• March/April 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 2

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Videoconference Series on Recognizing Child Abuse Opens with Session on Legal Framework for Reporting

Just under 1 million children are abused or neglected in the United States each year. Proper recognition and reporting is a crucial first step in addressing this individual and social tragedy.

To educate the public and professionals about these issues, a live national teleconference series presented by the Maryland School of Public Affairs aired its first of 6 installments on January 18. Co-sponsoring the series are Parents Anonymous, Prevent Child Abuse America, Childhelp USA, and Child Welfare League of America. The trainer, Douglas S. Besharov, a professor at the Maryland School of Public Affairs, discussed the legal framework for reporting child maltreatment.

Besharov stressed the need for a balanced approach to reporting. Over the last 30 years, there has been an increase in the number of reported child abuse cases, due to deteriorating social conditions and increased awareness. Yet, studies show professionals only report about half of what they see. At the same time, there are many unfounded or unsubstantiated reports, which overburden the child protective agencies and subject children to traumatic investigations. Besharov called for clear standards and training, rather than relying on a "gut feeling" to report.

Concerning mandated/permissive reporting, Besharov noted that reporting laws vary from State to State. Every State requires most child-serving professionals to report child abuse, including physicians, nurses, emergency room personnel, coroners, dentists, mental health professionals, social workers, teachers, day care providers, and law enforcement personnel. Some States require others, such as clergy and film processors, to report. In 20 States, all people are required to report. Besharov added that anyone may report, and anonymous reports are permissible. Criminal and civil penalties only apply to mandated reporters who fail to report.

Besharov also discussed the issue of reportable child maltreatment. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act identifies a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. According to CAPTA, child abuse and neglect is, at a minimum:

  • any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
  • an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

With CAPTA as a foundation, States laws vary regarding what is considered reportable child abuse and neglect and who is considered a "caretaker"--some States define caretaker broadly and others more narrowly. In all States, any suspected child abuse or neglect should be reported to local child protective services agencies.

Future training broadcasts, scheduled from 12:30-3:30 EST, include:

  • Is it Physical Neglect?, April 19
  • Is it Psychological Maltreatment?, May 17
  • Is it Reportable Parental Disability?, June 21

To register to be a downlink site or to find a viewing site in your area, visit www.welfareacademy.org/newsite/childabu/body.htm. (Editor's note: this link is no longer available.)

For information about obtaining Besharov's textbook, Recognizing Child Abuse: A Guide for the Concerned and companion Trainer's Manual, contact:
The American Enterprise Institute Welfare Reform Project
1150 17th St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-862-4879
Email: info@welfareacademy.org
Website: http://www.welfareacademy.org

Related Items

From this issue of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Panel Discusses Reporting Issues in Child Abuse and Neglect"
  • "Resources from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information on State Laws"

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