Child abuse remains to be a problem in the United States. Information gathered from CDC showed that Child Protective Services had a total of 678,932 victims of child abuse and neglect reported to them in 2013. In an effort to detect and identify such cases, with the goal of curbing and preventing them, and aiding the victims, many countries, notably the US, Australia and Canada, have come up with legislations in reporting cases. These are commonly referred to as “mandatory reporting laws.”

Mandatory reporting is a law that requires a chosen class of people to report cases of suspected child abuse to the designated authorities. In the US, state laws have variations as to the type of persons or professions required to report, the type of abuse inflicted and the extent to which such abuse has been committed to require reporting.

child abuse

Child abuse has four categories in the United States: physical, sexual, psychological abuse, and neglect. Parents, step parents and caregivers, to include babysitters, relatives and foster parents, who by commission or omission of acts, knowingly harm or expose a child to potential harm through neglect or by physical, emotional or sexual means, are the perpetrators of child abuse. Acquaintances and strangers who commit such acts are placed in the criminal category.

Who Are Mandated To Report

As of November 2013, all states have laws that name the class of people mandated to report child abuse and neglect cases to identified agencies. But there are differences. In Texas, for example, anyone may go to a certified agency and report a suspected child abuse case, “child” being defined as anyone under 18 who is not and has never been married. In New York and California, a child is any person under 18 but in New York, licensed creative arts therapists are in the list of mandated reporters while in California, firefighters are included and college coaches have recently been added to the list. Neither one nor the other is in the other state.

Why There Are Risks in Mandatory Reporting

Although the goal for mandatory reporting of child abuse is always geared towards the protection and welfare of the child, there are negative consequences that even child welfare experts concede do exist. Another amendment to existing laws that could backfire is expanding the circle of mandated reporters to include those who do not work directly with children or do not have the necessary training to detect abuse.

Here are the possibilities that may occur:

The number of reports will increase, among them spurious ones which could take time and attention away from investigating real cases. Supporting this likelihood are figures from Texas in 2013 which showed that 42 percent of child abuse appeals were successful and the initial findings were overturned. In Illinois, the reversal rate was much higher at 75 percent.

Another significant effect would be the trauma that the child victims will experience, especially when the reports turn out to be false. “Children can be needlessly subjected to continuous questioning in the process of investigating a case” said Samantha Greene, a San Diego child abuse attorney. “In alleged sexual abuse, they will undergo invasive medical examinations that can inflict grave harm to the child’s emotional make up. A worse case would be placing them in foster homes while the case is ongoing.”

And the most obvious risk of mandatory reporting is vendetta. Divorcing or divorced couples can invent child abuse cases against a spouse out of spite or to gain sole custody of the kid. Incidents of false accusations will increase if anyone can be a mandated reporter. Currently in 18 states, a mandated reporter can be anybody and he or she has the option to remain anonymous. This is something that is open to wrongful or malicious use, at the expense of the accused person and the child. And the agencies have the obligation to investigate even if the evidence is weak, another waste of time and resources.

Undoubtedly, mandatory reporting is a very strong and helpful method to protect the safety and well-being of the children. But overzealous authorities and child protection agencies push indiscriminate changes to laws that have been through careful and intensive study, causing more harm than good.