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2018 Legislative Session Testimony

(Last Updated February 12, 2018)


 House Judiciary Committee

February 8, 2018

Testimony in Support of House Bill 500

Child Abuse and Neglect - Failure to Report

Maryland’s Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-MD), an organization representing over 4,000 Maryland social workers, supports Senate Bill 132, a bill that proposes a penalty for failing to report child abuse under certain circumstances.  NASW – MD is a proponent of the rights of Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens; ensuring a penalty for failing to report child abuse is an important step to updating our current reporting laws and better protecting children.  

The history of child protection laws reflects a philosophical shift in the role of children in our society, and an entrenched ambivalence that persists to this day about children’s status as human beings in their own right deserving of protection.  Until the latter part of the 18th century, children were regarded as small adults and treated as the property of their caregivers.  In 1874 anti-cruelty laws protecting animals provided the only avenue to intervene on behalf of a severely abused and neglected child.  This case was the first to force American society to confront its inherent moral obligation to protect children.

Nonetheless, through the 1950’s, the perspective that children were their parents’ chattel prevailed; what happened in the family continued to be a private matter.  It wasn’t until 1962, with the publication of The Battered Child Syndrome by Dr. Henry Kempe, that child abuse began to get more serious attention.   In the late 60’s, legislation was finally passed that defined child abuse as a criminal act, but because reporting wasn’t mandated, child maltreatment continued to flourish behind closed doors.  Finally, in 1974, the United States passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which offered states incentives to enact mandatory reporting laws.  This has been recognized as one of the most significant measures ever taken to protect abused and neglected children. 

How seriously do we take child abuse reporting requirements when for well over a decade we’ve been unsuccessful passing a law creating a consistent penalty for those who knowingly  fail to report child abuse?   Maryland now stands nearly alone among 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, who all impose penalties on mandatory reporters who knowingly or willfully fail to make a report when they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected.    

In summary, mandated reporting laws signaled a genuine commitment to the protection of vulnerable children, and brought child maltreatment out from behind closed doors.  Without any clear and meaningful penalty, however, the safety of children is relegated to the idiosyncratic decision-making of the professionals responsible for their care.  We ask for your support for HB 500, a bill intended to strengthen protection of our state’s most vulnerable children. 


Judith Schagrin, LCSW-C

Chair, Legislative Committee


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