HSLDA’s Fight against Child Abuse Reporting

This is the second post in a series looking at the relationship between HSLDA and both child abuse and educational neglect. In the introduction, I discussed my background with HSLDA and HSLDA’s move from focusing on the legality of homeschooling to protecting families from child abuse investigations. In this post I turn to HSLDA’s opposition to the reporting of child abuse. And I will warn you—this gets progressively worse as we go along.

Opposition to the Anonymous Tip

In testimony given in 2001, HSLDA’s Christopher Klicka argued for reform of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). He argued that CAPTA needed amending in order to protect “parents’ rights” against the “threat” of the child welfare system, and he focused especially on the way child abuse is reported:

Anonymous Tips: As a condition of receiving federal funds, CAPTA should be amended to mandate states to require all reporters of child abuse to give their names, addresses and phone numbers. This will curtail false reporting and end harassment using anonymous tips. CAPTA should be amended by adding subsection 42 U.S.C. 5106a(b)(2)(A)(xiv): provisions and procedures to assure that no reports shall be investigated unless the person making such a report provides such person’s name, address and telephone number and that the information is independently verified.

HSLDA justifies its involvement in issues like child abuse reporting by arguing that homeschoolers are frequently falsely reported to child abuse hotlines by neighbors and family, whether as a result of ignorance or malice. HSLDA sees this as a threat to its member families. On the surface level this sounds like it makes sense, but when you pause to think it sort of falls apart. If you fear false tips, the answer isn’t to make it harder for people to call in child abuse tips—which has the negative side effect of protecting abusers—it’s to make sure that CPS workers have good training and that there are sufficiently high evidentiary standards. In other words, you want the gates wide open at the beginning but narrower as the case progresses.

Police receive anonymous tips all the time, and in fact rely on them heavily, especially when there are reports of threats or danger. Child abuse is a crime, and in arguing that anonymous child abuse tips should be barred HSLDA is asking for it to be treated different from any other crime. In the traditional structure of our jurisprudence, it’s easy to get a case filed, but as you move through the process it takes more and more evidence to keep the case from being summarily thrown out. It should take very little to get into the system, and it should take something substantial to have a verdict against you at the end of the process. And this is how our current system is set up when it comes to child abuse tips. But HSLDA wants to throw this out and treat child abuse differently from any other crime, in spite of the high stakes to the children involved.

Doing away with anonymous tips to child abuse hotlines would mean more abused children going unreported, unnoticed, unseen. The entire point of the anonymous tip is so that anyone, without fear of reprisal, can report child abuse. This means that if you know that your nieces are being abused you can report them without your sister knowing that you turned her in. This means that if you suspect your crazy neighbor is abusing his children, you can report that without worrying that he might find out what you did, and seek revenge. This, quite simply, is why we let people make anonymous tips. If you take away the anonymous tip, people will be more likely to think twice before calling CPS with their suspicions of child abuse, and that means that more abused children will go unreported, unnoticed, and unaided.

Prosecuting Those who Make False Child Abuse Reports

In the same CAPTA testimony, Klicka argued that making false child abuse tips should be made a criminal offense, and that those who call child abuse hotlines to report abuse should be made aware that their tip is being recorded and that there are penalties for false reporting:

False Reporting: As a condition of receiving federal funds, CAPTA should be amended to mandate that states make it at least a class C misdemeanor to knowingly make a false report. U.S.C. 5106a(b)(2)(A)(iv) should be amended to add: . . .and penalties for any individuals who knowingly or maliciously makes a false report of any type of child abuse or neglect that includes—a provision stating that such persons shall also be liable to any injured party for compensatory and punitive damages and a provision requiring that all reporters be informed of the penalties for false reporting and that the call is being recorded. (e.g. Connecticut).

While Klicka stipulates that the class C misdemeaner is applied to those who knowingly make a false report, the effect of such a law is nonetheless the same as what I said above: It will make people leery of reporting child abuse. I mean, how would you go about proving that you really did suspect abuse against allegations that you just made it up? In practice anyone calling in a report that ends up being unsubstantiated would be liable for criminal prosecution. HSLDA has elsewhere stated that they want families who are turned in for child abuse to have the right to know who turned them in, and to have the ability to sue that person for false reporting. Are they unaware of the results such a policy would have? How can they not know that such laws and penalties would keep people from reporting suspected cases of child abuse, thus protecting abusers and keeping children in abusive situations?

Klicka claims that his goal is to cut down on false reports—or, more specifically, malicious reports—and this is the line that HSLDA takes every time they argue against the existence of anonymous tips or for criminalizing false child abuse tips. But once again, false child abuse tips shouldn’t be seen as this huge problem. If a false tip is called in, a social worker will be dispatched to investigate the allegations and will find them unsubstantiated and close the case. If having a CPS worker at my door to check up on my kids because a neighbor was concerned—or even because a neighbor had a vendetta—is the price I have to pay for ensuring that a concerned neighbor also calls the CPS on an abusive family, then it’s a price I’m more than willing to pay.

Cutting down on false reports, whether malicious or simply mistaken, also means cutting down on the number of reports that are not false. Getting rid of the anonymous tip and imposing criminal punishments for making false reports would make people think twice before taking the risk that reporting a family to a child abuse hotline would become, and thus would in practice have the effect of cutting down on the number of cases of child abuse, real and present child abuse, being reported and investigated.

Opposition to Mandatory Reporting Laws

HSLDA also opposes extending mandatory reporting laws. People who are mandatory reporters are required by law to report suspicions of child abuse. In January of 2012 HSLDA opposed a federal law that would have made every adult a mandatory reporter. Here is the text of this bill, S. 1879.

 

The requirement described in this paragraph is that the State has enacted a law that creates a felony offense with a minimum penalty of 1-year imprisonment for any person who, having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse, fails to report such information immediately to the relevant State law enforcement agency and the child protection agency of the State.

HSLDA explained its opposition as follows:

S. 1879 will require every single person to be a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse. States will lose certain federal funds if they do not create mandatory reporter laws that encompass every single person in the state. This will create a massive “police state” system that forces people to report on family members and neighbors even if they only suspect child abuse, or they will face a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail.

HSLDA’s concern is that the bill would require people to turn in families if they “only suspect” child abuse. In other words, HSLDA plays off “having reasonable cause to believe” that there is child abuse occurring as mere “suspicions,” and at the same time minimizes suspicions of child abuse as things that probably shouldn’t be reported. Lay aside for a moment whether or not you think making all adults mandatory reporters on threat of criminal sanction is a good idea and simply pay attention to the reason HSLDA is against doing so—the idea that it’s unreasonable to expect those who “only suspect child abuse” (which is how it interprets the bill’s “having reasonable cause to believe” clause) to report it.

In another case, HSLDA expounded further on its opposition to expanding mandatory reporting laws:

S. 1877 will lead to a massive increase in child abuse and neglect investigations upon families. The stated purpose of S. 1877’s mandatory reporting expansion, along with the education campaign and training program is to “improve reporting” of child abuse and neglect. The bill will give states new federal grants to set up“experimental, model, and demonstration programs for testing innovative approaches and techniques that may improve reporting of and response to suspected and known incidents of child abuse or neglect by adults to the State child protective service agencies or to law enforcement agencies.”

Not only will S. 1877 require every single adult to be a mandatory reporter, S. 1877 will incentivize states to create untested, “experimental” programs that will increase the number of child abuse and neglect reports to CPS agencies.

Once again, leave aside what you think of universal mandatory reporting laws and note that HSLDA is against the laws’ provisions aimed to “improve reporting” of child abuse and “increase the number of child abuse and neglect reports to CPS agencies.” In other words, HSLDA sees educational programs aimed at achieving more consistent, accurate, and voluminous reporting of child abuse and neglect as bad things. As someone who very much wants child abuse to be reported so that abused children can have access to the help they need, this is flabbergasting.

Also in 2012, HSLDA opposed a California law that would have merely made employees of nonprofits that work with children mandatory reporters, requiring them to report suspected or known cases of child abuse, educational neglect, or sexual abuse. HSLDA opposed the law because it “would have caused the loss of tax-exempt status for nonprofit organizations with any activities involving children in California” for organizations whose employees did not report child abuse. This is perhaps only more confusing given that California’s instructions to mandatory reporters regarding what they are expected to report are not at all vague.

HSLDA, then, is against both more consistent child abuse reporting and the reporting of child abuse suspicions when an individual has not personally witnessed the abuse taking place. HSLDA attorneys state that their concern is that programs aimed at improving child abuse reporting will make false reports skyrocket. And I’ll say it again, even if this were the case, so what? False reports will simply be found unsubstantiated upon investigation. It’s like they’re blind to the fact that child abuse is this real thing that really does happen and needs to be reported and stopped more systematically—and the fact that increased reporting of suspected child abuse is a good thing that will improve the lives of real children.

HSLDA also appears to be unaware of the fact that eighteen states already have universal mandatory reporting and disaster has not struck—in fact, those states didn’t actually see explosions in false reporting, and in fact some evidence suggests that the child abuse reports in these states are more likely to be substantiated. (For more on mandatory reporting, this article is a good introduction.) Whatever your thoughts on universal mandatory reporting—and some scholars and advocates have their reservations—you have to at the very least admit that HSLDA’s arguments against universal mandatory reporting laws read like they come from a bizarre dystopia where reporting suspected child abuse is the problem and actual child abuse is not something worth worrying about.

Opposition to Reporting Suspected Child Sexual Abuse

It seems that 2012 was a busy year, because that same year HSLDA also opposed another California law that made all adults mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse. This law was one of many proposed in response to the revelations of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, in which it came to light that several adults in the school’s football program were aware that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing boys in his charge, or at least suspected that such abuse was taking place, but nevertheless failed to report it. This California law, and others like it, was aimed at ensuring that individuals in similar situations would actually report such abuse. It read as follows:

A competent adult who becomes aware of information or evidence that would cause a reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse is required to report that information to state or local law enforcement or to county child protective services within 72 hours.

HSLDA explained its opposition to the law with these words:

SB 1551 – would have inappropriately required all adults, most of whom do not understand the complex legal definitions of sexual abuse in California law, to report any “reasonably suspected” child sexual abuse, even when based only upon a rumor. Penalties for failure to report all “suspected” child sexual abuse could have included
imprisonment.

We strongly agree with protecting children who are sexually abused but strongly disagreed with this bill’s proposed methods. Known child sexual abuse is a hideous and perverse crime that needs to be reported! We favor cracking down on known child sexual abusers. Current law already requires everyone who has observed child sexual abuse to report it and encourages everyone to report suspected child sexual abuse. The approach in SB 1551 is unnecessary and would have done great harm to the lives and freedoms of everyone.

In other words, while “known child abuse is a hideous and perverse crime that needs to be reported,” requiring people to call in tips regarding child sexual abuse that is “reasonably suspected” is unreasonable. Leave aside the universal mandatory reporting requirement for a moment and you will see that the key word here is “known”—”observed” child sexual abuse should be reported, but child sexual abuse that is merely suspected? Not necessarily. HSLDA’s position appears to be that people shouldn’t necessarily feel that they need to call in child sexual abuse allegations based on silly things like “reasonable suspicion.” Is HSLDA not aware that child sexual abuse is something that is rarely caught in the act?

Reading the above, I’ve realized that I’m completely flummoxed at how HSLDA has such a positive reputation among so many homeschoolers. I mean for goodness sake, the organization has concerns about people reporting the suspected sexual abuse of children!

Conclusion

From opposing the anonymous tip to prosecuting those who call in false child abuse accusations to opposing mandatory reporting laws to suggesting that “suspicion” of child abuse is inadequate grounds for calling child protective services to arguing that child sexual abuse should only be reported if caught in the act, it appears that HSLDA is working to set up barriers to the reporting of child abuse. And as HSLDA itself states, that appearance is correct. HSLDA’s concern about false child abuse reports—something it really shouldn’t even consider a “homeschooling” issue—has led it to make efforts to restrict the reporting of child abuse. And making it more challenging to report suspicions of child abuse doesn’t just cut down on false reports—it cuts down on accurate reports as well.

In HSLDA’s ideal world, only those who directly witness child abuse occurring (i.e., not just suspect that it’s occurring) and are willing to go on the record and be sued and charged with a crime if their allegations turn out to be unsubstantiated should call in child abuse tips. Think about that for a moment, and then ask yourself what that would mean, practically speaking, for the chances of children who are currently being abused, including the victims of sexual abuse. And when you’re done with that, feel free to join me in wondering, for the millionth time, how in the world HSLDA has become so prominent in Christian homeschooling circles.

In the next installment we’ll turn to HSLDA’s stonewalling of child abuse investigations. Let me put it this way: It only gets worse.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com L

    Sickens me to know I thought they were brilliant champions of liberty.

  • Gail

    This is seriously disturbing. As if people report child abuse for fun and need to be stopped. My brother works at an elementary school with a very high poverty level and sometimes has to report neglect and abuse, and it is something that causes him a lot of distress. When the options are a) the child is really being abused and desperately needs help or b) the child is not abused and the parents might be inconvenienced by a visit from CPS, it’s worth reporting. If people are actually concerned about CPS making mistakes, why not encourage the government to make funding CPS a bigger priority? Perhaps with smaller caseloads and more resources, social workers could ensure that abused children do not remain with their parents while recognizing cases where the children are not being abused. I know that no system will ever be perfect, but if I were an abused child, I’d rather there be an option to call for help.

    I think these people must know that what they do often is child abuse, or they wouldn’t be so afraid of CPS.

    • Nea

      I think these people must know that what they do often is child abuse, or they wouldn’t be so afraid of CPS.

      Bingo!

      Besides, we’ve seen in the quotes that the parents of these families, especially the fathers, are being set up to consider themselves gods over their own families. The idea that women and children have inalienable rights of their own is a foundational threat to the father’s authority.

      • ScottInOH

        The HSLDA’s approach also fits with–and probably exacerbates–the siege mentality of people in this movement. Not only do children have no rights, but the government (staffed by atheists and liberals) is always out to get you.

    • Conuly

      As if people report child abuse for fun and need to be stopped.

      Some people do. I certainly know, personally, people who have been subjected to false reports before, including one woman whose bizarre and bogus reports mysteriously started when she started making officials complaints about how her kid’s school was not following the kid’s IEP, and then equally mysteriously stopped when she pulled her kids from that school. Given what I’ve heard about the principal from other sources, I believe that story entirely.

      There are other people who simply have no idea what signs of abuse are. I had one woman randomly accuse me of abusing my niece because, when we were out, she nearly wet her pants rather than unbutton them to use the toilet and I told her she is supposed to undo them before she pulls them down and no I wouldn’t do it for her until she at least tried to get it herself. I had another say there was something deeply wrong with me because when the five year old was having a tantrum at a most inconvenient moment I didn’t hug and cuddle her but, instead, persisted in trying to get her shoes on. She thought that normal five year olds don’t throw tantrums ever, and that acting as though this is no big deal is bad and abusive.

      There are people who make false reports. Some of them for the lulz, and some because they are, to be frank, nuts, but it does happen. In addition, there are people who think their disagreement with how to parent equals abuse. You know the types – the ones who think that since they didn’t breast feed past 12 months, anybody doing it at 15 months must be doing it for sexual gratification, or the ones who figure that since they wouldn’t let their three year old out of sight, the person who lets their ten year old kid walk two blocks to the store and back in a safe neighborhood must be neglecting their child. And then the social workers have to sort through all this on top of regular abuse cases. It makes their job that much harder, and honestly, it is remarkable that there aren’t more mistakes made.

      (That’s also not counting the slim possibility that you’ll be reported and have assigned to you the one CPS worker who has an irrational grudge against you for some reason. You do sometimes have that, the one loon who thinks nonchristians are abusive by nature maybe and dramatically oversteps, or the one who thinks that poverty ought to be a crime. These cases are exaggerated and over reported, but that doesn’t mean they never happen. Any group of people is going to have some with more flaws than others, and a group as overworked and underpaid as child services is just going to have more.)

      • Anne

        Are you saying that a woman reported you to CPS because your niece almost wet her pants in a public restroom? And that another woman reported you to CPS because your five year old had an inconvenient tantrum? Were you reported to CPS for breastfeeding or for letting your kid walk to the store and back?
        …Or is it that people occasionally let you know that they don’t agree with how you’re handling something? Just because they don’t approve doesn’t mean they’re dialing their phones the moment your back is turned.

      • Conuly

        Anne, The first woman literally started walking off to get a cop. I wish I could make this up! The second didn’t report me to CPS, but she told me she would and then went and tattled to the niece’s tae kwon do instructor (that’s why she was having a tantrum, she didn’t want to wear the uniform), possibly thinking he’d report me to child services. I know this, because I saw the interaction.

        I know people who have had child services visit because their kid is out in broad daylight going to the store (and not during school hours or anything like that). I have certainly seen cases in the paper of people who have been reported for breast feeding. There really are nuts out there who do crazy things like that. I do not think it is necessary for me to personally have experience of every single thing to say that it has happened.

    • Kit

      Moreover, I think people who have mandatory reporting obligations are always distressed about having to do so not because of the inconvenience caused to the families but also to that caused to the child (or the adult they become) in question. My old therapist always warns her patients about her obligation to report, so the patient can make a choice as to whether or not they want to name their past abuser. Sometimes, particularly when the child has grown up and moved out and moved on, they don’t want to open it up again and be compelled to testify in court.

    • Conuly

      Sorry it took so long to get back here. I had trouble loading the page for a day or so! I haven’t read any replies yet, I just want to clarify what I said before.

      Although the number of false reports – grudge reporting, batshit insane reporting, and conflict of methods that isn’t actually abusive reporting – is definitely greater than zero, that doesn’t mean that any of them are that common. I don’t know what the numbers might be, and of course many of the people claiming they were victims of a false report are either lying or again, insane.

      And most false reports ultimately come to nothing because they’re totally unfounded. In order to lose your kid to a false report, especially for more than a short period of time, the people in charge of your case would have to also be unscrupulous or asleep on the job. It’s not that it doesn’t happen at all – remember the woman who lost her kid for several months for breast feeding “too long”? – but percentage wise, it’s probably not going to happen to you.

  • Rachel

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    The other issue at stake: is CPS actually concerned about the number of false reports and tips they’re getting? Because if they aren’t, then this is a false issue that HSLDA is using as a standard-bearer.

  • Ariel

    Are there symptoms of child abuse that a trained professional can recognize and a layperson cannot? For example, can a doctor look at a bruise, one that looks perfectly normal to me, and say, “Oh, that was clearly left by an adult hitting them on purpose; you couldn’t get that bruise by falling off a bicycle”?

    I agree 100% with your first two points (and your third point that the HSLDA’s reasoning in opposing mandatory reporting laws is nonsense). I’m just a little nervous that mandatory reporting laws could end up being misused in order to prosecute all the nearby adults for, in effect, not being trained as doctors/social workers/etc.

    • Karen

      It’s more a matter that doctors can distinguish ordinary bruises. Both my sons spent ages 2 through 7 covered in blue splotches from the knees down, but my pediatrician recognized those as the normal results of being active. Abuse victims have bruises in places that can’t be easily explained, not just the typical skinned knees and elbows of an active childhood.

      • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com L

        HSLDA seems to ignore this sort of thing. I grew up afraid of falling, hurting myself, and being taken away because CPS would think it was my parents…. You hear horror stories, especially as a homeschooler, of kids taken away ‘for no reason’. or because parent’s didn’t vaccinate, the mom didn’t want a c-section the doctor recommended, etcetera. and the child would go to a foster home where the parents invariably WERE abusive. In my mind, CPS was a villian ready to seperate children from good families and place them in families where the kids will be sexually abused and starved… This makes people even more afraid to call CPS, btw… The fear that even if the child is abused, they’ll end up much worse if you get the state involved.
        i feel a twinge of terror when one of my sons falls and hurts himself that has nothing to do with his pain.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Eighteen states already have universal mandatory reporter laws, and there haven’t been any of the problems you suggest. I think it’s because “having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse” is fairly clear. Basically, if you suspect child abuse, report it. It’s that simple.

      But if you want to know more, you might be interested to know that there have been studies done on this question, and the result is that universal mandatory reporting does increase the number of substantiated abuse allegations.

    • Conuly

      Sometimes. Both my nieces have what is called “Mongolian spots”, which look like bruises on the butt. If you’re not familiar with them and happen to see a baby’s naked butt, you may think somebody beats the kid. Doctors, however, should recognize it and at least be able to document that it’s not a bruise, it’s a birthmark, it is always in the same position and marking.

      Also, some sorts of bruises, bumps, and broken bones are just hard to get during normal play. I should hope that most doctors, after sufficient experience, know which ones they usually see.

      • alexf801

        Actually this has become a problem in a number of old child sex abuse cases. Especially in ones involving the death of a child. There is often a problem of confirmation bias, especially when M.E.’s examine dead children. I am not extremely familiar with the topic, but I know this is a large area of case review in my state’s Innocence Project.

    • Christine

      There are and there aren’t. My “training” (I was a Girl Guide leader, so while I technically was not a mandatory reporter, internal policy required us to behave as such) consisted of a) how to reassure the child b) who to report to c) an outline of a child’s figure with a legend explaining how much of a red flag bruises were in different locations. (Bruises on the knee aren’t considered a sign at all, bruises on the back might be, etc). So there is some extra knowledge there, but it’s not as if there is a lot of specialized training needed.

    • Rae

      It’s almost never the individual bruises*, it’s the pattern. A healthy, active child will likely have bruises on their extremities and lower limbs and very occasionally their face (often chin or forehead) and any bony points on their body. It’s unusual that children gets enough bruises on their butts, backs, shoulders, or chest/abdomen (and if a child has a bruise on their abdomen, the parents should be getting that kid immediate medical attention). It’s also rare that children get patterned bruises, such as bruises that show the threads on the end of the pipe, in the course of normal childhood misadventures.

      Of course, it takes a lot of medical training to try to back up and piece together what happens from injuries alone, but the vast majority of adults should be able to grasp the general difference between normal and unusual injuries. And, unlike doctors, adults who see the child in their normal environment are more likely to have a sense of “oh these children climb every tree they see and swordfight with sticks in the backyard every day, of course they’ll have bruises” versus “this child makes my geriatric housecat look active, but she gets a lot of bruises on her face.”

      *With the exception of bruises shaped like things that kids aren’t going to accidentally fall onto, like adults’ hands.

  • http://becomingworldly.wordpress.com heatherjanes

    I just want to say that this is a post that is so sorely needed and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. People need to know about this and I think that when most people know, they will be a lot less worried about unfounded reports or unprofessional CPS workers (which I’m sure do happen sometimes) and a lot more worried about what the underlying reasons an organization like HSLDA might be so inclined to do this for. As a homeschooled kid whose parents used HSLDA advice to hide the abuse and neglect in our home, I have to say that I think they have a lot to answer for, and for the sake of all the other little kids out there like I was they need to be exposed and stopped.

  • DataSnake

    I think you may be giving HSLDA too much credit. A much likelier explanation for their actions is that they feel that children are essentially parents’ property, to be used however the parents see fit. However, they’re smart enough to realize that if they admitted that, they’d wind up with about as much popular support as NAMBLA, so they make a point of paying lip service to the idea that “child abuse is a hideous crime”, while lobbying for laws that would make stopping abuse difficult if not impossible. This attitude is also evident in the opposition to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child because “it would make spanking illegal”: any rights children have are less important than the parents’ right to do whatever they want to the children without fear of prosecution.

  • Nikki

    HSLDA has 44,000 facebook likes. Frightening.
    All the more reason to like this page and show your support for telling the truth about abusive parents:

    http://www.facebook.com/HomeschoolersAnonymous

  • http://LyricalPolyphony.blogspot.com mary

    Here’s the thing- at least in Texas, law requires more than one report of abuse unless it’s an ”I saw this happen” or ”I saw obvious physical trauma” to even send it on to the cops. One person with a grudge against you shouldn’t be able to get your kids removed. I have, sadly, as a piano made reports on students before.. When in doubt always report!!! I really don’t see a downside to it. I wish all adults considered themselves ” mandatory reporters.”

  • Darkwater

    HSLDA’s proposal for criminal penalties for “false” abuse accusations sounds suspiciously like the so-called Men’s Rights Activists call for prosecution of rape victims whose cases don’t wind up with a conviction of the accused.

  • Ken

    I was with you right up until the notion of criminalizing failure to report “reasonable suspicion” of abuse for the entire adult population. Reasonable suspicion is far too broad a term and can be interpreted differently by different people. Criminalization of such failure wouldn’t result in more reporting of suspicion of child abuse. It would result in people refusing to aid in child abuse investigations.

    It’s actually similar to why anonymous tips should always be allowed. You don’t want to discourage good people from trying to help by threatening them with retaliation.

    If I feared criminal liability, I would be very cautious about what I said to any CPS investigator or police officer asking about neighbor’s children. If I admitted knowledge of something the investigator thought I should have reported, I risk criminal prosecution. In such a circumstance my best bet would be to clam up. I saw nothing, I heard nothing.

    This very situation often happens in crime-ridden areas of cities. Sometimes people won’t cooperate with police because they fear gang retaliation, but often they won’t cooperate with police because they fear the police.

    Instead of criminalizing the failure to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse, we should educate the public about child abuse and how and when to report suspicions. The vast majority of people are good and will be eager to help if they are educated about the issues and not discouraged from helping.

    Part of this education also needs to focus on removing the stigma of a CPS visit. Many people fail to report a suspicion of child abuse because (paradoxically) they are good people. They don’t want to put the stigma of a CPS investigation onto parents without definitive proof. I’m not sure at all how to do this, but it’s obviously part of such an education program.

    • Ibis3

      I suspect this law is directed at people who are actually complicit in covering up child abuse (think Joe Paterno or officials of the Catholic Church). It’s meant to criminalise staying silent when you know that a child is being hurt.

      • Ken

        It can have all the good intentions in the world, but it’s still a horrible idea for the reasons I mentioned. Claiming the law would only get used in egregious cases conflicts with the overly-broad wording and purposely vague definition of “reasonable suspicion”. The law is specifically designed to be a catch-all to be used whenever the investigators and prosecutors wish.

        Again, we need to encourage people to talk to CPS about potential problems, not make them fear talking to officials.

        Under such a law I could be prosecuted even after I called in my suspicions. If I cooperate with investigators about my suspicions, I need to be worried that the prosecutor in the case won’t look for another easy conviction by claiming I didn’t call in my suspicions earlier.

        In all situations my best course would be to not report my suspicions, and if ever questioned to claim I never saw nor heard anything suspicious. Otherwise I’m at the whim of the vague definition of when I should have had “reasonable suspicions”.

        If you really want to get the good people to become more active in reporting suspicions of abuse, don’t threaten those people with jail. Educate them. Remove obstacles to reporting. Support them. Don’t threaten them.

    • Leigha7

      That’s why Libby Anne was so insistent upon the fact that she wasn’t saying HSLDAS was wrong for being against the policy, but rather for their reasons.

      I’m with you. Mandatory reporting, from everyone, is a nice idea, but criminalizing people for not reporting is a problem. For one, how do you know if they actually had any suspicion of abuse? Or why they chose to ignore it if they did*? For two, I doubt most people would even know reporting was mandatory (I just learned from the article linked that I live in a state with mandatory reporting, though I’ve only lived here for a year and my home state does not mandate it). That doesn’t get them out of potential jail time if they don’t do it. Three, prosecuting people who fail to report child abuse (barring people like doctors, who absolutely should be mandated to report it) is a waste of what few resources we have to prosecute people who abuse children. The system is overtaxed as it is.

      *There are a multitude of reasons someone might not report suspected abuse. A family member might not do so because they’re afraid it might keep them from being able to see the child. Many people might not report it because they convince themselves their suspicions must be false, that there’s no way they could actually be seeing signs of abuse. Similarly, people who are themselves victims of abuse may not report it, because they’re in denial about their own abuse (especially if it was emotional abuse, with no physical or sexual abuse) and have convinced themselves that things they think might be abuse really aren’t, for them or anyone else. Or they might assume that they only think it’s abuse because of their experience, and that they’re overreacting and misinterpreting innocent things as warning signs. People who had bad experiences with foster care might feel that the child isn’t being tremendously badly abused (i.e. their life isn’t actually in danger), so they’re better off with their family than in a foster home. And, as you said, people might simply be afraid of putting the family through that if nothing is actually happening. These are all perfectly legitimate reasons, and no good can come of prosecuting people for them.

  • saraquill

    This organization hates children, and they take out their hatred by making children even more vulnerable.

  • Sophie

    I was emotionally abused and neglected by my mother. After I turned 18 I found out that a few of my teachers and several of my friends’ parents had suspicions that things weren’t right in my home. My best friends’s parents considered asking me to come live with them. Not one of them reported their suspicions to the social services or reached out to me. My dad desperately wanted custody of me but at the first custody hearing after the separation my mother was awarded full custody and my dad didn’t even get legal visitation rights. When I think of the childhood I could have had I can’t breathe. I am only just beginning to fully understand the damage done to me and I am 29 years old.

    The process of reporting suspicions of child abuse needs to be as accessible as possible, and people need to feel safe doing it. Social workers need better training so that they can recognise the nonsense claims from the serious ones, and they need smaller caseloads so that the less obvious cases don’t slip through the cracks. People who work with children and teenagers need to know what physical and psychological signs to look for, they need to know how to approach the child and how to talk to them about it. Most importantly they need to have training in being a child’s advocate, because one person standing up for a child in a bad situation can make a difference.

    I was professionally involved in several child protection cases when I was a nursing student, in one of the cases I was the one who reported the abuse. The doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists that I worked with were all highly trained. They knew what injuries were normal childhood accidents and which ones were more sinister, they knew what the signs were that an illness was genuine and when it was being induced, they knew what behaviours to look out for in the child and the family members. But they would all admit that it is much easier to spot abuse in a hospital environment because the patient and their family are under a great deal of scrunity. It’s much harder to see in the community and that’s why the reporting process needs to be accessible.

  • Whirlwitch

    “Known child sexual abuse is a hideous and perverse crime that needs to be reported”.
    Er, UNKNOWN child sexual abuse is ALSO a hideous and perverse crime that needs to be reported. I was molested and raped numerous times over the course of my childhood, nobody knew but myself and the abusers. This did not make it less harmful. I find the qualification of “known” there to be telling. It indicates that the main concern is not the harm inflicted on the children. Suffering in secret, believing that nobody cares enough to help you does not make the experience any easier for the sufferer – but does make things so much for convenient for those who might otherwise have to deal with an unpleasant reality.

    A comment on the previous article asked what would happen if the family told CPS that things were fine, but CPS suspected they were not. I would certainly hope a family saying “we’re fine” wouldn’t be the end of things if there were any reason to harbour suspicions! Here’s the thing so many people seem to forget: ABUSERS LIE. Abusive parents deny abusing, abusive partners deny abusing, rapists and molesters deny raping and molesting. The smiling parent who assures you their children are just fine, thank you, and soothes your concerns is not proof that there is no abuse. Abusers get good at smiling and reassuring, because this protects their own interests. This needs to be taken into consideration.

  • Rae

    I grew up with this idea as a homeschooled child. But sometime around when I was 12 or 13 or so, and having read the news and known kids inside “the system,” I realized that CPS was so underfunded and understaffed they can barely deal with all the children who *are* really being abused. Sure, they have to check out every report, but especially in my hometown, if the parent didn’t do something like actually hit the kid in front of the social worker, or try to sell the social worker drugs when they came up on the porch (both things that actually happened), then they’d just fill out whatever paperwork it took to drop the case and move on to the more pressing ones.

  • Mafrin

    I actually feel sick.
    Also, I can think of one reason why someone might oppose laws that curb child abuse, and it isn’t pretty. Is this enough for “reasonable suspicion”?

  • Octavo

    Farris once wrote a novel about this called Anonymous Tip. My parents read it and it scared the crap out of them. They constantly worried that we would be taken away unjustly.
    http://www.amazon.com/Anonymous-Tip-Michael-Farris/dp/0805462937

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  • Melissa B.

    Here’s my perspective as a new, Christian, homeschooling mom on this statement: “And when you’re done with that, feel free to join me in wondering, for the millionth time, how in the world HSLDA has become so prominent in Christian homeschooling circles.” I will tell you how it became so prominent, or what I think. I think it is two fold. First of all, when you become a new homeschooling parent and join a homeschool group, many people in that group will tell you that you have to join HSLDA, that they consider it vital to homeschooling. You think to yourself, these people have experience with homeschooling, they are veteran homeschoolers, they know what they are talking about and I’m just a newbie. Second of all, there is the culture of fear of CPS. Another homeschooling friend and I were talking about this the other day, trying to decide whether people are already afraid of CPS and HSLDA takes advantage of that or whether HSLDA has created this fear that didn’t exist before. We don’t know which it is, but we do feel strongly they are related. Anyways, the amount of talking that people do that is fear and CPS related can be quite high and every once in a while, I feel myself being pulled into the trap of being afraid of CPS if I’m not careful. Because it’s like “Of course I don’t want anyone to take away my children for no reason.” Who would want that? Nobody. It’s kind of along the same vein as how doctors bully women into unnecessary medical procedures during childbirth by saying “If you don’t do this, your baby will die and/or be born disabled” even though there may not be evidence supporting that position. But they have you in a moment where you’re vulnerable (as a new homeschooling parent, you’re doing something that is so against culture and it’s a big step, you don’t know if you can do it and others are often critical of you, it can make for a situation where you’re very vulnerable and don’t even realize it) and they make you afraid, so that makes it easy to seem appealing when there is an organization that offers to help you. Fortunately, I had seen a few others have doubts about HSLDA and I am the type of personality who will research everything to death, until I’m good and sure that I’ve got as much information about something as I possibly can and that led me down the HSLDA rabbit hole and is how I ended up here (and other places) and I am almost 100 percent sure now that we will never join HSLDA and I will be discouraging others from doing so as well, when I am given the opportunity to. There’s just too much about them that doesn’t sit right with me. I am so glad I did not drink the HSLDA kool-aid. :)


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