Law \ Legal

Does Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Single Out Poor Families?

A list of sweeping Pennsylvania reforms to the state’s definition of what constitutes child abuse, when people are required to report it, and the amount of punishment meted out to those who fail to do so has resulted in tens of thousand of unfounded reports, disproportionately affecting families of color living in poverty, and may actually be preventing authorities from targeting and preventing the most serious cases of abuse, report Mike Hixenbaugh, Suzy Khimm, and Agnel Philip in an investigation by NBC News and ProPublica.

Of the more than one million reports of child maltreatment that have  flooded the state’s child abuse hotline since 2014, 800,000 were actually related to lower-level neglect allegations often stemming from poverty, versus genuine abuses, and most were later dismissed as invalid by caseworkers. The situation is an example of a national problem that targets the poor and people of color, with half of all Black children nationally estimated to be the subject of a child protective services investigation by the time they turn 18 — nearly double the rate of white children.

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