Assessing the Feasibility of Creating and Maintaining a National Registry of Child Maltreatment Perpetrators: Research Report. 4.4 DISCUSSION

09/01/2012

States identified a number of potential benefits of a national registry including better and faster access to perpetrator records in other States; less reliance on alleged perpetrators to identify former States of residence; access to more information; possible savings in staff time and resources; and enhanced safety for children resulting from all of these factors.

National estimates developed for this report indicate that there are fewer than 8,000 interstate perpetrators in any given year, and possibly less. That does not imply that there will be only 8,000 positive results from among the many (possibly millions) of inquiries made to a national registry, however. After all, the most common use is likely to be during maltreatment investigations before substantiation has been made, which would also identify those who were substantiated in other States but not in the current State (at least not at that moment). If the national registry were allowed to be used for foster care applications and certain employment background checks, the number of positive results from a national registry would be even larger. The expected utility of a national registry will certainly vary according to who may have access and for what purposes.

Of equal and possibly greater importance for determining the utility of a national registry is its potential to save staff time and resources resulting from the speed and efficiency of making all interstate inquiries, the vast majority of which will not find a match. If the registry data and its matching procedures are seen as reliable, so that States can accept a negative finding without further inquiry, substantial savings may result. Child safety may also be enhanced as it could speed up the processing of open maltreatment cases.

Both the State surveys and the prevalence analyses uncovered a number of important concerns that will have to be considered in determining the feasibility of a national registry capable of providing the anticipated benefits described above. States were clear that the utility of the national registry will depend on its comprehensiveness, which will require the participation of most or all States. How this can be accomplished within a voluntary framework and in the absence of funds to support data submission will have to be addressed. Further, the prevalence analyses indicated that small States may only find a handful of matches in a given year from a national registry. If the effort required of these States to supply data to the registry is more than nominal, the work to reward ratio may not be large enough to justify participation for such States. States were also concerned about the accuracy and timeliness of the data on a national registry, indicating that both would be required at a high level to make it a useful tool.

A number of States recognized, and the prevalence study confirmed, that a national registry that is limited to name and type of maltreatment will not be useful to States. Minimally, additional information such as date of birth, sex, and possibly other identifying information will need to be added to support a reliable matching process, though in all probability results would still need to be confirmed by following up with individual States to weed out false positives. The addition of social security number would further increase the accuracy of the matches, though States may be reluctant to supply such information and the collection of such information in a federal registry would need to be authorized explicitly in statute.

When asked whether the benefits are likely to outweigh the problems associated with participating in a national registry, a few States reported that they did not know. Comments from those who did not know indicated that the answer will depend on how well the above-described concerns are addressed in the design and implementation of a national registry.

Based on the findings discussed in this chapter, the following should be considered essential features of a national registry of child maltreatment perpetrators:

  • comprehensiveness, timeliness, and accuracy
  • capacity to produce a reasonably accurate matches that can be confirmed with individual States
  • direct access by local child welfare staff, who make most out-of-State inquiries
  • easy access to up-to-date summaries of State practices regarding due process procedures, levels of evidence, and expungement practices


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