The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families met on Tuesday to examine how well federal laws, most specifically reporting laws, are working to protect children. In written testimony to the group, Dr. Anthony Mannarino said that they're not working very well, because there isn't one blanket reporting law.
"What may be required in one jurisdiction by way of mandated reporting may not be the same as what's required in another jurisdiction," he said. Mannarino is director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
He said that more uniform reporting mandates need to be adopted nation-wide. Currently, only 18 states require all adults to report suspected child abuse. This meeting comes in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. Mannarino said that data shows about 25 percent of all girls by the age of 18 and 10 to 12 percent of boys will experience sexual abuse. But mandated reporting laws aren't limited to sexual abuse.
"Despite the prevalence of both sexual abuse and physical abuse, by far and away the greatest for of child abuse is neglect; children who are neglected in terms of their physical needs, medical needs and so forth. Neglect is the most pervasive form of child abuse," said Mannarino.
In his statement to the subcommittee, which includes Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Mannarino said that reporting laws need to be strengthened so that children can get the proper care they need after being abused.
"There's been sort of this sense about these kids that, if they've been abused, their life is sort of doomed in some way, and that's simply not true," said Mannarino. "If they can get help, there's a good likelihood they can make considerable progress and lead good, productive lives."
Children who don't get help often develop anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems, as well as problems with learning. Long-term effects also include depression, anxiety, anger management issues, and suicidal tendencies.
In addition to more uniform reporting mandates, Mannarino calls on the committee to increase federal investment in research into effective prevention and treatment of child abuse, provide more support for the development and dissemination of evidence-based interventions that have been shown to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to continue support for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which was authorized by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children's Health Act.