Child abuse laws exist on the federal, state and local levels. Legislation serves to keep children free from exploitation, harm, and danger.  The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), passed by the federal government in 1974 and reauthorized in 2010 is the largest body of legislation with regard to the fair, ethical and legal treatment of children and is intended to keep them free from all forms of abuse including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological.

Federal laws provide standards and guidelines; however, most child abuse issues are governed by state laws and regulations. All states have enacted laws for the protection of children from abuse and neglect.  Among the issues addressed in state law are mandatory reporting, responding to child abuse and neglect, and statutes of limitations for criminal and civil prosecution.

Mandatory Reporting

Mandatory reporter laws establish certain professionals and/or individuals as mandatory reporters.  These laws typically require people who work closely with children in their profession to alert police or the appropriate authorities as to suspected abuse.  As of March 2012, there are also 18 states whose laws require all citizens with knowledge or suspicion of abuse to report it the proper authorities.

The law also states the penalties for failing to report abuse.  The Administration of Children & Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains the Child Welfare Information Gateway which includes information on mandatory reporting along with specific state laws.  It is always advisable for individuals or professionals seeking information on their state mandatory reporter laws to refer to their state’s government website for the specific legislation.

As a result of the increased media attention on child sexual abuse, there are currently 87 bills pending in 29 state legislatures.  It is expected that many laws will be enacted to designate additional professionals as mandated reporters or to require all citizens as mandated reporters.  A complete list of pending bills can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures. Publications and resources related to State and Federal civil laws on child abuse and neglect, child welfare, and adoption. Federal laws provide standards and guidelines; however, these issues are primarily governed by State laws and regulations in the United States. Access the Child Welfare Information Gateway State Statutes Series by title, or search statutes by individual States on issues related to child abuse and neglect, child welfare, and adoption.