Counsel Public Hearing

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Amendment Act of 2011, Bill 19-466

Committee on Human Services
Jim Graham, Chair
Council of the District of Columbia

January 13, 2012

John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Council Chamber, Room 500
Washington, DC 20004
11 am

Good morning, Chairman Graham and members of the Human Services Committee. I am Lionel Sims, General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency. Congress enacted the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 to reauthorize and amend the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. CAPTA is an important source of federal funding for abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs. For the District to continue to be eligible for these funds, we must comply with the Reauthorization Act's new eligibility requirements. Fortunately, the District implemented many of these new provisions before passage of the Reauthorization Act, such as establishment of a differential response program. However, local legislation is necessary to bring the District into compliance with two provisions: referrals for infants identified as having a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and reunification efforts for parents who have committed sex offenses. Proposed Bill 19-466 covers these matters, which I will discuss today.

The Reauthorization Act addresses the safety and wellbeing of infants who suffer from the adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Studies have shown that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can cause low birth weight as well as a range of developmental, mental, and physical problems. Early intervention is crucial in improving outcomes for these children by providing services for learning disabilities, speech and language delays, and behavioral issues. Families often need services to help them understand and cope with the challenges their children face. To ensure these children and their families receive the services they need, the Reauthorization Act creates a new CAPTA eligibility requirement mandating that health care providers report to the 24-hour hotline when they identify an infant as having a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is an umbrella term describing the effects that may occur due to prenatal alcohol exposure including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Bill 19-466 incorporates this CAPTA provision by requiring that District health care providers call CFSA's hotline when they identify an infant under age one as having a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. In keeping with Congressional intent that prenatal alcohol exposure not be a category of abuse or neglect, a hotline call regarding FASD will not automatically trigger an investigation but will stimulate the District to offer services to these families for the child.

CAPTA also mandates that states and the District enact legislation that explicitly provides that reunification efforts are not required when a parent has been found by a court to have committed certain criminal acts towards his or her child. The Reauthorization Act amends this CAPTA provision by adding two new requirements. Specifically, no reunification is required if a parent (1) must register with a sex offender registry or (2) has sexually abused of one of his or her children. Bill 19-466 incorporates both of these provisions, and we agree with them.

Bill 19-466 will not only ensure that the District is in compliance with the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 but will also improve outcomes for the city's most vulnerable children. It will ensure that infants identified as having FASD and their parents receive early treatment and supportive services. It will also assist the District in making permanency decisions that are in the best interests of the child. I respectfully urge the Council to enact this important and necessary legislation. Thank you.