Many States were not able to estimate the number of interstate inquiries that are made, since these are not tracked; however, the number of inquiries in a year could be large. (See table 20.) If there are an estimated 500,000 or more individuals who are found to be perpetrators each year, and one-half of these concern at least one out of State inquiry, more than 200,000 inquiries would be made a year, not including those involving applications to be foster parents, adoptive parents, child welfare workers, private agency workers, and other persons working with or caring for children.
The Adam Walsh Act specifies that the national registry is to be used by "any Federal, State, Indian Tribe or local government entity, or any agent of such entities, that has a need for such information in order to carry out its responsibilities under law to protect children from abuse or neglect." If this provision is interpreted to cover prospective foster care and adoption applicants and employment checks, the number of inquiries could conceivably reach a million or more per year.
The most commonly mentioned (71.4%) potential benefit of a national registry reported was "saving time" since a single search could provide information from all States. More than one-half (54.3%) of the States mentioned specifically that a single source of information would be useful. The second most commonly stated (60.0%) potential benefit was improving the safety of children due to the additional information it might provide during an investigation or while considering a placement decision. More than one-half of the States (51.4%) mentioned that cross-State information would be more accessible, while none mentioned that within-State information would be more available. It therefore can be assumed that States would plan to use the national registry only for out-of-State inquiries. One-third of the States (34.3%) mentioned that a national registry would be useful for conducting or confirming checks of potential foster care or adoptive parents; a few mentioned other checks on adults would be also be facilitated. Nearly one-fifth (17.1%) mentioned that a national registry could result in cost savings since some States have service charges for responding to information requests, whereas a national registry would presumably be free of charge. Several States mentioned that they would not be dependent upon the veracity of the individual applicant in identifying States to contact, since a single search could address possible matches from all participating States. (See table 21.)
A few States made explicit conditions under which such benefits would occur, including mentioning that most or all States would have to participate in providing data to the registry, and that timeliness of data and its accuracy were extremely important. Without comprehensiveness, timeliness, and accuracy, the benefits of a national registry would not be realized. The two States that did not identify any potential benefits, as well as several other States, mentioned that, without a clear understanding of the scope and parameters of a national registry, they could not weigh the potential benefits against potential problems.
All responding States, except one, identified barriers to using a national registry. A primary concern of nearly one-half (61.1%) of the responding States were inconsistencies and differences in types of maltreatment, levels of evidence, due process procedures, and expungement practices. (See table 22.) These issues also led them to be concerned about the challenges in maintaining the data and the risks of it being out of date or inaccurate (47.2%), as well as the risk of legal challenges (25.0%). While these concerns most directly impact the provision of data to a national registry, they might also impact utilization of a national registry. Certainly, States will want to obtain more information from other States once they identify a person on the national registry as being a likely match to the person of interest, in order to reduce the number of false positives that would occur. Given current practices of contacting locations directly, this would not necessarily be any additional burden.
One-quarter of the States (25.0%) indicated that the limited amount of information a national registry could offer under current law would be a barrier to its utility. (See table 22.) The Adam Walsh Act limits the case-specific information that can be included in the registry to the perpetrator's name and the nature of the substantiated maltreatment. This limitation was recognized by the States as inadequate to identify perpetrators using the system. Additional identifying information such as date of birth would be necessary to perform useful matches.
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