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Does the Protection of Children’s Rights to Safety Require a System of Mandatory Reporting of Abuse and Neglect? An Argu PowerPoint Presentation
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6% Decline (1992-2004). 43% Decline (1992-2004). 49% Decline (1990-2004). Jurisdictions with mandatory reporting. Jurisdictions without mandatory reporting. Does the Protection of Children’s Rights to Safety Require a System of Mandatory Reporting of Abuse and Neglect? An Argument.

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6% Decline (1992-2004)

43% Decline (1992-2004)

49% Decline (1990-2004)

Jurisdictions withmandatory reporting

Jurisdictions withoutmandatory reporting

Does the Protection of Children’s Rights to Safety Require a System of Mandatory Reporting of Abuse and Neglect? An Argument.

Dr Ben Mathews

Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbane, Australia, b.mathews@qut.edu.au

Dr Donald C. Bross

Director of Education and Legal Counsel, Henry Kempe NationalCenter for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect,Denver, CO, USA, Bross.Donald@tchden.org

What do the critics say?

Why should children be protected from abuse and neglect?

Some critics (eg Melton, 2005) have claimed the laws should be abandoned. The main arguments against the laws are:

Mandatory reporting laws

Where the laws exist, mandated reporters (eg teachers, police, nurses) make the majority of all substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect:

  • Social justice: children are vulnerable to harm, cannot protect themselves like adults can, and need their rights protected.
  • Child abuse (physical, psychological, sexual), and neglect causes harmful physical, psychological and behavioral consequences, often over the lifespan.
  • Abuse and neglect causes vast economic costs. Every year, it is estimated to cost:
    • $94 billion in the USA (Fromm, 2001)
    • $4.9 billion in Australia (Kids First Foundation, 2003)
  • Inflation of unwarranted reports, causing huge economic waste and diverting resources from known deserving cases;
  • The laws have been extended too far: they were originally created only for a perceived few cases of physical abuse, not the more varied types of abuse and neglect we now know of; and
  • Unsubstantiated reports invade privacy and harm those on whom suspicion wrongly falls.

Many countries have mandatory reporting laws. These laws require selected professionals to report suspected child abuse (physical, sexual and psychological) and neglect. The professionals mandated to report are those working frequently with children eg teachers, nurses, doctors, police.

  • USA: 67.3% (2004)
  • Canada: 75% (2003)
  • Australia: 58.01% (2004/05)

It has been estimated that due to increased reporting, investigation and treatment services, annual child deaths in the USA have fallen from 3,000-5,000 to about 1,100 (Besharov, 2005).

Aims of mandatory reporting

How do we reply to the objections?

Mandatory reporting laws aim to use the expertise of these professionals to increase the discovery of cases of abuse and neglect. Without reports by these professionals, many cases of abuse and neglect will not come to the attention of helping agencies.

Most child abuse and neglect is inflicted by parents or caregivers, and other adults known to the child. Perpetrators rarely seek assistance, and children rarely seek assistance for themselves.

So, mandatory reporting aims to:

Claimed benefits from abolishing the laws are unproven and would incur far greater loss. Without the laws, many more cases of abuse will not be disclosed. More children will die.

Most abuse and neglect occurs in the family. A key tenet of liberal society is: the welfare of the child within the family needs to be protected (Mill, 1859). Reporting laws promote this goal.

“Unsubstantiated reports” are a poor argument against the laws, as many of these do involve abuse, and are prime candidates for early intervention (Drake & Jonson-Reid, 2007).

Many “unwarranted reports” are not even made by mandated reporters, but by other citizens.

The key problem is not the reports, but poorly funded child protection services and the quality of post-report responses. Methods of intake, screening and assessment can improve. Service provision needs to improve.

Laws, reporter training and public education can better define what should and should not be reported. This may involve reassessing the scope of the laws.

Mandatory reporting may in fact contribute to declines inincidence of serious child abuse:

Incidence of abuse & neglect

Recent annual data shows large numbers of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect:

  • 872,000 in the USA (US Dept of Health & Human Services, 2006)
  • 85,237 in Canada (Trocmé et al., 2005)
  • 32,485 in Australia (Australian Institute of Health & Wellbeing, 2008)
  • Improve the protection of children;
  • Assist parents and families; and
  • Minimise cost to individuals and the community

Numbers of substantiated cases are growing. Yet, these are still only the ‘‘tip of the iceberg’ (Sedlak et al, 1996):

Figure 3.Substantiated physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect, USA, 1990-2004 (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006).

Success of mandatory reporting

Mandatory reporting seems to produce moredisclosure of cases of abuse and neglect:

Shortcomings of mandatory reporting

Despite its success, mandated reporting is not a perfect system of case-finding. Even with the laws, many cases evade the attention of authorities, for reasons including:

  • Reporters may not report due to feared misdiagnosis, or low confidence in child protection services;
  • Many “unsubstantiated” cases will be abusive but lack sufficient evidence to substantiate; and
  • Many cases will simply not be perceived by, or even made present before, a reporter.

More information

For more detailed discussion, see:

B Mathews & D Bross, ‘Mandated reporting is still a policy with reason: Empirical evidence and philosophical grounds’ (2008) 32(5) Child Abuse & Neglect 511.

Figure 1. Total number of notifications and substantiations of child abuse and neglect in Australia (AIHW, 2008).

Figure 2. Number of substantiations per 1,000 children in jurisdictions with and without mandatory reporting.