Preventing Child Abuse in Recreation: A Call for a Comprehensive Professional Response

By Ellard, Al; Schilling, Mary Lou et al. | Parks & Recreation, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Preventing Child Abuse in Recreation: A Call for a Comprehensive Professional Response


Ellard, Al, Schilling, Mary Lou, Geisthardt, Cheryl, Parks & Recreation


Child abuse and maltreatment in America has reached disquieting levels in recent years. Particularly frightful is the realization that the perpetrator is generally not-the stereotypical creepy stranger skulking in the shadows near the schoolyard. Today's headlines tell us that the perpetrators of child abuse are almost always known to the victim, and commonly hold positions of trust and confidence in the community.

Unfortunately, perpetrators have included full-time and part-time staff of recreation and youth-serving organizations, as well as volunteer leaders working for recreation and youth-serving agencies. The good news is that the parks and recreation profession can make a significant contribution to the protection of children by adopting policies and practices that both assure that children are safe from abuse by employees and volunteers of the agency, and that will train employees, volunteers, parents and participants in recognizing and reporting suspected cases of child abuse.

How Big is the Problem?

Child abuse is commonly regarded as a child welfare problem, and a considerable amount of information has been amassed from this perspective. When a child is assaulted, however, this is not only a child welfare problem; it's a crime. Data compiled by child protective service sources estimate that more than 800,000 cases of child maltreatment are substantiated each year in the U.S. In fact, the most recent national incidence study of child abuse and neglect estimates that as many as 4,369,400 children are victims of child abuse and neglect each year.

In addition, child welfare systems are designed to deal with maltreatment perpetrated by caregivers (generally parents or other family members). To get a clearer picture of the extent of maltreatment, it's important to look at maltreatment of children reported to the criminal justice system, too. Data collected by the new National Incident-Based Reporting System estimates that an additional 900,000 violent crimes against children are reported-to the police annually. Of these cases, approximately 80 percent involve non-family members as perpetrators. As in the case of reports to child protective services, criminal acts against children go underreported primarily because children are less likely to report crimes than adults.

It's important to recognize the role of mandatory reporting laws in helping identify children who have been abused or neglected. In 1999, mandatory reporters were responsible for more than half (54.7 percent) of the cases of child abuse and maltreatment reported to child protective agencies. Without mandatory reporting laws many victimized children are likely to go unnoticed.

Child Maltreatment Legislation

Child abuse and neglect are defined in both federal and state legislation. Federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse. The key federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, enacted in 1974. The act has been amended several times, and was most recently amended and reauthorized in 1996. It established procedures for national criminal background checks for child care providers, described the circumstances and conditions that obligate mandated reporting of known or suspected cases of abuse, and provided definitions necessary for juvenile/family courts determination of child dependency.

Following federal legislative guidelines, states passed their own child-abuse prevention legislation. State statutes cover definitions of child abuse and neglect, requirements and procedures for reporting child abuse, reporter immunity, penalties for failure to report, the creation of a central registry, as well criminal penalties for child abuse and neglect.

Defining Child Abuse

Child abuse and maltreatment are divided into four major types of prohibited behaviors.

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Preventing Child Abuse in Recreation: A Call for a Comprehensive Professional Response
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