Yesterday, The U.S. Senate HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families held a hearing on child abuse, which Sen. Bob Casey requested back in November in the wake of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. The purpose of this hearing was to examine child abuse laws to determine whether or not all adults should be mandated to report any suspected abuse or neglect of minors. The committee heard testimony from child sex abuse victims and advocates.
The hearing also follows legislation introduced by Sen. Casey. He proposed the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid (Speak Up) Act of 2011, which mandates reporting of suspected abuse and neglect, and requires awareness training for those "most likely to witness abuse." Additionally, on December 8th, Rep. Yvette Clarke sponsored an amendment to CAPTA (H.R. 3617) that would require states receiving CAPTA funding to enact laws imposing criminal penalties on people who know about abuse or neglect and fail to report it.
All of this attention falls amid the controversy at Penn State and recently released data from the federal Department of Health and Human Services that reports decreasing numbers of abused and neglected children over the last five years. This data, while positive, can cause controversy when legislation like the CAPTA amendment and Stand Up Act are on the table, as the need for such attention may be disputed.
Furthermore, yesterday's hearing and Sen. Casey's porposed legislation have received arguments from some child advocates who feel that blanket mandated reporting laws may cause more harm to children than provide added protection. As reported today by Time, mandated reporting by all adults could:
"...increase the chance of false accounts of child abuse: Examinations to check for sexual abuse...can sometimes produce false allegations from young children who haven't been abused. The ensuing investigation can then traumatize children, or worse, place them needlessly in foster care."
To say the least, these claims and this topic deserve attention and discussion at all levels of the child welfare system, including among policymakers. Social workers and other child welfare professionals are already mandated reporters, the requirement being key to increasing safety for the children and families with whom they work. Safety is an important part of this topic. In many ways, safety goes beyond protection because safety is about building a system for the child and family that can sustain a healthy environment for everyone involved - providing protection is only one component of increasing safety.
Within Casey and Clarke's proposed legislation, what will promote safety the most? With the mix of contradicting information and views in the policymaking, child welfare, child advocacy, and child protection fields - how can these groups work together and determine the best course of action for these children?
Find more on mandated reporting here!