Mandatory Reporting of Abuse: A Historical Perspective on the Evolution of States’ Current Mandatory Reporting Laws with a Review of the Laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
The first states passed laws in 1963, following the publishing of a seminal article titled, “The Battered Child Syndrome.” By 1967, all fifty states had passed some form of mandatory reporting law. The federal government’s first major foray into the area of child abuse prevention occurred on January 31, 1974, when Congress enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (“CAPTA”). CAPTA has no federal mandatory reporting provision, but rather requires states to pass their own mandatory reporting provisions in order to receive federal grants.
States’ laws vary in their comprehensiveness with respect to mandatory reporting of abuse. All states require at least some professions to report suspected abuse. The most comprehensive states require all persons who have reasonable cause to suspect abuse to report, while the least comprehensive states require only a small list of named professional groups to report.
The findings of abuse at State College, Pennsylvania and within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have renewed interest in Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting laws. Pennsylvania enacted its first law mandating that certain people report suspected abuse of children in 1963. Since this first mandatory reporting law, the law has been amended several times, most notably in 1975 . The first state laws on mandatory reporting of child abuse came as a direct response to a call to action from the media and interest groups. This trend remained clear as both congress and state legislatures crafted and amended laws to prevent child abuse throughout history. Wanting to protect their children, each of the fifty states tailored unique mandatory reporting laws. Some mandated large numbers of people report abuse and enacted strict penalties for failure to do so, while other states only required specific groups of professionals to report and had lenient or no statutory penalties for failure to report.
Like other states, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted and amended its original mandatory reporting law in response to the media and pushes from interest groups. In comparison with comprehensiveness of other state laws, Pennsylvania’s law has always been on the middle ground. Though it is still uncertain how Pennsylvania will respond to the most recent child abuse scandal, it has always been certain that there is a clear need for communities to protect their children.
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