New Child and Sexual Abuse Legislation-
Understanding the Pros and Cons:
Child abuse gets reported over 80-thousand times a year in country, but the number of unreported instances is far greater, because the children are afraid to tell anyone what happened.
The controversial topic has grabbed top headlines over the past few months, with the alleged sexual abuse by former Assistant Football coach Jerry Sandusky of Penn State University.
At least 8 men have come forward claiming Sandusky abused them while they were boys. In the wake of the scandal, numerous new national and state laws have been proposed. A key Florida House committee approved a bill this week that would impose hefty fines if college administrators or police do not report child abuse or neglect.
Jim Clark, licensed clinical social worker and CEO of Daniel, Florida’s oldest child-service agency offers some insights on the legislation.
Why Proposed Legislation Can Be Good . . and Bad:
The good . . . laws that encourage the timely reporting of child abuse should help protect children in dangerous situations.
The potentially bad . . . often the devil can be in the details. The original version of Florida’s proposed Caylee’s Law was a strict liability law, meaning child-service providers and even parents trying to help kids could be punished if they didn’t follow new prescriptions for how suspected child abuse must be reported. For instance, parents and guardians of a difficult 12- or 13-year-old who may have a tendency to disappear to friends houses, could unintentionally find themselves on the wrong side of the law. If those parents don’t properly report their child missing (even though they may know from experience he or she is OK), they could technically become felons and face years in prison. People in child-serving community and some in law enforcement also voiced concerns that the new laws could confuse parents as to whether they are required to wait a certain time to report a child missing.
Final Legislation Changes:
The good news is that, as the media fever over the Casey Anthony trial subsided, cooler heads prevailed and the version of Caylee’s Law that passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday is a much more sober version of the legislation, minus much of the extreme penalties that were more of a knee-jerk reaction to a very unusual case.
The same type of “sobering” may happen with HB1355, the proposal that would impose new fines on college administrators and police who do not properly report child abuse or neglect. The truth is that it is already a crime in Florida to knowingly withhold or give false information to authorities about child abuse.
Other Legislative Considerations:
Excluding a few rare high-profile examples, encouraging the reporting of such cases is not the biggest problem facing those who work to help abused kids. Last year’s $48 million budget cut cost the state Department of Children and Families some 500 employees who were working to help save lives and help kids in crisis.
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