Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse

Last month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families announced that it would be holding a hearing on child abuse. This week, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) presided over a hearing focused on addressing ways to protect children from harm, prevent maltreatment, intervene early when maltreatment occurs, and deter perpetrators from committing crimes against children. The Subcommittee first welcomed the testimony of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who spoke about how she first got involved with efforts to end child abuse and called for a new ethic in this country that encompasses a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of children.

Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) echoed Mikulski’s sentiments regarding the need to ensure that children are protected from abuse. He expressed that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of children, and that ultimately all adults are responsible for protecting children. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) spoke about the need for adults to be held accountable for protecting children, no matter the cost. He outlined some of the key elements of his bill, Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act of 2011. He acknowledged the disagreement regarding some of the provisions, but he welcomed feedback on areas which could be strengthened or modified.

The first panel of witnesses consisted of advocates who urged the committee to explore various ways to address abuse against children, including looking at how states are currently dealing with this problem and building upon some of the best practice models. All of the panelists agreed that increased funding for training of mandatory reporters was critical to addressing this matter.

The second panel of witnesses addressed the need for more integration of services, the use of multi-disciplinary teams, and access to treatment for victims of abuse. They discussed current child protection laws, and highlighted areas that need improvement, including the need for more resources to help the workforce adequately address child abuse. A few of the witnesses noted the benefits of differential response and other front-end services that help children and families in need but recognized that they are not one-size fits all solutions.

Many of the witnesses expressed some level of concern with simply requiring all adults to become mandatory reporters, citing that such a requirement falls short of addressing the larger issue, especially if the requirement is not tied to additional funding for training and building the capacity of the workforce.

Mikulski closed the hearing by thanking all of the witnesses and committing herself and the subcommittee to closely examining all of the proposals, testimony, and comments that had been submitted to see how Congress can better prevent, intervene, and deter crimes against children.

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