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History of Child Abuse Regulatory Laws and Policies

In 1963, soon after the publication of a widely read article on the “battered child syndrome,” the federal Children’s Bureau drafted a model statute for the reporting of child abuse. 2 It and the statutes that followed are frequently referred to as “mandatory” reporting laws because they required certain professionals (such as physicians) to report child maltreatment to a public agency; the laws also established public agencies to respond to such reports.

By the end of 1963, 13 states had enacted reporting laws, and by 1967 every state and the District of Columbia had passed statutes requiring reporting by health care professionals (Waldfogel, 1998 p. 219). The problem was narrowly defined, and the solution seemed straightforward: the problem was the physical abuse of children, and the solution was to require physicians and other health care providers to report suspected maltreatment while protecting them from liability for reporting in good faith.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) passed in 1973 and signed into law in 1974, provided financial incentives for states to adopt mandatory reporting laws and to establish formal child protective services systems. States received federal money if they adopted mandatory reporting laws, created agencies to investigate child abuse allegations, and demonstrated that they had a CPS system in place to respond to child abuse and neglect. This law also formalized public concern about child maltreatment by establishing a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) in the U. S.

Department of Health and Human Services to conduct research on the incidence of maltreatment and to support state and local efforts to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect. Reporting was expected to have two benefits: it would lead to the early detection of abuse and neglect and the prevention of more serious injuries and fatalities. It would also have a deterrent effect, as the fear of being reported might stop some people from maltreating their children (Brown and Alexander, 2007 p. 136). Both the federal and the state reporting laws emphasize mandatory rather than voluntary reporting.

This feature reflected a concern that many people might not report if they were not required to do so. This concern may have been based on the relatively small number of reports made prior to the passage of the mandatory reporting laws (Whitfield, 1995 p. 24). It may also have been based on the discovery of children with evidence of prior serious injuries (such as broken bones) that had gone unreported even though they were treated by medical professionals. There were also good reasons to assume that well-intentioned adults, even if they were professionals, might not report all the instances of child maltreatment they observed.

First, reporters might not know what constituted abuse or might not recognize its symptoms. The battered child syndrome” was not discovered until the 1960s, after all, and child sexual abuse was not widely recognized until the 1980s (Whitfield, 1995 p. 21). Reporting laws would help promote awareness and knowledge of what constituted abuse and neglect and how to recognize it. Second, reporters, even if they recognized maltreatment, might be afraid of liability associated with reporting.

Mandatory reporting laws addressed this concern by imposing a positive mandate to report, establishing penalties for failure to report, and/or guaranteeing immunity to all those who reported in good faith. Third, some professionals, in particular therapists, might hesitate to report for fear of breaching confidentiality and damaging the therapist-client relationship or because they might feel that some cases of abuse or neglect could be better addressed by them than by the public child protection system; from this perspective, reporting would not he in the best interests of the child (Waldfogel, 1998 p.219).

Mandatory reporting Laws in principle addressed these concerns as well, in that they provided a clear imperative to breach client-patient confidentiality, but they neither did nor resolve the issues of which system was best positioned to provide treatment to abused children and their families and of whether CPS intervention would in fact be helpful to children and families. Conclusion Child abuse has been recognized as a social problem for many centuries.

Abuse was seen as a problem associated with ignorance and poverty until the revelations of US child abuse researcher Henry Kempe, who used his research to expose child physical and sexual abuse internationally. Kempe showed that child abuse was more than a problem of ignorance and poverty, and that it occurred among parents who might have been expected to have known better and who went to great lengths to conceal it.

Kempe’s public campaigns increased community recognition of the issue as a family problem during the 1964s and 1970s. Subsequently, the incidence of child abuse notified to child protection authorities rose quickly and sharply in the major English-speaking countries, which then initiated that start of child abuse investigations.

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