A reader who has spent five decades as a clinical child psychologist has made a brilliant suggestion to mitigate the harm being done to innocent, defenseless children under President Trump’s inhumane child separation policy.
The Children’s Bureau, an office of the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services, has a handy website to explain the rules regarding the reporting of suspected mistreatment or abuse of children:
All States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying persons who are required to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency, such as child protective services, a law enforcement agency, or a State’s toll-free child abuse reporting hotline.
In fact, all the doctors and other professionals inside these facilities have a legal obligation to report abuse and mistreatment. (“Approximately 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands designate professions whose members are mandated by law to report child maltreatment.”) The people who must report abuse or mistreatment include teachers, counselors, law enforcement and child-care providers. When must they report?
The circumstances under which a mandatory reporter must make a report vary from State to State. Typically, a report must be made when the reporter, in his or her official capacity, suspects or has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. Another standard frequently used is in situations in which the reporter has knowledge of, or observes a child being subjected to, conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child.
Most states allow anonymous reports, and “all jurisdictions have provisions in statute to maintain the confidentiality of abuse and neglect records. The identity of the reporter is specifically protected from disclosure to the alleged perpetrator in 41 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico.”
When contacted, child-welfare agency personnel are obligated to investigate, and usually are obligated to document and report any abuse or mistreatment to state authorities and/or family courts. In order to investigate properly, the investigators must interview the children and the parents, and observe the child’s surroundings, etc.
Many members of Congress, clergy and other concerned Americans have spoken out against a policy they sincerely believe is child abuse. Indeed the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday said the administration’s policy “amounts to child abuse.” The Hill reported:
Dr. Colleen Kraft in an appearance on CNN described the many ways Trump’s policy emotionally harms children and laid out in detail what she witnessed when she toured an immigration detention center.
“I can’t describe to you the room I was in with the toddlers,” Kraft said. “Normally toddlers are rambunctious and running around. We had one child just screaming and crying, and the others were really silent. And this is not normal activity or brain development with these children.”
Kraft added that the emotional strain the children in these facilities are under produces a condition called “toxic stress” and that it inhibits the development of their brains.
“It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social, emotional bonds, and gross motor skills, and the development that they could possibly have,” she said.
I’m no expert in child-welfare law, and this is not intended to provide legal advice. Nevertheless, I wonder why professionals inside the detention facilities don’t call child-welfare services, anonymously if they prefer. Concerned citizens could call as well.
Well, you say, the federal government’s authority takes precedence over state officials; the feds can refuse entry. For starters, we don’t know they will do so. Given the pandemic of outrage, perhaps some HHS or DHS officials would choose to cooperate. However, if they do refuse entry to those entrusted to protect children in full view of the media, then the secretaries of both departments can explain to the American people why they object to independent child-welfare protection professionals checking on the kids. Does the Trump administration fear their entry to confirm claims that these kids are just fine and get TV and videos and can talk to their parents? There is a hope when the mayor of Houston insists that the facilities for housing children will “require inspections from the Fire Marshal, building code enforcement, the agencies that oversee childcare, and food-safety, and public health, and so on,” according to clergy who met with him.
Remember, no one is talking (yet) about prosecuting federal employees; we are talking about gaining access to the children and investigating their condition. That we are even talking about these scenarios should underscore how outrageous is the policy and how morally deficient are the politicians, primarily the president, who permit it to go on. When we get down to arguing about who has authority to stop child abuse directed by the president and his attorney general, we truly are in a different universe.