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Child Abuse Laws

Child Abuse Protection Laws

Excerpt from the US Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children and Families

Over the past several decades, Congress also has passed significant pieces of child welfare legislation that support the States’ duty and power to act on behalf of a child when parents are unable or unwilling. Key Federal legislation that addresses the protection of maltreated children are highlighted below:

  • The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974 (P.L. 93-247) was established to ensure that victimized children are identified and reported to appropriate authorities. The Act was most recently amended in 1996 (P.L. 104-235) and continues to provide minimum standards for definitions and reports of child maltreatment.
  • The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) requires States to establish programs and implement procedures to support maltreated children and their families, in their own homes, and facilitate family reunification following out-of-home placements.
  • Family Preservation and Support Services Program enacted as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66) provides funding for prevention and support services for families at risk of maltreatment and family preservation services for families experiencing crises that might lead to out-of-home placement.
  • The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) was built on earlier laws and reforms in the field to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of maltreated children. A component of ASFA is the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) Program, which was developed from and expanded upon the Family Preservation and Support Services Program mentioned above. While the legislation reaffirms the importance of making reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families, it also specifies instances where reunification efforts do not have to be made (e.g., when a child is not safe with his or her family), establishes tighter time frames for termination of parental rights, and promotes adoption initiatives.
  • Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-177) focuses on improving the criminal justice system’s ability to provide timely, accurate criminal-record information to agencies engaged in child protection, and enhancing prevention and law enforcement activities.
  • Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-314) was designed to improve the administrative efficiency and effectiveness of the courts’ handling of abuse and neglect cases.
  • Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program Reauthorization of 2002 (P.L. 107-133) continued to build upon ASFA by extending the PSSF for an additional 5 years and increasing discretionary funding. It also created several new programs including a new state grant program that provides education and training vouchers for youth aging out of foster care and a mentoring program for children with incarcerated parents.

These and other pieces of legislation also provide for a variety of funding streams—particularly State grant and discretionary grant programs—which support prevention and treatment services for children and families.

 Mandatory Reporting

Excerpt from the US Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children and Families

Professionals Required to Report

Approximately 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands designate professions whose members are mandated by law to report child maltreatment.1 Individuals designated as mandatory reporters typically have frequent contact with children. Such individuals may include:

  • Social workers
  • Teachers and other school personnel
  • Physicians and other health-care workers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Child care providers
  • Medical examiners or coroners
  • Law enforcement officers

Some other professions frequently mandated across the States include commercial film or photograph processors (in 11 States, Guam, and Puerto Rico), substance abuse counselors (in 14 States), and probation or parole officers (in 17 States).2 Seven States and the District of Columbia include domestic violence workers on the list of mandated reporters, while seven States and the District of Columbia include animal control or humane officers.3 Court-appointed special advocates are mandatory reporters in nine States.4 Members of the clergy now are required to report in 26 States.5

Reporting by Other Persons

In approximately 18 States and Puerto Rico, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. Of these 18 States, 16 States and Puerto Rico specify certain professionals who must report but also require all persons to report suspected abuse or neglect, regardless of profession.6 New Jersey and Wyoming require all persons to report without specifying any professions. In all other States, territories, and the District of Columbia, any person is permitted to report. These voluntary reporters of abuse are often referred to as “permissive reporters.”

Standards for Making a Report

The circumstances under which a mandatory reporter must make a report vary from State to State. Typically, a report must be made when the reporter, in his or her official capacity, suspects or has reasons to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. Another standard frequently used is when the reporter has knowledge of, or observes a child being subjected to, conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child. Permissive reporters follow the same standards when electing to make a report.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mandatory Reporting

Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations, which date back to early Roman law, are a fundamental part of European and U.S. law. These statutes, which apply to both civil and criminal actions, are designed to prevent fraudulent and stale claims from arising after all evidence has been lost or after the facts have become obscure through the passage of time or the defective memory, death, or disappearance of witnesses. Each state has its own definition of statute of limitations regarding how long after a crime has been committed that it can still be prosecuted.  To find out the laws in your state, please visit

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