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Mandatory Reporting Laws Meant To Protect Children Get Another Look

Mandatory Reporting Laws Meant To Protect Children Get Another Look

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More than 60 years ago, policymakers in Colorado embraced the idea that early intervention could prevent child abuse and save lives. The state鈥檚 requirement that certain professionals tell officials when they suspect a child has been abused or neglected was among the first mandatory reporting laws in the nation.

Since then, mandatory reporting laws have expanded nationally to include more types of maltreatment 鈥 including neglect, which now accounts for most reports 鈥 and have increased the number of professions required to report. In some states, are required to report what they suspect may be abuse or neglect.

But now there are efforts in Colorado and other states to roll back these laws, saying the result has been too many unfounded reports, and that they disproportionately harm families that are poor, Black, or Indigenous, or have members with disabilities.

鈥淭here鈥檚 a long, depressing history based on the approach that our primary response to a struggling family is reporting,鈥 said Mical Raz, a physician and historian at the University of Rochester in New York. 鈥淭here鈥檚 now a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that more reporting is not associated with better outcomes for children.鈥

Stephanie Villafuerte, Colorado鈥檚 child protection ombudsman, oversees a task force to reexamine the state鈥檚 mandatory reporting laws. She said the group is seeking to balance a need to report legitimate cases of abuse and neglect with a desire to weed out inappropriate reports.

鈥淭his is designed to help individuals who are disproportionately impacted,鈥 Villafuerte said. 鈥淚鈥檓 hoping it鈥檚 the combination of these efforts that could make a difference.鈥

Some critics worry that changes to the law could result in missed cases of abuse. Medical and child care workers on the task force have expressed concern about legal liability. While it鈥檚 rare for people to be criminally charged for failure to report, they can also face civil liability or professional repercussions, including threats to their licenses.

Being reported to child protective services is becoming increasingly common. More than 1 in 3 children in the United States will be the subject of a child abuse and neglect investigation by the time they turn 18, according to the most frequently cited estimate, a funded by the Department of 国产精品视频 and Human Services鈥 Children鈥檚 Bureau.

Black and Native American families, poor families, and or with disabilities experience even more oversight. Research has found that, among these groups, parents are more likely to lose parental rights and children are more likely to wind up in foster care.

In an of investigations, no abuse or neglect is substantiated. Nonetheless, researchers who study describe them as terrifying and isolating.

In Colorado, the number of child abuse and neglect reports has increased 42% in the past decade and reached a record 117,762 last year, according to . Roughly 100,000 other calls to the hotline weren鈥檛 counted as reports because they were requests for information or were about matters like child support or adult protection, said officials from the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The increase in reports can be traced to a policy of encouraging a broad array of professionals 鈥 including school and medical staff, therapists, coaches, clergy members, firefighters, veterinarians, dentists, and social workers 鈥 to call a hotline whenever they have a concern.

These calls don鈥檛 reflect a surge in mistreatment. More than two-thirds of the reports received by agencies in Colorado don鈥檛 meet the threshold for investigation. Of the children whose cases are assessed, 21% are found to have experienced abuse or neglect. The actual has not risen over the past decade.

While studies do not demonstrate that mandatory reporting laws keep children safe, the Colorado task force , there is evidence of harm. 鈥淢andatory reporting disproportionately impacts families of color鈥 鈥 initiating contact between child protection services and families who routinely do not present concerns of abuse or neglect, the task force said.

The task force said it is analyzing whether better screening might mitigate 鈥渢he disproportionate impact of mandatory reporting on under-resourced communities, communities of color and persons with disabilities.鈥

The task force pointed out that the only way to report concerns about a child is with a formal report to a hotline. Yet many of those calls are not to report abuse at all but rather attempts to connect children and families with resources like food or housing assistance.

Hotline callers may mean to help, but the families who are the subjects of mistaken reports of abuse and neglect rarely see it that way.

That includes Meighen Lovelace, a rural Colorado resident who asked KFF 国产精品视频 News not to disclose their hometown for fear of attracting unwanted attention from local officials. For Lovelace鈥檚 daughter, who is neurodivergent and has physical disabilities, the reports started when she entered preschool at age 4 in 2015. The teachers and medical providers making the reports frequently suggested that the county human services agency could assist Lovelace鈥檚 family. But the investigations that followed were invasive and traumatic.

鈥淥ur biggest looming fear is, 鈥楢re you going to take our children away?鈥欌 said Lovelace, who is an advocate for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, an organization that lobbies for the civil rights of people with disabilities. 鈥淲e鈥檙e afraid to ask for help. It鈥檚 keeping us from entering services because of the fear of child welfare.鈥

State and county human services officials said they could not comment on specific cases.

The Colorado task force plans to suggest clarifying the definitions of abuse and neglect under the state鈥檚 mandatory reporting statute. Mandatory reporters should not 鈥渕ake a report solely due to a family/child鈥檚 race, class or gender,鈥 nor because of inadequate housing, furnishings, income or clothing. Also, there should not be a report based solely on the 鈥渄isability status of the minor, parent or guardian,鈥 according to the group鈥檚 draft recommendation.

The task force plans to recommend additional training for mandatory reporters, help for professionals who are deciding whether to make a call, and an alternative phone number, or 鈥渨armline,鈥 for cases in which callers believe a family needs material assistance, rather than surveillance.

Critics say such changes could leave more children vulnerable to unreported abuse.

鈥淚鈥檓 concerned about adding systems such as the warmline, that kids who are in real danger are going to slip through the cracks and not be helped,鈥 said Hollynd Hoskins, an attorney who represents victims of child abuse. Hoskins has sued professionals who fail to report their suspicions.

The Colorado task force includes health and education officials, prosecutors, victim advocates, county child welfare representatives and attorneys, as well as five people who have experience in the child welfare system. It intends to finalize its recommendations by early next year in the hope that state legislators will consider policy changes in 2025. Implementation of any new laws could take several years.

Colorado is one of several states 鈥 including and 鈥 that have recently considered changes to restrain, rather than expand, reporting of abuse. In New York City, teachers are being trained to before making a report, while New York state to help connect families with resources like housing and child care. In California, a state aimed at shifting 鈥渕andated reporting to community supporting鈥 is planning recommendations .

Among those advocating for change are people with experience in the child welfare system. They include , who leads the Denver-based MJCF Coalition, which advocates for the abolition of mandatory reporting along with the rest of the child welfare system, citing its damage to Black, Native American, and Latino communities.

鈥淢andatory reporting is another form of keeping us policed and surveillanced by whiteness,鈥 said Jihad, who as a child was taken from the care of a loving parent and placed temporarily into the foster system. Reform isn鈥檛 enough, she said. 鈥淲e know what we need, and it鈥檚 usually funding and resources.鈥

Some of these resources 鈥 like affordable housing and child care 鈥 don鈥檛 exist at a level sufficient for all the Colorado families that need them, Jihad said.

Other services are out there, but it鈥檚 a matter of finding them. Lovelace said the reports ebbed after the family got the help it needed, in the form of a Medicaid waiver that paid for specialized care for their daughter鈥檚 disabilities. Their daughter is now in seventh grade and doing well.

None of the caseworkers who visited the family ever mentioned the waiver, Lovelace said. 鈥淚 really think they didn鈥檛 know about it.鈥