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Bilirakis, DeLauro, Suozzi, Rutherford, Soto, and Steube Lead Bipartisan Effort to Protect Children

July 31, 2020
Press Release

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Summer Robertson (Bilirakis), 727-232-2921

 

Bilirakis, DeLauro, Suozzi, Rutherford, Soto, and Steube Lead Bipartisan Effort to Protect Children

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), John Rutherford (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), and Greg Steube (R-FL) this week introduced H.R. 7868, 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 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.”

 

“When I began as a Florida Circuit Judge more than 30 years ago, I didn’t know the impact Judges and Court Teams could have on the trajectory of babies and their families if only we recognized that trauma, child development, and outcomes are inextricably linked,” said Lynn Tepper, retired Circuit Judge, 6th Judicial Circuit, Florida. “Healing intergenerational trauma can stop the cycle. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to see babies, toddlers, and families heal and thrive.”

 

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to add stress and pressure on families and keep infants and young children in their homes, abuse and neglect intensify in both severity and number of cases,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The science is clear: the abuse of our youngest creates lasting trauma and has detrimental impacts on development. Who children become as adults, their ability to succeed, depends largely upon their environment as an infant and child. 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.”

 

“Scientific data shows that child abuse can lead to horrific long term consequences and Congress must do everything it can to combat it, particularly during this Pandemic,” said Congressman Suozzi. “This has created significant stress for families across our nation and could lead to an increase in child abuse. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation which will provide resources to our local communities across America, so that we may safeguard the wellbeing of our children.”

 

“As a former sheriff, I've seen far too many children affected by abuse and neglect,” said Congressman Rutherford. “That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Strengthening America's Families Act, which would improve the child welfare system by better coordinating support services and enhancing Infant-Toddler Court Teams. It is essential that we prioritize the emotional and physical well-being of children by preventing future instances of abuse.”

 

“As an attorney, I know the support of the judicial system has proven to be a powerful force of good in the lives of young children facing challenging circumstances,” said Congressman Soto. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we redouble our efforts to support and protect the most vulnerable among us. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it is an important investment in the future of our country. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Strengthening America’s Families Act, which will ensure that during a time when our nation’s families are under extreme stress, help will be there for the children who need it most.”

 

“New research around childhood development can help us better understand and respond to the child abuse and neglect that has skyrocketed with children being home from school during the pandemic,” said Congressman Steube. “Children deserve to be loved and protected – and as elected officials, we have an obligation to ensure that our state and local child welfare workers have every resource necessary to fulfill their roles.”

 

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 support SAFA. In a letter led by ZERO TO THREE, 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 Team™ approach improve outcomes for infants and toddlers?, Casey Family Programs