U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s Priorities Included in Legislation to Protect Children, Support Health Care Workforce

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/12/19]–U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) successfully worked to include her key priorities in legislation passed by the Senate Health Committee today that would make sure the child welfare system supports and connects families to needed mental health services, and help recruit and support health professionals in underserved and rural areas.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted 45 years ago and governs important child protection programs and services to prevent, assess, and identify child abuse and neglect—and it is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to these aims.  Earlier this year, Sen. Smith introduced Supporting Family Mental Health in CAPTA Act to improve the delivery of mental health services for children and families, connect families with needed support services, support research on effective practices to prevent child abuse and neglect and address disparities in the child welfare system. Sen. Smith worked hard to ensure several provisions of her bill are included in CAPTA, which is due to be reauthorized and which the Senate HELP Committee voted unanimously to advance today.

“All children deserve a strong start in life which begins with safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments. When I talk with people about how Minnesota’s children are doing, so many are worried about the mental health challenges and trauma that children and families are facing. If we don’t address trauma that some families and children go through, the cycle can continue through adulthood and onto future generations. That’s why I’m pleased to see several of the provisions in my bill included in the CAPTA Reauthorization, which we marked up today,” said Sen. Smith. “When we connect families to the local services they need and we really work to support parents, families are stronger and children can get a better start in life.” 

Sen. Smith fought to make sure CAPTA includes measures to:

  • Improve state grants for child welfare programs and child protective services
    • Enhance focus on the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect
    • Increase collaboration among entities that provide child welfare services and those that provide health care needs, including services for mental health and substance use disorders
    • Strengthen training to enhance interagency coordination and improve facilitation of best practices when working with families with mental health needs
  • Strengthen community-based grants for child abuse prevention
    • Connect individuals and families to basic needs including childcare and nutritional programs
    • Outreach to, and improved support of, underserved and at-risk populations including LGBTQ+ youth
    • Ensure Tribes receive robust support and funding for prevention services
  • Enhance research and technical assistance programs at the Department of Health and Human Services
    • Leverage community-based resources to prevent child abuse and neglect including those related to health (including mental health), housing, parent support, financial assistance, early childhood education and care and other services
    • Improve methods of collaboration between the child protection system and other agencies, including the juvenile justice system and entities that deliver services and treatment related to domestic violence and mental health
    • Identify evidence-based programs that prevent child abuse and neglect in families that have not had contact with the child welfare system
    • Address geographic, racial and cultural disparities in the child welfare system

In addition to fighting for families in CAPTA, Sen. Smith partnered with her Republican colleague Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming on legislation to help rural communities overcome the challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified health professionals. A number of measures from their bill were included in the Title VII Health Care Workforce Reauthorization Act, which the Senate also marked up today. Sens. Smith and Barrasso’s bill would reauthorize the Primary Care Training Enhancement Program, which creates more training positions for family, internal and pediatric physicians and prioritizes training in rural locations. Their bill would also reauthorize Area Health Education Centers, which help recruit and support health professionals in underserved and rural areas.