I’ve been calling for penalties for the failure to report child abuse for years now in Maryland. Maryland remains the only state without a penalty or formal mechanism to pursue such a violation of the duty to protect children in one’s care. And for years myself and a few others have called for the enactment of such a penalty for a willful and knowing failure to report abuse. However, this bill has consistently died in the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates at the hands of legislators focused on professionals and not children and advocates less concerned with children than they have been with their own special interests. You know who you are.
Today’s allegation that a child informed a teacher about his own abuse and was told to sit down just underscores the need for a penalty for the failure to report. Penalties are not designed for the mistake or the confusing situation, but for moments like the Deonte Carraway case in Prince Georges County where not just the principal but multiple teachers in the school knowingly and willfully failed to report abuse.
A prosecutor needs to have the mechanism to pursue justice for those who abrogated their responsibility to protect the children in their care. This incident is no different and no less heinous that what occurred at Penn State where leadership at all levels turned a blind eye towards the abuse of children. When mandated reporters fail to adhere to their duty, abuse continues, pedophiles remain unaccountable, and regrettably even children die. The lack of a penalty in Maryland diminishes the significance of the crime of child abuse and the value of those lives impacted. This omission is truly one of the only incidents in Maryland law where there is a mandate required without any penalty.
A 2008 study published by the Journal of the International Society for Child Indicators concluded that the passage of effective mandatory reporting laws across the United States has clearly shown success in increasing the number of reports made to child protective services (Kesner, John. Child Protection in the United States: An Examination of Mandated Reporting of Child Maltreatment, Child Ind Res (2008) 1:397-410). Unfortunately, Maryland is the only state without any formal and enforceable remedy for the failure to report abuse – a distinction glaringly pointed out in reports issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and other national agencies on mandatory reporting. Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated. There are no teeth to encourage or enforce this basic requirement that mandatory reporters report abuse. Having a penalty for the failure to report abuse is the national standard, and Maryland must do the same to ensure and underscore the importance of reporting abuse.
Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated.
Review the recent history in Maryland of bills introduced to examine the failure to report penalty and system of reporting. Even task forces to examine the issue have been shot down in committee and received dissent among advocates. Review the votes of members who voted against these bills, and read the testimony of advocates and professions who rallied against a penalty. Perhaps it’s too late for this legislative session to do any good, but it’s never too late to protect children.