Besides child abuse laws, states also have agencies to investigate suspected cases of child abuse by the child’s parent or guardian. These agencies are known by different names in different states but are commonly referred to as the state child protective services.
Suspected cases of child abuse by adults other than the parents or guardians are investigated by the police departments and other law enforcement agencies. During the investigation a case worker or a law office may visit and interview the child. The investigating agency can question the parents, guardians and any person such as a doctor or a teacher who may have witnessed or have any information about the abuse.
Intervention and Removal
After the investigation is complete, the agency will determine whether the allegation of child abuse is indeed true. If true, the agency will take steps depending on the nature of the case. In case of a minor abuse such as the parent leaving the child alone and unattended in a car while shopping at the local supermarket, the agency will require the parent to attend a meeting with a local social worker to understand the dangers associated with leaving the child alone and unattended. If the agency determines that the abuse is serious and poses imminent danger to the child, the agency can remove the child from the parents and place the child in a foster home until the circumstances change for the better. If the abuse is extreme, the agency can petition the court for termination of parental rights. If parental rights are terminated by the court, the child can be put up for adoption.
Records and Registries
Every state has a central registry of child abuse cases. Depending in the state law, certain individuals or agencies like child care providers and adoption agencies can access this registry. The registry helps the state child protection service and others to know if a particular person has a history of abusing children. This information can be used to prevent child abuse in the future. The registry may also contain false cases of child abuse thereby implicating many innocent parents and other adults who have been falsely accused of child abuse. This is the main reason why there is a strong opposition to a central registry. Groups like VOCAL – Victims of Child Abuse Laws want the existing laws to be changed to protect the rights of those falsely charged with child abuse.
VOCAL and other groups claim that it is easy for someone to falsely accuse a parent or guardian of child abuse. There have been many cases where false allegations have resulted in the child being removed from the parents and placed in foster care. Some children also falsely accuse their parents of child abuse. Such children generally crave attention or do so in an attempt to parents from taking disciplinary action. In divorce cases, it is not uncommon for a spouse to accuse the other of child abuse. In most child abuse cases, the decision is based on the evidence of the child who can be easily manipulated by the police and others who investigate the charge. False allegations of child abuse can have serious consequences – the child may be removed from the home and placed in foster care.
Discipline and Abuse
There is a thin blurred line between discipline and abuse. There is a lot of debate on where the line should be drawn. For example some parents consider it perfectly fine to spank their young child in an attempt to discipline him or her but others view this as child abuse. The agencies have to balance the rights of the parents to raise their children in a way that the parents feel is most appropriate and the right of the child to be safe.
Neglect and Abuse
Child abuse is not limited to willful abuse. It even includes negligence. A parent can negligently leave a child in a car on a hot summer day. It can have serious health consequences for the child. It can even be fatal at time. Whether it amounts to child abuse is debatable but there are people who believe that such parents who are negligent should be prosecuted, others believe that the loss of the child due to negligence is punishment enough for the parent.