Child Abuse

 

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.

5. Exonerations

  • 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:
    • 75% had been convicted based on a false accusation or perjury (NRE Report, Table 15).
    • In two-thirds of these cases, the alleged crime had been fabricated (NRE Report, Table 15).
    • 37 had been given life sentences.
  • 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)

References:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Ney T. True and False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: Assessment and Case Management. Psychology Press. pp. 23–33. 1995.
  5. Hobbs CJ, Hanks HGI, Wynne JM. Child Abuse and Neglect: A Clinician’s Handbook. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 197. 1999.
  6. Schetky DH; Green AH. Child Sexual Abuse: A Handbook for Health Care and Legal Professionals. Psychology Press. pp. 105. 1988.
  7. Bolen RM. Child Sexual Abuse: Its Scope and Our Failure. Springer. pp. 109. 2001.
  8. 2,987,515 children x 0.05 = 149,375
  9. Robin M. Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations. Haworth Press. pp. 21–24. 1991.
  10. 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.
  11. Trocme N, Bala N. False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 29, 2005. p. 1341.
  12. National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center. http://www.falseallegation.org/ . Accessed May 20, 2012.
  13. 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

 

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