Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
“What has been demonstrated here is that you have a system that is simply in contempt….You have a system that is not only out of control, it’s illegal at this point.” — Rep. George Miller (D-CA)
1. Connect: Facebook
2. National survey: One in Ten Falsely Accused of Abuse
3. How common are false allegations of child abuse?
A false allegation is one in which an “unsubstantiated investigation disposition that indicates a conclusion that the person who made the allegation of maltreatment knew that the allegation was not true” (1).
2.98 million American children underwent a Child Protective Services investigation (or alternative CPS response) for an allegation of child abuse or neglect in 2010 (2).
- One-fifth of the claims met the legal requirements of abuse. In the other four-fifths of the claims, the investigation determined that there was not sufficient evidence under state law to conclude or suspect that the child was maltreated or at-risk of being maltreated (3).
- An estimated 2-10% of all child abuse claims are believed to be false (4,5,6,7).
- Using a conservative 5% false allegation figure, nearly 150,000 children are involved in a false child abuse claim each year (8).
- During child-custody disputes, false allegation rates as high as 36-55% have been reported (9,10,11).
4. What factors contribute to false allegations of child abuse?
- Lack of presumption of innocence: According to the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center, in “alleged physical abuse cases, there is seldom a search for an ‘equally competing hypothesis’ for causation of any injuries. In most cases, the presumption is made that the injurie(s) were non-accidental and therefore must have been inflicted by someone” (12).
- Overly broad definitions: Each state has its own legal definition of child abuse that often includes vague terms like being “at-risk” for “emotional” abuse. In California, “family problems” can meet the statutory definition of abuse and neglect. In Utah, a child’s mere knowledge (not witnessing) of domestic violence by a parent is classified as abuse (13).
- Low standards of proof: Thirty-two states use the weakest “preponderance of evidence” standard: AL, AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, IA, KY, ME, MD, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NC, ND, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY. Only two states employ the strong “clear and convincing” standard: KS and PA (13).
- Lack of accountability: The procedures of Child and Protective Service agencies and administrative law judges are not subject to external review, and their decisions difficult to appeal.
- Over the past two decades, 102 persons who had been convicted for child sex abuse were later exonerated (NRE Report, Table 1).
- Of these 102 persons:
- Conclusion: “Many judges, prosecutors, and child welfare agencies are skeptical of accusations of child sex abuse in custody battles, for obvious reasons.” (NRE Report, p. 78)
- Administration for Children and Families. Child Maltreatment 2010. Washington DC. Department of Health and Human Services. Page 6. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/index.htm
- Administration for Children and Families. Child Maltreatment 2010. Washington DC. Department of Health and Human Services. Table 3-2. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/index.htm
- Administration for Children and Families. Child Maltreatment 2010. Washington DC. Department of Health and Human Services. Pages 7-8. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/index.htm
- Ney T. True and False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: Assessment and Case Management. Psychology Press. pp. 23–33. 1995.
- Hobbs CJ, Hanks HGI, Wynne JM. Child Abuse and Neglect: A Clinician’s Handbook. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 197. 1999.
- Schetky DH; Green AH. Child Sexual Abuse: A Handbook for Health Care and Legal Professionals. Psychology Press. pp. 105. 1988.
- Bolen RM. Child Sexual Abuse: Its Scope and Our Failure. Springer. pp. 109. 2001.
- 2,987,515 children x 0.05 = 149,375
- Robin M. Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations. Haworth Press. pp. 21–24. 1991.
- Mikkelsen EJ, Gutheil TG, Emens M. False Sexual-Abuse Allegations by Children and Adolescents: Contextual Factors and Clinical Subtypes. American Journal of Psychotherpay. Vol. 46, 1992.
- Trocme N, Bala N. False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 29, 2005. p. 1341.
- National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center. http://www.falseallegation.org/ . Accessed May 20, 2012.
- Administration for Children and Families. Child Maltreatment 2010. Washington DC. Department of Health and Human Services. Appendix D. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/index.htm