Now that some of the hysteria has cooled off, others are also against this new federal plan to imprison ordinary citizens for failing to report their suspicions about their neighbors to the police or to govt social workers. Even NPR radio, which is usually in favor of expanding govt social program, quoted experts who acknowledged that the law is unlikely to be effective:
Doctors And Child Protection Officials Question ProposalsDistrust of the system is not just based on it being overwhelmed. It is based on widespread stories of incompetence, greed, and evil, as you can read everyday on the blog Legally Kidnapped. Many of these pediatricians have made reports, as mandated, and then seen first-hand the harm that the reports cause.
But the proposals in Congress and across the country are being met with skepticism.
Joette Katz, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Children and Families, worries that the proposed legislation will only make it harder for her department to fight abuse.
"Whether someone's a mandated reporter or not, you walk in and you see somebody sexually molesting a 10-year-old, you don't need a statute to tell you that that's a crime," says Katz. "You don't need a statute to tell you that you should be reporting it to the police."
Katz says about 30 percent of the calls to the agency's hotline already come from people who aren't mandated reporters. She worries that if everyone feels legally bound to report their suspicions, her case workers would get inundated with junk reports. Also, an investigation can be traumatic for children and their families.
Robert Block, a pediatrician and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says it would be almost impossible to train every adult how to spot real child abuse cases. Block says doctors underreport sometimes because they don't know what to do.
"Even among physicians and pediatricians as child specialists, there's a lack of understanding how the report should be made and how it circulates," he says.
In other cases, he says, physicians "don't want to report to law enforcement because of the consequences to the family" and because of their "distrust of the system, which is sometimes well-placed, because the system is overwhelmed."
There's already a record of making every adult a mandated reporter.
"There are some states that already have universal mandatory reporting — 18 states," says Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance, a group that trains and certifies child advocacy centers that help victims of abuse. "That experience, however, has been somewhat mixed."
Huizar says that in those 18 states, the results are all over the place. In some states, the number of reports increased. And so did the number of unfounded claims of abuse. But in other states, those numbers came down.
And that, she says, makes it hard to figure out how to make effective national policy.
And it is not just distrust of the system. There is distrust of the busybodies who report their suspicions.
As Katz said, "Whether someone's a mandated reporter or not, you walk in and you see somebody sexually molesting a 10-year-old, you don't need a statute to tell you that that's a crime." The whole Penn State scandal is based on the story that Mike McQueary did exactly that in 2002, but was confused about whether he should report it. He walked away, and the child has not been found. Nine years later, he has a different story, now that he has been offered immunity for his testimony against the football program.
Civil libertarians have spent ten years complaining about how the USA PATRIOT Act allows the FBI to access the public library records of suspected terrorists. Now a new proposed federal law turns every American into a spy on his neighbors, so that police investigators can search private homes and tell parents how to rear their kids.