Child abuse and neglect was not identified as a social problem with numerous devastating effects until in the 1960s, with the first child abuse statute being explored in 1962 at a health conference. This opened the way for the creation of various other reporting statutes that set the trend towards realization of children’s rights. The federal law against child abuse provided funds to the states that met its guidelines for handling child abuse and neglect incidences. Moreover, it supported agencies working to prevent child abuse and neglect.
The scope in the first round of reporting laws was very narrow from one state to another since they mainly copied from one another, but various states later redefined the statutes and broadened the groups of professionals with a mandate to report such incidences. Moreover, they provided particular definitions of conditions that can be reported. This paper examines the pros and cons of the mandatory reporting policy, delving into the arguments of both the proponents and opponents. It analyzes these arguments and then makes a conclusion basing on the strengths of the arguments.
The pros Mandatory reporting has been very helpful in addressing cases of child abuse and neglect, making life bearable for them. It has been very helpful in protecting the children’s right to life and healthcare since the children lack the resources to protect themselves from any form of abuse (Besharov, 1987). Mandatory reporting provides a well framed legal provision, properly resourced and investigative and intervention bodies, good reporting practice and adequate teacher training.
This makes it a very appropriate way to intervene cases of child abuse and its developmental and health related consequences that may prove too difficult to treat in advanced stages (Besharov, 1987). There is substantial evidence to the effect that the cost of child abuse to the individual, society and state is very high compared to that of early prevention. Costs to the individual are mainly due to injury to the victim’s physical health, psychological health that includes depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempt, and post traumatic stress disorder (Besharov, 1987).
Sexual abuse among children could lead to teenage pregnancy, self harming, substance abuse and poor educational performance, which is both inhuman and a big loss to the child and family, society and the state. Sexual abuse has been flouted as the number one cause for children running away from home and could also lead to child criminal offending, with the psychological sequel continuing into adulthood where they may experience difficulties in adult relationships, problematic parenting and offspring adjustment. A good number of child abuse victims end up becoming offenders themselves in future (Martin et al, 2004).
Lack of early intervention may deny survivors of child abuse civil compensation through the courts due to the way the statutes operate in a number of jurisdictions. Sexual abuse in children has very serious immediate, short term and long term effects on the survivor, which could end up affecting many generations after the survivor. Child abuse costs many countries a lot of money, indicating the need for child protection through legislation to boost early intervention and reduce any future costs (Besharov, 1987).
Mandatory reporting forms an important part of criminal detection activity because every child abused is a victim of a criminal activity. Moreover, it goes a long way in preventing crime because individual child victims of sexual abuse are abused many times by the same offender who abuses multiple victims. In quite many cases early intervention can prevent any future affliction and sexual abuse, and at the same time prevent victimizing other children.
The numerical incidences of child sexual abuse show that mandatory reporting is justified in order to have a strong and practical response to this escalating problem (Martin et al, 2004). The Cons Child abuse and neglect is a growing concern among many societies today, leading to enactment of laws and statutes to protect these children. In the US, the USABCANI recently declared mistreatment of children a national emergency that needs to be handled with the seriousness it deserves (Martin et al, 2004).
The US child protection policies with regard to child abuse and neglect have not been around for long, since this was not considered a big problem. In the last three decades, child abuse and neglect policies have helped in improving the conditions of children and enabled them to get assistance in case of any abuse (Lichman, 2002). However, there continues to be a high number of child abuse and neglect cases going unreported or unsubstantiated ones being recorded.
This calls for education and clarification on these policies in order to increase the accuracy of any such reports and reduce the number of inappropriate and unreported cases (Martin et al, 2004). To understand why underreporting and inappropriate reporting of child abuse and neglect is on the increase, one needs to analyze the structure of these reporting statutes. This will provide a foundation to start making changes in these policies in order to reflect the real life situation, and not just some impractical statutes on paper.
The mandatory child abuse and neglect statutes consist of seven sections, which have contributed greatly to cases of underreporting and inappropriate reporting of such cases (Martin et al, 2004). The ‘definitions’ section defines child abuse and neglect, but is overwhelming, broad, and vague, making it hard to know exactly what child abuse and neglect is, hence the increased number of underreported and inappropriately reported cases (Lichman, 2002). The mandatory reporting statutes demand that one must have sufficient proof or reasonable suspicion of child abuse in order to report.
These complicated terminologies may be interpreted differently by different people, and therefore encourage inappropriate reporting mainly due to their subjective nature (Lichman, 2002). Some states only mandate professionals working with children to report all child abuse and neglect cases while others allow also non-professionals. Allowing nonprofessionals to report may lead to increased unsubstantiated reports, hence increasing the number of inappropriate incidences of child abuse and neglect (Martin et al, 2004).
These statutes give specific procedures and ways of making such reports, which are usually very cumbersome and rigid. These procedures are very confusing and bureaucratic and only serve to deter people from reporting the real cases of child abuse and neglect (Martin et al, 2004). The statutes have a clause that threatens to impose penalties to anyone who sees and does not report child abuse cases, causing fear among those mandated to report, leading to increased cases of inappropriate reporting.
However, the clause is not clear on what kind of penalties may be preferred against those contravening it, causing even more confusion (Martin et al, 2004). The statutes grant certain privileges regarding communication between a professional and patient to make it easier for implementation of these laws. The mandatory reporting laws also demand that the professional and client communication be confidential, and can not be used anywhere else (Lichman, 2002). This has been seen as prohibiting since there are times when the professional’s disclosure about a patient is more helpful and valued than the patient’s privacy.
These are very difficult clauses of this statute because it means a professional may be prosecuted for reporting due to contravention of confidentiality between a professional and a patient. The professional may still be sued for not reporting due to contravention of the statutes that provide for prosecution for anyone who witnesses and fails to reports cases of child abuse and neglect. This provides a double edged sword, contributing to both underreporting and inappropriate reporting (Martin et al, 2004).
To curb cases of underreporting and inappropriate reporting, these statutes need to be revised to simplify definitions making them more specific as opposed to the current status where they are vague and very confusing (Lichman, 2002). Moreover, they should use objective standards in defining the proof required to make a report and allow privileged communication acknowledging the need to disclose information in some areas which could help curb inappropriate reporting. The mandatory reporting policy, in its current form, will remain a puzzle for a long time due to its inherent perplexities that need to be revised and amended (Lichman, 2002).
Conclusion From this, it is evident that both sides of the argument have a point and must be treated seriously. Legislation is important to prevent escalating cases of child abuse and neglect. However, it is not just any kind of legislation but a proper one that will help to solve this problem. The statutes should be simple, easy to understand and free from any contradictions and confusions. Those opposing the child abuse and neglect policies in entirety may have a point but it is weaker compared to that of the proponents.
These statutes only need some revision and amendments to make them practical and reduce cases of inappropriate reporting and underreporting. There should be a combined effort among the stakeholders who include parents, child protection agencies, government agencies and everyone to help in fighting child abuse and neglect.
Besharov, D (1987) Reporting out-of-home maltreatment: Penalties and protection, Child Welfare Lichman, A (2002) Mandatory reporting for child abuse, Pagewise Martin, G et al (2004) Sexual abuse and suicidality, Child Abuse and Neglect