Child Abuse Does Not Respect State Lines: Identifying Gaps In State Law

Emerging Leader Fellow: Stephen St. Vincent, 2011-2012

Child abuse does not respect state lines, but investigating abuse can be obstructed by jurisdictional gaps.  The procedures and policies for accepting and investigating child abuse and neglect allegations vary from state to state. As such, children whose case is screened out because of cross-jurisdictional location can fall through the cracks if they are deemed the responsibility of another state. There are instances in which the location of the abuse, the location of the victim and location of the perpetrator involve more than one state.  For example, cases of children reporting abuse while on vacation out of state with family members but where the state of residence of the child will not investigate because the incident took place in another state. 

Stephen's project seeks to determine the extent to which cases of child abuse and neglect have been screened out—or not investigated—because they did not fall under the clear jurisdiction of one state or there is no interstate compact agreement.  Because there is no requirement to collect data on these cases, the actual scope of the problem is not known. However, there is compelling anecdotal evidence such that the Field Center has identified it as a critical issue to research. 

Stephen will research child abuse reporting statutes for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and identify jurisdictional parameters for each.  This includes analyzing inconsistencies and discrepancies that could result in jurisdictional gaps.  He will also look at current policy and practice—surveying child welfare systems across the country to better determine their processes for receiving reports and conducting investigations of child abuse and neglect reports that occur across state lines.  While much of the focus is on understanding the jurisdictional gaps, this research will also be an opportunity to highlight promising practices that currently exist.

With support from the Field Center team, including legal and child welfare experts, Stephen will propose solutions to jurisdictional gaps and consider how regulations can be written for the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to support an effective response, including the development of interstate agreements. His work will identify the jurisdictional gaps that exist, provide an analysis of existing state statutes regarding the definition, reporting and investigating of child abuse, and inform the development of stronger federal guidelines and better child protection practices at the state level.