State Efforts to Address Child Abuse and Neglect

By Rachel Morgan and Nina Williams-Mbengue | Vol . 23, No. 01 /
January 2015

NCSL NewsDid you know?

  • Most child maltreatment reports were made by professionals such as law enforcement and educational personnel, with a small percentage generated by the alleged victims themselves.
  • Of children confirmed as abused, 78 percent suffered neglect, 18 percent were victims of physical abuse and about 9 percent suffered sexual abuse.
  • Eighty percent of perpetrators of child abuse and neglect are parents, according to the Children’s Bureau.

Child Protective Service (CPS) agencies across the nation received an estimated 3.4 million reports of child abuse and neglect in federal fiscal year 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau. Of those, 686,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse. According to the 2012 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, many cases of child sexual abuse and other crimes against children go unreported to authorities such as schools, law enforcement and doctors. Experts say victims and their families often fear interviews and involvement with police and child protection agencies, or are afraid of retaliation from the perpetrators. These realities are prompting lawmakers to look for ways not only to decrease the maltreatment of children, but also to increase the reporting of abuse when it does happen.

State Action

Education. Some policymakers and victims’ advocates believe the best approach to identifying and mitigating abuse is through the school system. At least 19 states—Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Vermont—and the territory of Guam have enacted what is often known as an “Erin’s Law.” Such laws require states to either study or develop age-appropriate identification and prevention curricula for pre-kindergarten through fifth, eighth or 12th grades to help children, teachers and parents recognize and identify child sexual abuse. The legislation also generally provides for some type of referral, counseling or safe way for children to report incidences of sexual abuse and requires training for school personnel. Many states have also required task forces to further study the issue and provide statewide recommendations. A similar law in Texas is known as “Jenna’s Law.” Enacted in 2009, it requires school districts to address child sexual abuse by promoting awareness among teachers, students and parents, and to establish actions child victims can take to obtain counseling, assistance and intervention.

Reporting. All states, the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions require that alleged child maltreatment be reported to a proper agency, such as Child Protective Services or other local or state law enforcement agencies. Texas’ law is similar to those in other states, but it was the first state to require statewide training for teachers on how to recognize warning signs and appropriately report suspected abuse.

Recognizing that many cases of child abuse and neglect continue to be unreported, however, the Texas Legislature went a step further. In an effort to increase the chances that children would report abuse, lawmakers in 2013 enacted Senate Bill 939 to amend the Education and Human Resources Code. It requires that public and open-enrollment charter schools post in an open, visible location the toll-free child abuse hotline number operated by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in both English and Spanish. The Texas law is unique in that it provides a specific, concrete—and simple and inexpensive—way for school children to be able to seek help in a safe environment.

Federal Action

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), first authorized in 1974, helps fund state and community-based efforts to prevent, identify, assess and treat child abuse and neglect. Also under the law, Children’s Justice Act grants help states and territories improve assessing, investigating and prosecuting child abuse and neglect cases—particularly those involving suspected sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

PDF Version