Mandatory Reporting Is Destroying Families
March 23, 2023
Keeping kids safe is one of our greatest responsibilities as adults. But what if the main tool we use to protect children is actually preventing everyone from getting the resources they need? Every state in the nation has mandatory reporting laws that require professions such as teachers, coaches, nurses, and more to report any suspected or observed instances of child abuse to the state. While this sounds logical, its application has effectively made a surveillance apparatus out of educators, health care, and social workers, which leaves the families most in need of help afraid to ask for it, at the risk of opening an investigation.
The pitfalls of mandatory reporting are especially evident in Pennsylvania. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed sweeping reforms expanding mandatory reporting and the definition of child abuse to include low-level neglectful circumstances that often arise from poverty. Since reforms were implemented in 2014, reports have skyrocketed, but recent studies have shown that this increase has not turned up any additional victims of child abuse but has rather over-stretched the system. Within the first five years of the reforms, one million calls were made to the state’s child abuse hotline. 800,000 regarded low-level neglect allegations stemming from poverty, and nine in ten were dismissed following traumatic housing searches and family questioning that disproportionately target Black and brown families.
Here to help explain the mandatory reporting system and its consequences are Director of Client Voice at Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services, April Lee, who experienced firsthand how mandatory reporting can traumatize families, and Anjana Samant, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project