Rosa L. DeLauro

05/05/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/05/2021 11:44

DeLauro, Bilirakis Mark Mental Health Awareness Month with Bipartisan Effort to Protect Children

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12) this week marked both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Foster Care Month by reintroducing H.R. 2973, the Strengthening America's Families Act (SAFA), which would use research and the science of child development to transform the child welfare system.

There is irrefutable scientific evidence demonstrating the clear link between abuse in young children and long-term, negative impacts on cognitive, physical, and emotional development. SAFA would support state and local efforts to develop and expand community-based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (ITCTs). These teams, led by judges, work collaboratively to prevent child abuse and address the physical and emotional needs of young children who have experienced trauma. The teams also endeavor to strengthen family support and prevent future abuse. Currently, ITCTs operate 101 sites in 30 states but only serve a fraction of children and families in need. SAFA would address that shortfall and expand capacity throughout the country.

'The science is clear: the abuse of our youngest creates lasting trauma and has detrimental impacts on development,' said Congresswoman DeLauro. 'This month, Mental Health Awareness Month, we must take a closer look at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the children's mental health and examine the added stress and pressure the pandemic has had on families. As infants and young children were kept in their homes, abuse and neglect intensified in both severity and number of cases. SAFA provides the tools to transform a system that is failing too many infants, toddlers, and children. The federal government has an obligation to use data to inform public policy, and in this case, enhance the support system of our most vulnerable.'

'The need for SAFA has been amplified during the pandemic,' said Congressman Bilirakis. 'We know millions of families are under significant increased financial, emotional, and physical strain. Too often those stressors manifest in cases of child abuse. Now that we understand the scientific data regarding the tragic long-term consequences which can result if appropriate intervention is not provided, we have an obligation to create a system of care that will enable children who have already suffered abuse to access trauma-informed care. ITCTs have a proven track record of success, and I want to ensure all abused children have the benefit of accessing this highly effective resource.'

In normal times, the incidence of abuse and neglect of infants is two to four times the rate for other age groups, and a third of children entering foster care each year are under age three. Child welfare advocates estimate that these numbers are significantly under-reported. Because many early care and learning programs have closed and doctor visits are being skipped, child abuse has become a silent epidemic. In many instances, young children are no longer regularly in contact with adults other than their primary caregivers, and therefore abuse goes unreported. Experts believe this is the reason abuse and neglect hotlines have seen a 20% decline throughout the pandemic. There is a compelling and urgent need for the passage of SAFA.

Specifically, SAFA would:

  • Provide seed money to states to develop, stabilize and enhance Infant-Toddler Court Teams;
  • Ensure communities and states have the training and technical assistance they need to develop their programs with integrity and deliver evidence-based services; and
  • Expand the reach of an already proven successful program to transform how communities and the child welfare system support the wellbeing of infants, toddlers, and families.

Thirty-one organizations interested in the wellbeing of young children and their families have supported SAFA. In a letter led by ZERO TO THREE last Congress, the organizations outlined the need for Congress to step in and meet the urgent needs of infants and toddlers.

In their letter, the organizations wrote: 'SAFA addresses generational trauma by creating an emphasis on parents' needs as a starting point for building strong families, as well as ensuring babies have access to appropriate health and appropriate developmental supports they need to thrive. SAFA builds on a proven collaborative approach working with family court judges and community-based partners to provide families the tools they need to prevent child abuse and neglect and nurture their children. Few interventions or approaches are available to address the needs of babies in the child welfare system, whose lives are forever changed by their early adverse experiences.'

More on the scientific link between abuse and negative cognitive and emotional development below:

Brain Architecture, Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

What We Can Do About Toxic Stress, Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

Applying the Science of Child Development in Child Welfare Systems, Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

How does the Safe Babies Court Teamâ„¢ approach improve outcomes for infants and toddlers?, Casey Family Programs