Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Friday, February 26, 2016

Reporting Error Inflates Maryland Child Abuse Cases

From The Baltimore Sun:

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services included a startling statistic: The number of abused or neglected children in Maryland in 2014 had climbed 27 percent, the second-sharpest increase in the nation.

But state officials say that the figure was inflated because of a reporting error. It turns out that the number of cases depends on how a state defines a victim.

The federal government has been gathering state-level child abuse and neglect data for more than two decades, tracking the time it takes for Child Protective Services to respond to a report of child abuse, for instance, and the number of cases that are substantiated after an investigation.

The most recent installment of that data, which was released in late January and covers 2014, identified 15,800 children in Maryland who were victims of abuse or neglect — up from just over 12,000 cases the year before. Only Massachusetts had a larger year-over-year increase in abuse cases.

But officials at the Maryland Department of Human Resources said the federal number should not include children who are assisted through a new effort to segregate "low-risk" cases and work with those families to improve the situation at home rather than conduct a formal investigation.

That effort, known as "alternative response," was fully implemented in Maryland in 2014.

"We have determined that Maryland should not have counted any of the children receiving alternative response as victims," DHR spokeswoman Paula Tolson said in a statement. "Maryland therefore will be resubmitting 2014 data to correct this error."

The alternative response approach is designed to lessen the adversarial relationship between families and caseworkers. While many child advocates regard it as a best practice, some critics question whether the two-track system does enough to keep children safe.

Read more here.

February 26, 2016 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Catholic Bishops Not Obliged to Report Clerical Child Abuse, Vatican Says

From The Guardian:

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.

A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasized that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document states. 

February 16, 2016 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Congress Moves to Confront Military Child Abuse with Talia's Law

From Military Times:

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would require anyone employed by the Defense Department to report cases of suspected child abuse on military installations to state child protective service agencies in addition to reporting such suspected crimes up their chain of command.

The legislation was approved by voice vote and sent to the Senate for consideration.

Called Talia’s Law, the bill is named for five-year-old Talia Williams who was tortured and beaten to death by her father — an active-duty Army specialist at the time — and step-mother in 2005 at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii.

Talia’s mother, Tarshia Williams, sued the U.S. government in 2008 for what she argued were failures by military officials to report suspicions that her daughter was being abused. Williams was awarded $2 million in a settlement last May.

The Defense Department had signed a memorandum of understanding with the State of Hawaii in 2013 that said the state’s child welfare services agency was “primarily” responsible for handling instances of child abuse on military bases. But DOD also has its own parallel system for child and domestic abuse investigations.

Suspected cases of child abuse are reported to military police or the installation’s Family Advocacy Program, which work in coordination to identify and investigate instances of child abuse. Those mandated by law to report suspected child abuse are usually professionally involved with children, such as day-care workers and doctors.

The U.S. District Court of Hawaii, where Williams brought her suit, found that various individuals failed to report Talia’s case, including members of the military police, doctors, and an employee with the Family Advocacy Program – all covered by the House bill.

Read more here.

February 15, 2016 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Springfield Mom Creates Foundation to Fight Child Abuse

From Springfield News-Leader:

Cindy Dennis, author of child abuse prevention books, is creating the Give A Child A Voice Foundation.

By forming a nonprofit foundation, Dennis said she hopes to reach more children, parents, grandparents, foster parents and educators. As a foundation, she will be in a better position to raise funds and apply for grants. And she can get cheaper "nonprofit" publishing rates.

The Springfield mom presented her plans Wednesday at the 1 Million Cups meeting, where entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts to an audience.

"Our objective is to reduce and eventually end all forms of child abuse, neglect and molestation," she told the audience. "We will achieve this by teaching kids to stand up for themselves, be vigilant and become a crusader for their own well-being."

"Children will learn that their bodies are sacred and no one has a right to victimize them. They will learn tactics and strategies that can lead to prevention."

Dennis said as the foundation raises money, she will be able to create a high-quality video "that is engaging to children with animation and songs." Dennis also wants to distribute the book "Friend Manual" to kindergarten through third-grade classes, preschools and churches.  "Friend Manual" teaches kids about safety, the difference between good secrets and bad secrets, and what to do if a stranger approaches or tries to grab them.

Read more here.

January 31, 2016 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Colorado Hotline Expands Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect

From The Denver Post:

With the approaching first anniversary of the launch of a toll-free statewide telephone hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect, child-welfare officials are urging Coloradans to stay vigilant if they're concerned about a child's safety and well-being.

The Colorado Department of Human Services announced that as of Dec. 20, state and county officials had received nearly 205,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect since the hotline went live on Jan. 1 — both through the new state hotline and from people contacting counties' and the state's human services offices.

"There is a growing understanding in our community that we all play a role in keeping our kids safe," state Department of Human Services Director Reggie Bicha said in a news release.

Bicha said the 1-844-CO-4-KIDS hotline is integral to help Coloradans spot and report signs of child abuse and neglect. "One call can save a child," he said.

Of the total 204,983 calls received by Dec. 20 about possible child abuse or neglect, 26,461 were made on the state hotline, according to Department of Human Services spokesman Lee Rasizer. Of that total, 4,516 came from Boulder County, 706 from Broomfield County and 5,395 from Weld County.

Under a system in which calls are evaluated and determinations made about whether further assessments and investigations are merited, and how rapidly those assessments and investigations need to be made, 88,441 of the total calls to the state's hotline and Colorado counties were accepted for assessment and 32,709 were assessed and investigated, Rasizer said.

Read more here.


January 1, 2016 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

New Law in Child Abuse Cases Addresses Washington County Concerns

From Glen Falls Post-Star:

A new law lobbied for by the Washington County Attorney’s Office and signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will close a loophole in Family Court laws that was noted in recent years during the prosecution of local child abusers.

The law, which was based on bills co-sponsored in the state Assembly by local Assembly members Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, and Steve McLaughlin, R-Melrose, toughens penalties in Family Court for those who commit serious child abuse.

State law has long allowed for abusers to only be found to have committed “abuse” against children who were not their biological children, even in cases of homicide or sexual abuse, instead of the higher finding of “severe abuse.”

For example, Dan Martindale, Washington County’s deputy county attorney who was among those who lobbied for the law change, said he prosecuted a Family Court case in which a man was found to have committed “abuse” by sexually abusing a stepchild, but was found to have committed “severe abuse” of a biological child who wasn’t physically assaulted but may have witnessed some of the abuse.

“The rationale was that ‘severe abuse’ was defined in the Social Services Law as a ground for terminating parental rights, and since there were no parental rights to terminate, the child could not be severely abused,” he said.

While the finding may seem trivial when compared to sentences in criminal court for the companion cases, Martindale said the differences can determine what custody rights the accused has. A finding of severe abuse can result in termination of parental rights, while a simple abuse finding cannot.

Read more here.

December 5, 2015 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Study Finds More Child Abuse in Homes of Returning Vets

From USA Today:

The babies and toddlers of soldiers returning from deployment face the heightened risk of abuse in the six months after the parent’s return home, a risk that increases among soldiers who deploy more frequently, according to a study scheduled for release Friday.

The study will be published in the American Journal of Public Health. The abuse of soldiers’ children exposes another, hidden cost from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that killed than 5,300 U.S. troops and wounded more than 50,000.

Research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia looked at families of more than 112,000 soldiers whose children were 2 years old or younger for the period of 2001 to 2007, the peak of the Iraq War. Researchers examined Pentagon-substantiated instances of abuse by a soldier or another caregiver and from the diagnoses of medical personnel within the military’s health care system.

“This study is the first to reveal an increased risk when soldiers with young children return home from deployment,” David Rubin, co-director of the hospital’s PolicyLab and the report’s senior author, said in a statement. “This really demonstrates that elevated stress when a soldier returns home can have real and potentially devastating consequences for some military families.”

Rubin said the study will help the Army and other services learn "when the signal [of stress] is the highest and the timing for intervention to help the returning soldiers."

The Army said it will use the information to help serve soldiers and their families better.

Read more here.

November 20, 2015 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oklahoma City Adoption Attorney Accused in Child Trafficking Case

From NewsOK:

A longtime Oklahoma City adoption attorney was accused Thursday in a child trafficking case of cheating adoptive parents out of thousands of dollars.  

Prosecutors allege the attorney, Robert Golden Boren, created a fake company to unlawfully charge adoptive parents more than the actual living expenses of the birth mothers. They also allege he overcharged the parents for so-called social services.

"In essence, Boren reported the expense he charged the adoptive couple but NOT what was actually paid," Oklahoma City police Detective Priscilla Helm wrote in a court affidavit. "This allowed a profit for Boren that was hidden from the adoptive couples, the birth mothers and the Courts.” 

The detective reported Boren received more than $110,000 in illegal profit between 2009 and 2013 on cases she examined. 

Read more here.

October 28, 2015 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Child Abuse in Iowa

A private group called Prevent Child Abuse Iowa has launched a website with extensive information on preventing child abuse and how Iowans can report possible cases of child abuse.  The site aims to provide advice on situations ranging from what to do when a sex offender lives in your neighborhood to how to start a conversation with a person putting another person in an uncomfortable situation.  The site also "provides links to groups with counselors willing to talk to the public."  The website is

Read more here.


March 1, 2013 in Child Abuse, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Controversial Child Abuse Registries


Iowa's 51,960-name child abuse registry could get an overhaul in the wake of complaints that the list damages reputations and job prospects for the accused before they've had a fair hearing.

Appeals took an average of 273 days in 2008, the most recent year available. About one-fourth of the appeals that reached a hearing were reversed.

It takes no conviction in court to end up on the registry - only a finding by Iowa Department of Human Services staff that it was "more likely than not" that the person neglected a child or, in a much smaller number of cases, abused a child.

Read more here.



February 24, 2011 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mind Your Own Business?

That is the question posed by

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.America's latest folk-hero flight attendant may be the one on a Southwest Airlines jet who took a 13-month-old baby from her mother after the woman slapped the crying child for kicking her. 

The flight attendant's actions, however, set off an intense debate: When and how should bystanders intervene?

Read more here.


August 24, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Smoking in Car Child Abuse?

The Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners in England has called smoking in a car with children child abuse.  He urged parents, mothers-to-be, the obese, smokers, and drinkers to turn into healthy role models for their children.  Read about it here.


August 17, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Utah Supreme Court Overturns Jeffs Conviction

From CNN:

The Utah Supreme Court has reversed Warren Steed Jeffs' two convictions on charges of rape as an accomplice and ordered a new trial, saying that instructions given to jurors were erroneous.

Jeffs, the "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life after he was convicted in September 2007. He was accused of using his religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into marrying her 19-year-old cousin.

In Jeffs' trial, Elissa Wall testified that she repeatedly told him at the time that she did not want to be married and was uncomfortable with sexual advances from her husband, Allen Steed. She said Jeffs advised her to pray and submit to her husband, learn to love him and bear his children, or risk losing her "eternal salvation."

Prosecutors relied on three separate portions of the law defining the circumstances under which sex is non-consensual, the opinion said. Under those portions, the victim must express a lack of consent through words or conduct, the victim must be younger than 18 years, and "the actor" must be in a position of special trust in relation to the victim.

"Jeffs argues that the instruction erroneously focused the jury on Jeffs' actions and position of special trust, rather than on Steed's, for the purpose of determining whether Wall consented," the opinion said.

The justices agreed, saying the jurors should have been asked to consider whether Steed was in a position of special trust and whether Steed lured or induced Wall into having sex.

"The state interprets the term 'actor' to mean the 'defendant,' " the opinion said. "We conclude that the state's interpretation is erroneous."

"We're thrilled," said Jeffs' defense attorney, Wally Bugden. "We're overjoyed. We're ecstatic that the Supreme Court agreed with us. ... The state just had the wrong legal theory."

Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix told CNN affiliate KSTU that the opinion is "going to make it difficult, I think, for us to do future prosecutions in cases where some of these men in positions of power -- almost complete power, like Warren Jeffs is -- to prosecute them for forcing young girls into these marriages. I think that's really the part of this opinion that is most disappointing for us."

The justices sent the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

Read more news coverage here or the Utah Supreme Court opinion here.


August 12, 2010 in Child Abuse, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Anticipatory Neglect in IL

An Illinois appellate court recently upheld the application of “anticipatory neglect” in regard to the Respondent mother.  Accordingly, because Respondent’s previous 7 children were determined to be neglected between 1997 and 2006, with her parental rights being terminated in regards to 6 of them, the trial court’s findings of neglect and unfitness in regard to a current infant were not against the manifest weight of the evidence.  The case is In re J.C., Jr., No. 3-08-0934 (Ill. App. Ct., 3d Dist. Dec. 29, 2009).  Read the opinion here.


March 2, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Arrested for Not Registering Home-Schooled Kids


FONDA -- A Montgomery County couple has been arrested on child endangerment charges for failing to register their children with the school district as they were home-schooled, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said Monday.

The Cressys were issued appearance tickets to appear in the Town of Glen Court at a later date. The case has been turned over to the Montgomery County District Attorney and the Child Protective Unit.

Hoffman said the Cressys have since submitted a home-schooling curriculum, which he has approved. 

An arrest seems a little harsh, especially on child endangerment charges.  Some might suggest that the most problematic and unsafe school districts in the country should face child endangerment charges themselves.

For more on the Montgomery County case, read here.


January 26, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tattooing Children

We’ve previously touched on the difficulty of drawing a line between permitting parents to make certain medical decisions and having the state do so.  What about tattooing children with primitive instruments?  Is there something wrong with that?  How is different from piercing a baby’s ears, other than the permanency of having a “mom and dad” tattoo on your arm?


CHATTOOGA COUNTY, Ga. - A Georgia couple is out of jail on bond after being arrested for tattooing six of their children.

Investigators say they put their children in danger, but they say they did nothing wrong.

Investigators said a plastic pen body with a needle made of a guitar string connected to an electric motor was used to tattoo the six children.

Read more here.


January 21, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders Today

Today, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in United States v. Comstock (08-1224), which deals with a federal law that indefinitely commits those who finished serving their sentences in North Carolina, typically for sexual offenses against minors.  During oral argument, General Kagan pointed that out of 103 people certified under these laws, 83 had committed sexual offenses.  She stated:

What is necessary [under this law] is two things: First, that the person in fact have engaged in sexually violent behavior or child molestation. So there is a factual predicate there. And -- and so far, the Bureau of Prisons has found that about 15,000 people whom it has reviewed meet that factual predicate. Of those, the Bureau of Prisons has certified only 105 of those, who were also found to have the kind of mental illness that made it reasonably likely that -- that they would continue to commit this -- these kinds of offenses. (Tr. 24-25).

The Supreme Court has previously upheld a similar Kansas law in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997).

The Supreme Court oral argument transcript in United States v. Comstock (08-1224) is available here, and commentary on the law from a victim's perspective is here.



January 12, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Child Slavery in Haiti

An astounding new report suggests that because of poverty, at least 225,000 children in Haiti, two-third girls, have been sent into slavery as unpaid household servants, known as “restavek.”  Some of these children—especially girls—also suffer sexual, psychological, and physical abuse.  Counter-logically, 11% of families with a restavek have sent their own children into domestic servitude elsewhere.  Read more here.


January 9, 2010 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 18, 2009

ABC's 20/20 to feature a segment on "Parental Alienation Syndrome" Friday night

Parental Alienation Syndrome to be highlighted on ABC’s 20/20

Posted by admin in Brainwashing

20/20 show on parental alienation syndromeABC News’ show 20/20 will be featuring a segment this Friday, with a brief appearance by Dr. Richard Warshak, the foremost author and psychologist on parental alienation syndrome, aka “children brainwashed to hate a parent.”

From Dr. Warshak’s site,

I expect this show to have a major impact in educating the public about the suffering of children who have been turned against a parent, and about what can be done to help ease a child’s transition back to a rejected parent.

The segment will be anchored by 20/20 reporter Chris Cuomo. This topic, mental child abuse, is vastly misunderstood by parents, therapists, judges, and lawyers alike, so I’m excited that it will be in front of a national audience. Dr. Warshak is the foremost authority on parent-child alienation, so ABC did great in choosing to interview him.

The segment should air in the first hour of the 2 hour show (9-11pm EST). expe



December 18, 2009 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Child Protective Services to Investigate Balloon Boy's Home



The media coverage of the Heene Family (of Wife Swap fame) continues endlessly, even more so now that the adrift balloon once suspected of carrying six-year-old Falcon Heene has been declared a hoax.  Among the many questions being asked is whether Child Protective Services should investigate the Heene home.  This, in turn, raises the ageless question of when the threshold for such intervention has been established, implicating the tension between intervening too frequently and failing to intervene when intervention is needed.  Of course, the answer must carefully consider the very strong autonomy and privacy rights of the parents, the interests of the children (which often may be to remain free of intervention), and the very limited number of alternatives—particularly for a set of three siblings.               


October 20, 2009 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)