Congress Taking Steps to Address Child Abuse and Neglect

In light of alleged child sexual abuses on college campuses across the country, members of Congress have taken steps to address the need to improve the safety and well-being of all children by introducing legislation and calling for hearings with the intent of improving child abuse reporting laws. Federal law does not identify categories of mandatory reporters of abuse or neglect or direct state identified mandated reporters to any specific person or agency. Furthermore, less than 20 states require that any person who witnesses child abuse report it, while the majority of states only require certain professionals report abuse.

As a result, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to require all adults to report child abuse and neglect to the appropriate authorities. The Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act of 2011, S. 1877, would require all states to pass and enforce a law requiring all adults to report instances of known or suspected child abuse. Any state receiving funding through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the federal statute focused on child abuse and neglect prevention and response, would be required to enforce these reporting requirements. The Speak Up Act will also provides a baseline definition of abuse or neglect, support to states to carry out educational campaigns and training to inform individuals about what constitutes child abuse and neglect, and funding for testing innovative approaches that may improve the reporting of incidents of child abuse and neglect. Finally, it requires a report to Congress assessing the implementation of the amendments made by the Speak Up Act, as well as an update on States efforts to improve reporting on and responding to reports of child abuse or neglect.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a similar bill, the Child Abuse Reporting Enforcement (CARE) Act, S. 1879, which would require states to mandate the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement and child protective services in order to receive federal social services funding. Unlike the Step Up Act, the CARE Act would make it a felony, with a penalty of at least one year in prison, for any individual who fails to report such abuse. In order to create consistency among state child abuse reporting laws, this bill would specify that all witnesses report abuse to the law enforcement authorities and child protective services.

In the House, Representative George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, asked Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to call a hearing to examine whether federal laws specifically designed to protect children and students require changes. In his letter to the Chairman, Miller cited two federal laws that are intended to protect children from abuse and require the reporting of criminal activity when such cases are discovered. In addition to the CAPTA Act mentioned above, the Clery Act requires higher educational institutions to collect and report on crimes that occur on campus.

CWLA supports Congress’ efforts to raise awareness regarding the reporting of child abuse and neglect and will continue to monitor their efforts.

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