I rise today in support of H.R. 6655, the Protect our Kids Act of 2012.
As we are too painfully reminded this week by the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, for all the good this nation has done to lift up children, we still have much, much more work to do. So before I get into my remarks about the bill, I first want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the victims and their loved ones struggling – as we all are – to understand this senseless assault on children and their educators.
And, while Newtown is rightly receiving the nation’s attention, what goes unnoticed far too often is the number of children that die each year in this country as a result of abuse and neglect. Sadly, their deaths often come at the hands of those who should be caring for them the most. State reports indicate that more than 1,500 children in the U.S. died from abuse or neglect in Fiscal Year 2010, and research shows that these reports may significantly understate the actual number of these fatalities. Congress should do what it can to prevent these tragedies, which is why this legislation is before us today.
This legislation is the result of careful bipartisan work over the past couple of years. In 2010, I requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review what is known about the circumstances of child deaths and near deaths resulting from abuse and neglect, State approaches to gathering and reporting this information, and what steps the Department of Health and Human Services has taken to support the collection and accurate reporting of this information. GAO completed its review in July of last year and presented its findings at a Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources hearing that same month. In their report, GAO said many more children die from abuse and neglect than are currently reported. They also reported that government agencies have different definitions of abuse and neglect, and that administrative barriers hinder the sharing of information across agencies.
Following that hearing, I worked with Congressman Doggett, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, to develop a legislative proposal to address these issues. Last week, the Subcommittee held another hearing to review this proposal. And finally, after almost two years of work, we are here on the House Floor today to consider and pass this important bill.
This bipartisan legislation will establish a commission charged with developing recommendations to reduce child deaths caused by abuse and neglect. The commission will study a variety of issues, including data on fatalities, prevention methods, and the adequacy of current programs before making their recommendations. Any Federal agency affected by a recommendation of the commission will be required to report within six months on how it plans to address the recommendation. Importantly, this legislation is paid-for and will not add to our deficit.
I urge all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote in favor this bipartisan legislation and, in doing so, take an important step toward preventing the tragic deaths of so many of our nation’s children from abuse and neglect.