Maine Child Abuse Likely Under-Reported Because Law Lacks Training Rules, Expert Says
Stone, Matthew, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)
Maine's law that obligates professionals who have regular contact with children to report suspected child abuse and neglect has no provision that requires those so-called mandated reporters to receive training about their responsibilities.
And that could be the state law's greatest weakness and a critical factor in keeping an unknown number of suspected child abuse cases from being reported to authorities, according to a nationally recognized expert who trains investigators, prosecutors, doctors and others to recognize and address signs of child abuse.
"If we really want the reporting laws to be successful, we're going to have to address training," said Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children in Winona, Minn. "Everything else is just a Band-Aid. [Training] is clearly the solution that the research makes clear will truly make a difference."
A Maine State Police report released last week that suggests a number of people may have known the Rev. Bob Carlson sexually abused multiple children, but didn't come forward to report it, has raised questions about the state's mandated reporter law and whether it applies.
Maine's mandatory reporting law requires that 32 types of professionals -- from school employees to medical personnel to law enforcement -- report child abuse or neglect to the Department of Health and Human Services or to their superiors if they have reason to suspect it has happened.
But the law makes no mention of training for those professionals so they can identify signs of abuse and neglect and so they can properly report them.
As a result, the training mandated reporters receive related to their responsibilities under the mandatory reporting law varies widely, said Therese Cahill-Low, director of the Office of Child and Family Services at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
"It's not mandated by the state as to what curriculum is followed or that, even, a training happens," she said. Still, "people are supposed to know that they're mandated reporters."
But the less they understand about their responsibility to report suspected abuse, the less likely mandated reporters are to report it, said Vieth.
"They oftentimes don't comply with the law because they have virtually no meaningful training," he said.
States began to adopt mandated reporter laws in the 1960s, following the 1962 publication of the medical paper "The Battered- Child Syndrome," by five doctors who identified signs medical personnel could look for to determine whether a child had been abused. By 1967, Vieth said, all 50 states had adopted mandatory reporting laws. Maine's mandatory reporting law first passed in 1965 as a measure to require doctors who see signs of abuse in young patients to make a report to what was then the state Department of Health and Welfare.
Most states expanded their mandatory reporting laws in the 1970s to address sexual abuse of children, Vieth said. The 1975 expansion of Maine's law also added social workers, psychologists, child care employees, law enforcement, teachers, school officials and others to the mandated reporter list. …