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What Do Federal Child Abuse Laws Say? 3 Things You Should Know

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

In addition to state laws prohibiting child abuse, the federal government has its own laws meant to protect children from neglect and other forms of abuse.

These laws include minimum child welfare standards to which the states are required to conform. However, a recent three-year study by the Children's Advocacy Institute found that none of the states are actually meeting these standards, NPR reports.

What do federal child abuse laws require? And what did the study find when it comes to enforcement of these laws at the state level?

Federal Child Abuse Laws

As the Department of Health and Human Services explains, federal child abuse laws are found primarily in two sources: the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Social Security Act. What should you know about these laws? Here are three quick facts:

  1. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was enacted in 1974 and established the federal Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. It also provides grants to states for child abuse and neglect programs that meet certain federal standards.
  2. The Act also sets the minimum definition of child abuse and neglect as "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation," or "An act of failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
  3. The relevant portions of the Social Security Act further established federal child welfare oversight of state welfare policies and practices by the Department of Health and Human Services, including the collection of child welfare statistics and the administration of child welfare information systems.

Report's Findings

According to the Children's Advocacy Institute's study, over a three-year period, no state met the federal child welfare standards, but the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for enforcing these rules has largely taken a hands-off approach. "There is no meaningful oversight and the states know it," the report asserts.

The report estimates that at least 686,000 American children were the victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, including 1,640 who were killed as a result. The report suggests that Congress should require HHS to take punitive action against states that don't follow federal regulations and sanction the executive branch, of which the HHS is a part, if it fails to meet its regulatory responsibilities.

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