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Maine

May 11, 2001

Legislative Document 1066: $500 Fine for Failing to Report Neglect

Analysis
L.D. 1066 contains two sections. Section 1 relates to adult neglect, and section 2 relates to child neglect. Section 2 states in part:

"The following adult persons shall immediately report or cause a report to be made to the department when the person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected: . . .

"B. Any other person [aside from specified professionals] who has assumed full, intermittent or occasional responsibility for the care or custody of the child, whether or not the person receives compensation."

Section 1 is nearly identical to section 2, except it mandates reporting of adult abuse. (Read the full language of the bill at http://janus.state.me.us/legis/bills/billtexts/LD106601-1.asp.)

This language even mandates reporting of neglect that has not happened yet! The language is so broad that virtually anyone who is ever around any child for any period of time under any circumstances is threatened with a fine if he or she does not report suspected neglect. This would include:

    A mother, if a neighbor child comes over to play;

    A mother or father who invites a neighbor child over for dinner or for a birthday party;

    A father who takes his children and his children’s friend to a movie;

    A mother in law who comes over to watch her grandchildren for a few minutes;

    A Sunday school teacher in a church;

    Volunteer helpers in Boy Scouts or any other youth organization;

    A mother who teaches a co-op home school class; and

    A volunteer working with children in any local support group activity.

HSLDA'S Reasons for Opposing L.D. 1066
HSLDA believes that child abuse is a CRIME, not a sickness. The best way to protect innocent children from child abuse is to investigate, prosecute, and punish real child abuse and criminal neglect. Unfortunately, Maine's child protective services system is already overwhelmed by the legal requirement that every allegation of child abuse or neglect be investigated, no matter how trivial or incredible that allegation may be. L.D. 1066 will substantially increase the number of unfounded abuse and neglect reports that MUST be investigated while decreasing the proportion of serious cases that SHOULD be investigated. This is a lose-lose-lose scenario: it is bad for innocent children who really are being abused; it is bad for innocent parents who are not abusers; and it is bad for the overworked social workers who have to investigate an ever-larger number of reports.

Already, at least two thirds of all neglect and abuse reports nationally are unfounded. L.D. 1066 would lead to more. There are a handful of cases in which everyone would agree there was abuse or neglect. But in most cases, defining abuse or neglect is a matter of subjective opinion. Professionals who are mandatory reporters of child abuse usually receive specialized training to help guide their judgment. Demanding that thousands of untrained citizens evaluate possible neglect/abuse situations is asking for a big increase in false reports.

What if a law were passed compelling every citizen to report every suspected crime—write down the license plate of every potentially speeding car, get the name of everyone who might have dropped a piece of trash on the sidewalk, and send in the address of every person who may have violated one of thousands of city ordinances? We would be outraged. As free citizens we have the right to decide for ourselves when to report a suspected misdeed, and to whom. Such reporting can have far-reaching consequences. The government must not supplant a citizen’s personal choice with its own impersonal mandate. We have the right to live as if we are not agents for government law enforcement. We have the right to NOT work for the government. L.D. 1066 violates that right.

    The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech and the right of free association. This bill threatens both of these fundamental freedoms. It creates a society of tattletales. It would breed an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust within what ought to be our most trusting and intimate relations-- churches, neighborhoods, support groups and families. It would make your closest friend or loved one a potential informant. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia operated extensive programs to motivate citizens to tell on each other for acts of perceived disloyalty. L.D. 1066 follows that pattern much too closely. Maine should avoid a police state mentality.

    This bill would increase the number of innocent families who undergo investigations based on erroneous reports. That would be bad enough if every investigation led to accurate results, because even an "unfounded" report is terribly traumatic to the family who is accused of abuse. Unfortunately, not every investigation leads to accurate results. Quite the contrary: bureaucracies are notorious for making mistakes. More reports means more parents will erroneously be labeled as child abusers, and more children end up in a dangerous foster care system. As recent events tragically teach us, some children are treated terribly in the foster care system.

Status:
L.D. 1066 was signed into law on June 1, 2001.

HSLDA's Position:
HSLDA opposed this bill.

 Other Resources

5/11/2001 BILL WOULD SET $500 FINE FOR FAILURE TO REPORT NEGLECT

Bill Text