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An intriguing analysis from Pennsylvania shows that the state’s mandatory reporting law has not had the effect lawmakers hoped. The Pennsylvania law, passed in 2014 in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, increased the number of people required to report and increased penalties for non-reporting. In the years that followed, the number of reports to the authorities increased staggeringly, but relatively few of these reports resulted in substantiated cases. A very surprising finding was that “[f]From 2015 to 2019, educators submitted more reports of suspected child abuse or serious neglect than any other class of commissioned reporters, but produced the lowest rate of substantiated findings.
There is no definite answer as to why the Mandatory Reporter Act did not have the effect proponents intended. Some experts point to the lack of sustainable funding for investigations, while others argue that the system does not provide enough support for families struggling financially. Advocates also point out that the increased penalties for not reporting are prompting some people to report concerns, no matter how tenuous. As one person who manned the hotline noted, “There were many duty reporters who would admit, even over the phone, that they were making this report because they were concerned about the law changes and the increase in penalties. . . . They just wanted, for lack of a better word, to cover their bums.”
The analysis also found that reporting to child protection services harms an innocent family of its own. “Even opening an investigation can be traumatic, experts say, and numerous studies show that separating young children from their parents leads to an increased risk of depression, developmental delays, attachment problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
So far, there is no clear or simple answer to the dilemma. We don’t want to miss cases of abuse, but there is mounting evidence that our current system is not achieving its goal. But it is clear that rather than duplicating a system that isn’t working, we need to thoroughly investigate its flaws and work on more nuanced and targeted solutions.
The number of children reported as potential victims of abuse or serious neglect increased by 72% compared to the previous five years, prompting Child Protective Services investigations into the well-being of nearly 200,000 children from 2015-2019. . . . But for the vast majority of the 200,000 alleged victims — about 9 in 10 — county authorities dismissed the allegations as unfounded after inspecting families’ homes and interviewing parents and children.
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