Sarah Carter family

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) laid the foundation for families such as Sarah Carter’s to be torn apart. Photo provided by Carter family.

by Terri LaPoint
Health Impact News

When Child Protective Services (CPS) takes children from a loving, non-abusive family, the parents, and sometimes grandparents, aunts, and uncles, often seek out information about what is happening. Many gravitate toward groups on social media that provide education and support for those fighting CPS for their children.

As the confused parents try to sort out the information and learn how to get their children back, one question dominates their search: How can this happen in America?

It isn’t long before they will hear of ASFA – the Clintons’ Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which provides billions of federal dollars to states to place children in foster care and adopt them out to strangers. Parents quickly learn that ASFA is one of the most destructive pieces of legislation to ever impact American families. Activists and parents alike are calling for it to be abolished.

However, before there was ASFA, there was CAPTA. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, or “The Mondale Act,” doesn’t receive nearly the attention that ASFA does, yet it is the piece of legislation that established Child Protective Services in all 50 states.

It remains in existence today. It has to be reauthorized periodically. Since its passage, it has been re-approved every 4 to 6 years, with new amendments added each time.

Richard Wexler, the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, calls CAPTA “the one-stop shop for bad ideas.” In a recent article called, “CAPTA Law Codifies Everything Wrong With How We ‘Fight’ Child Abuse,” Wexler writes:

Since it has to be reauthorized every few years, there are endless opportunities to do further harm by adding new provisions.

Laws and practices regarding child abuse and the protection of children existed long before CAPTA, but there was nothing uniform among all the states before its passage.

For a more detailed look at the history and development of Child Protective Services, see:

From Child Protection to State-sponsored Child Kidnapping: How Did we Get Here?

1960s Pediatrician Brought Child Abuse to Forefront

It was a pediatrician who was one of the first to bring the issue of child abuse into the national spotlight.

Dr. C. Henry Kempe and his colleagues from the University of Colorado School of Medicine published their ground-breaking article, “The Battered-Child Syndrome” in the Journal of the Americana Medical Association (JAMA) in 1962.

The article chronicled some of the same symptoms that Child Abuse Pediatricians today assert are indicators of abuse, symptoms which are sometimes found in real, non-abusive medical conditions that mimic abuse, such as: fractures, subdural hematoma, failure to thrive, and sudden death.

All of these symptoms can occur in medical conditions that are often missed by Child Abuse Pediatricians, such as infantile rickets, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta, antacids in pregnancy, pitocin-induced labor, tongue and lip tie, gastrointestinal conditions, and vaccine injury.


Dr. Kempe’s paper led to the establishment of the Kempe Foundation. Photo source.

According to the book, Making an Issue of Child Abuse, by Barbara J. Nelson, JAMA editors made speculations about the frequency of child abuse, saying:

…it is likely that [the battered child syndrome] will be found to be a more frequent cause of death than such well recognized and thoroughly studied diseases as leukemia, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.

Nelson says that the editors qualified their comparisons, but:

Politicians and journalists were not always as careful. Official after official and article after article repeated the comparison as though it were fact.

Over the next decade (and since), articles about child abuse became big news. While certainly child abuse existed then and exists now, the numbers may well have been inflated as the cry for legislation grew.

Much as “the opioid epidemic” seems to be continual headline news, child abuse was pounded into the American consciousness in the 60s and 70s in the effort to pass laws and fund agencies to deal with the issue. The non-profit organization Prevent Child Abuse America admitted in a 2003 piece:

It is almost certainly true that the strategies employed so successfully by the child abuse and neglect prevention field to generate media coverage and public awareness in the mid-1970s have resulted in a vicious cycle in which new communications on the issue tends to conform to, and reinforce, the existing frame of reference….

While the establishment of a certain degree of public horror relative to the issue of child abuse and neglect was probably necessary in the early years to create public awareness of the issue, the resulting conceptual model adopted by the public has almost certainly become one of the largest barriers to advancing the issue further in terms of individual behavior change, societal solutions and policy priorities.

Out of this “public horror,” CAPTA was written into law, giving social workers the power to snatch children from their families and ask questions later.

Though CAPTA funding doesn’t reach the levels of ASFA, it still opened the door to federal funding for states to take children and place them into foster care. It was later, with ASFA, that billions of CPS dollars were redirected to the adoption of foster children.

Mandatory Reporting

Wexler points out some of the more harmful provisions of CAPTA:

  • CAPTA encourages states to enact mandatory reporting laws requiring certain professionals to report child abuse, despite the fact that there was then — and is now — no evidence that they actually reduce child abuse, and many of those who once championed such laws now have second thoughts. (Source.)

Health Impact News has noted that mandatory reporters often have the idea that they need to report any possible slight sign of abuse “just to be on the safe side” in order to protect their own licences, under the notion that Child Protective Services will investigate the case and that innocent parents will be exonerated.

It is clear from hundreds of cases investigated by Health Impact News that this is not the case.

Any report simply opens the door for CPS social workers to come into a family. If they decide they want to take the child, if they want funding for the children, or if they have an adopter that they want to find a child for, the evidence doesn’t seem to matter.

Though the “Right to Lie” by social workers was struck down last year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the ruling has had little effect on the day-to-day practice of social workers throughout the country.


Judges Reject Claim That Social Workers Didn’t Know Lying In Court to Remove Children Was Wrong

GALs and CASA Workers – More Harm than Good?

Another provision of CAPTA only “prolongs foster care,” according to Wexler:

CAPTA requires states to appoint either a “guardian ad litem” or a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in every child welfare case.

CAPTA does not require this person to actually speak up for what the child wants, only for what the guardian or CASA thinks is best.

CAPTA promotes this even though, as Youth Today revealed in 2004, a comprehensive study, commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA doesn’t work — indeed, it prolongs foster care.

A comprehensive law review article found that it institutionalizes the racial bias inherent in child welfare. (Source.)

Attorney Lisa Chasteen of Alabama said that the GAL advocates for “the best interest of the child” from the state’s perspective, not the child’s.


Isaiah Rider repeatedly tried to fire his GAL. “She doesn’t represent ME!” He finally was released from Illinois DCFS almost a year after his 18th birthday. Photo provided by family. Story here.

Numerous foster care victims have reported that their GAL or CASA worker did not speak for them at all. Teenagers have told us that some of them failed to report abuse, rape, or molestation that happened to the child in foster homes or group homes.

Though an occasional parent will report a GAL who seems to genuinely care about the truth and the child, most parents tell us that the GALs and CASA workers are adversarial toward them, sometimes accusing them and making up falsehoods about the parents.

CAPTA Secrecy Gives Cover to Corruption

Wexler takes issue with the secrecy of Child Protective Services procedures and dealings:

CAPTA enshrines double standards concerning secrecy.

It requires child welfare agencies to disclose information about child abuse fatalities and near-fatalities as, in fact, they should. But it encourages agencies to keep all their other blunders secret.

That’s because the way to stampede people into supporting tearing apart more families is to publicize the horror stories and hide everything else — so people think the errors go only in one direction. (Source.)

The typical response by CPS and hospitals when we report a story of medical kidnapping is that, “because of confidentiality laws,” CPS or hospitals cannot comment on a particular case.

They frequently imply, and sometimes state outright, that not all of the story is being told. The public is expected to feel sorry for the workers they imply are being unfairly maligned because they aren’t allowed to tell their side of the story.

The truth of the matter is that CPS social workers and attorneys and the Child Abuse Pediatricians do tell their side of the story, in court before the judge, where it truly matters. It is the side of the parents and the evidence of their innocence that is frequently not heard in court.

In order for a journalist to report a story accurately, the allegations by the state must be examined. The medical records and other evidence must also be examined. Because the parents are often not afforded the opportunity for their side to be heard in court, they frequently turn to social media and the media to tell their side of the story and present their evidence.

Because of the twisting of confidentiality laws, any misdeeds by corrupt officials within the Child Protective Services system are shrouded in secrecy and hidden from public view. Whether there are lies, fraud, or mistakes by social workers, attorneys, judges, GALS, doctors, or foster parents, they are kept out of the way of public scrutiny and accountability.

Criminals have more rights than parents. Criminal court is open to the public view, and thus officials are held to a degree of accountability, something that is not found in family or juvenile court. This must change.

CAPTA Provisions that Are Not Being Followed

For all the harm that CAPTA does to families, there are a few notable provisions that parents may not be aware of that stand in favor of families. They are not generally followed, but they are part of the law that is legally supposed to be followed (link to CAPTA):

According to Section 107(a)1 of CAPTA, federal grants are to be made to states to assist in improving “the assessment and investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect cases, including cases of suspected child sexual abuse and exploitation, in a manner that limits additional trauma to the child and the child’s family;” [Emphasis added by HIN].

The way that CPS generally investigates and takes children from their families is undeniably traumatic. According to this law, they are supposed to find a way that limits the trauma. They clearly need to do a better job.


Annalise Rivenburg cries with her mother at Baby Steffen’s funeral. She is still in the hands of Tennessee Child Protective Services. Photo provided by family. Story here.

According to Section 206(5), any state receiving money under CAPTA is supposed to provide reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services of the state CPS performance measures, including this:

They “shall demonstrate a high level of satisfaction among families who have used the services of the community-based and prevention-focused programs and activities designed to strengthen and support families to prevent child abuse and neglect;”

Based on the reports of many hundreds of families who have fallen victim to the system, we conclude that there is not a high level of satisfaction.

The opposite is, in fact, true. There is a great deal of frustration and anger at the perceived injustice to their families, who do not feel strengthened or supported at all.

They feel attacked, ripped apart, hopeless, and destroyed. Some of them tragically have committed suicide. The trauma goes deep, ripping apart generations.

The Case Plan

Parents who take to social media at the beginning of CPS involvement or interference in their family are frequently admonished, “Don’t sign anything!”

Invariably, they find themselves being pressured to sign a case plan or safety plan of some type when the social worker comes. Some social workers have been known to deceive parents and tell them that they aren’t agreeing to anything at all, that they are just signing that they are “present.”

In reality, they are signing a contract with the state. If they don’t follow the plan to the letter, their parental rights may be terminated, no matter what the original allegations were.

Section 101 of CAPTA makes it clear that the state will not release funds for foster care unless there is a case plan “for each such infant and young child.” It is unclear whether the case plan must be signed by the parent in order for the state to receive funds for the child.

A North Carolina mother’s refusal to sign a case plan became a huge point of contention between her and the social workers.

Sarah Carter’s children were taken from her when she was in a shelter with her kids while seeking permanent housing. A staff person from the shelter reported her to CPS because her homeschooled children were not attending public school. She thought that it would quickly be cleared up.

It wasn’t. Sarah reports that:

The whole case centered around the fact that I wouldn’t sign anything. I realized how powerful contract law is.

Sarah Carter family at park

Sarah Carter and her children used to love to play at the park. There used to be a lot of laughter before CPS. Photo provided by family.

The children were taken in September of 2016. Guilford County Department of Social Services petitioned for Termination of Parental Rights the following April. The judge reportedly told Sarah:

Your children are not your children; they’re my children.

Without any evidence of wrongdoing, she lost her children. Sarah is still fighting to have her case heard by a higher court.

The Solution? End Federal Funding for Foster Care and Adoption that Provides Incentives to States to Take Children Out of Families

Both CAPTA and ASFA provide federal funding to states for foster care. For too long, these legislative acts have enabled and incentivized states taking children from innocent parents who have committed no crime, who have not abused their children.

By any definition this is human trafficking.

It is time to cut off the flow of tax dollars for the destruction of families, and instead find ways to help and support families.