J. Michael Smith, Esq.
President

Michael P. Farris, JD, LLM
Chairman

Oppose S. 1877, Federal Mandatory
Reporting of Child Abuse Legislation

William A. Estrada, Esq.
HSLDA Federal Relations

December 15, 2011

Introduction

On Tuesday, December 13, the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Children and Families held a hearing on S. 1877, a bill to require all adults to be mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. HSLDA believes that this bill will create a police-state reporting environment that will lead to baseless investigations of innocent families, and actually hurt at-risk children. HSLDA opposes S. 1877.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and California Senator Barbara Boxer introduced S. 1877, the “Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act,” in response to the tragic occurrences at Penn State University. HSLDA believes that while the purpose behind this bill is well-intentioned, it will actually lead to greater federal involvement in social services investigations, which will hurt innocent families and make it even harder for social services agencies to find and help truly at-risk children. Additionally, the federal requirement that every single American adult act as a mandatory reporter will create a police-state environment of reporting on friends, family, and neighbors.

Analysis

S. 1877 will amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to require—for the first time ever—every single state that receives federal funding under CAPTA to force every single adult to be a mandatory reporter of child abuse or neglect. Currently, most states only require certain people (e.g., doctors and teachers) to be mandatory reporters. HSLDA opposes this for the following reasons:

  • The federal government should not force the states to make every single adult a mandatory reporter of child abuse and neglect as a condition for receiving certain federal money. This is a violation of the principle of federalism. The federal government has no constitutional authority to force the states to make every adult a mandatory reporter.
  • Forcing the states to make every single adult a mandatory reporter with no exceptions will lead to a police-state environment, where every adult is forced to act as an informer against friends, family, and neighbors, or face possible charges. There are grave threats to liberty and personal privacy that could result from this.
  • Forcing every adult to be a mandatory reporter will likely lead to a massive increase in child abuse and neglect accusations and subsequent investigations as individuals report suspected child abuse and neglect out of an abundance of caution so they do not face possible charges. Instead of protecting children, this will (1) harm innocent families as they face baseless investigations, and (2) waste the time of social workers on baseless investigations, instead of protecting children who are actually at-risk of being abused or neglected.

S. 1877 also creates a massive federally funded educational campaign and training program to educate citizens about the new mandatory reporting of child abuse laws in the states. HSLDA opposes this for the following reasons:

  • In a time of federal budget deficits, the federal government should not be spending $5 million to $10 million per year on a program that should be left to the states.
  • Although the program is established in S. 1877 as a federal grant program to the states, the secretary of Health and Human Services is given the authority to “develop and disseminate guidance and information on best practices for” the entire educational campaign and training program. This could easily lead to the federal government mandating to the states the entire reporting campaign, and control what message is sent to the public.
  • The bill will give states new federal grants to set up “experimental, model, and demonstration programs for testing innovative approaches and techniques that may improve reporting of and response to suspected and known incidents of child abuse or neglect by adults to the state child protective service agencies or to law enforcement agencies.” HSLDA believes that this will incentivize states to create untested, “experimental” programs that will increase the number of child abuse and neglect reports to child protective services agencies, with no assurance that these reports are accurate. This could hurt innocent families and swamp child protection workers with baseless investigations, potentially resulting in truly at-risk children being missed.

Conclusion

S. 1877 will lead to a massive increase in child abuse and neglect investigations upon families.

HSLDA has seen firsthand how malicious or ignorant child abuse and neglect allegations have destroyed innocent families. A family has few protections against the power of CPS agencies. And even if a CPS investigation is closed as unfounded, the trauma to a young child, to an innocent family as a stranger (albeit maybe a well-intentioned stranger) enters the home and threatens to remove the children, is lasting and profound.

S. 1877 is unnecessary. The states—using federal money under the existing CAPTA statute—are fully capable of protecting children from abuse and neglect. S. 1877 will create a massive police state of reporting and will lead to unnecessary abuse and neglect investigations.