WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today reintroduced legislation to expand the District’s protections to safeguard children and vulnerable adults from abuse and strengthen existing laws on reporting abuse.
“Every child should be able to grow up safe, strong, and healthy—but we know that too often, children are victims of abuse that has traumatic and long-lasting effects on their lives,” said AG Racine. “Child abuse and neglect can be prevented when we have strong families, but with the pandemic, these structures have suffered. We need to make sure that responsible adults know how to recognize signs of abuse and can be voices for kids who can’t always speak for themselves. This legislation would help close gaps in our laws to better protect children from abuse and I encourage the Council to quickly pass it.”
“I have cared for too many children with broken bodies and broken spirits caused by physical abuse, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, emotional abuse, and neglect,” said Dr. Allison Jackson, Division Chief of the Child and Adolescent Protection Center at Children’s National Hospital and the Washington Children’s Foundation Professor of Child and Adolescent Protection. “Mandated reporters for child abuse can be the first step towards the safety and well-being of a maltreated child. Therefore, it is imperative that professionals who interface with children in our community are equipped to recognize and appropriately respond when child abuse or neglect is suspected. The introduction of this legislation couldn’t be more timely knowing that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the risk for child abuse in the District and across the Nation. It is my hope that this legislation will be enacted so that more children and youth of the District of Columbia can reach their full potential by growing up in safe, stable, and nurturing homes.”
The legislation introduced by AG Racine would broaden the circumstances under which reporters must contact authorities and add several professions that do their work inside homes, or frequently interact with children and families, to the list of individuals required to report abuse. The law would also create training and certification requirements for mandated reporters and increase penalties for failure to report abuse.
Child abuse and neglect can have significant negative effects on a child’s behavior, performance in school, and long-term mental and physical health. Abusers are often close to their victims and abuse is often hidden. According to the District’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), from beginning of the public health emergency through the end of School Year 2019-2020, the agency saw reports of abuse and neglect to their hotline decline by 62% compared to the same period for the previous year. During that period, CFSA received 1,972 hotline calls, with 24% of those referrals being made by school personnel. During the same period the previous year, CFSA received 5,211 hotline calls with 51% of those referrals made by school personnel. The majority of calls to CFSA’s hotline typically come from educators and school staff, and they do not believe that the decrease in reports during the pandemic means that potential abuse and neglect also declined.
Under existing D.C. law, some professionals who regularly work with children – including teachers, school officials, health care workers, and daycare workers – are mandated reporters for suspected child abuse or neglect. The mandated reporters must immediately report the abuse to authorities and to the leaders of their institutions, who must also report the abuse. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has authority to bring criminal charges against individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse but fail to do so.
The Protecting Children and Vulnerable Adults Through Mandatory Reporting Amendment Act of 2021 would update the District’s mandatory reporting law by:
- Strengthening protections for children: The proposal would require mandatory reporters to contact authorities about physical assault of children by teachers or other adults in positions of authority in schools. It would also require mandatory reporters to report all suspected child abuse, whether or not they have come into direct contact with the child, and to notify authorities about child sex abuse even if the victim is now an adult.
- Expanding the list of professionals required to report child abuse: The bill would add several professions that do their work inside homes to the list of those required to report suspected child abuse, including inspectors for the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), inspectors for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), and employees and contractors of public utilities and cable operators. It would also bring the District into line with the majority of other jurisdictions by requiring clergy to report abuse.
- Requiring training and certification for mandated reporters: Currently, individuals required to report abuse of children or vulnerable adults receive no training about how to recognize signs of abuse or when to take action. This proposal would establish requirements for mandatory reporters to receive certification and training. (The specific training and certification requirements would be set through regulations.) It would also establish a $300 civil fine for failing to comply with the requirements.
- Stiffening penalties for failure to report child abuse: Currently, the potential penalties for failure to report under District law include jail sentences of up to 180 days and fines of up to $1,000. The bill would increase the maximum fine to $2,500 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses. In addition, for mandated reporters in licensed professions, the bill would require OAG to notify the relevant licensing board of a conviction.
- Strengthening protections for vulnerable adults: The bill would clarify the triggering of requirements to report abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults in need of adult protective services and increases the penalty for failure to report.
- Clarifying penalties for violations of rules governing daycares: The bill would clarify that violations of the District’s rules and regulations governing child development facilities are subject to criminal penalties enforceable by OAG.
A copy of the bill text is available here.
How to Report Child Abuse and Neglect
Reporting suspected or known incidents of child abuse is key to ensuring a child’s safety. Anyone who suspects child abuse may call the District’s central reporting line at 202-671-SAFE (202-671-7233). In life-threatening situations, call 911.
Under District law, all adults who know or suspect that a child under 16 is a victim of sexual abuse are required to report it. Additionally, mandated reporters must report suspected child abuse, neglect, or trafficking, gunshot wounds, and unexplained knife injuries for a child under 18. More information about the District’s current mandated reporting requirements for child abuse is available at: https://cfsa.dc.gov/service/report-child-abuse-and-neglect.
How to Report Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults
If you are or know a District senior or vulnerable adult experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation, immediately get help by:
- Filing a report with Adult Protective Services (APS) by calling the 24-hour hotline at (202) 541-3950.
- Filing a police report with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) by calling the police at (202) 265-9100.
- Contacting OAG’s Elder Justice Section at (202) 727-3807 or email@example.com.