Child Advocacy Center Reauthorization Bill Introduced in Congress

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A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to reauthorize the bill that initially authorized Child Advocacy Center (CAC) funding.

The Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA) of 2018 would increase funding of Child Advocacy Centers from $20 million a year to $25 million a year and enhance accountability measures. Funding would cover recording equipment including cameras, monitors, transmitters, microphones, receivers, ear canal inductors, and room furnishings which would enhance recordings taking place. The bill would also cover the training funding and oversight of professionals to ensure evidence is delivered in an efficient manner.

CACs coordinate professionals from different backgrounds to ensure efficient operations designed to help abused children and minimize the trauma. They combine law enforcement with medical professionals along with mental health, law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, and victim advocacy to ensure the child only must recount the details of the incident once.

The process of forensically interviewing a child is designed to limit the trauma of physical or sexual abuse inflicted and can be used as admissible evidence in court. Evidence obtained at the 850 CACs across the country has proven instrumental in securing guilty convictions in countless abuse cases and lowering average-per-case costs.

Currently, according to VOCAA, states receive grants from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs (OJJDP) and subsequently award them to the CACs. Grant funding to CACs requires that the child is only interviewed once.

Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and Chris Coons (D-DE) are leading efforts in the Senate to ensure passage of the reauthorization through the Senate Judiciary Committee and subsequently the full Senate. It is currently pending before the Judiciary Committee. Blunt and Coons introduced S. 2961, the VOCAA Act of 2018 on May 24th. Ten other Senators are co-sponsoring the bill.

“In 2017, our state’s 22 child advocacy centers provided a safe haven to more than 8,500 of Missouri’s most vulnerable children,” said Blunt. “This bipartisan bill will ensure Child Advocacy Centers and law enforcement have the resources they need to coordinate the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases.”

Blunt and Coons were sponsors of the original authorization bill in 2013.

“Seeking justice should be part of the healing process, not a source of further trauma,” said Senator Coons. “Child Advocacy Centers provide a safe, supportive space for young victims and help law enforcement officials bring perpetrators to justice faster, more effectively, and at a lower cost.”

In the House of Representatives, the companion bill, H.R. 5955, Victims of Child Abuse Act of 2018 is being sponsored by Congressman Ted Poe (R-Tex) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) The bill has 14 additional bipartisan co-sponsors from across the country. It is pending before both the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“Each year thousands of children are subjected to an unthinkable crime- child abuse,” said Congressman Poe. “Our Children Advocacy Centers, like the one in Houston, Texas, do important work to expedite the prosecution of offenders, reduce violent encounters, and improve safety in communities across the country. This legislation ensures that those who are advocating for and protecting our children from the atrocities of abuse have the necessary resources to do their job.”

Blunt and Coons are co-Chairs of the Senate Law Enforcement Congress while Poe and Cosa are co-chairs of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus which seeks to address these issues.

The reauthorization bill is supported by a coalition of agencies and advocacy groups in law enforcement and prosecution. The National Children’s Alliance, the national association of CACs and accrediting body, endorsed the bill along with their regional chapters. In addition, it enjoys the support of the National Sheriffs Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association as well as the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National District Attorneys Association.

The bipartisan support should ensure the legislation moves quickly through Congress. The original bill passed Congress in 2014.