All States have policies and practices in place to respond to inquiries about whether an individual had been found to have been a perpetrator of abuse or neglect. This is currently conducted on a request-by-request basis.
Policy and Legal Issues
From a policy perspective, the provision of data to a national registry is more likely to depend upon the purpose of the registry than the capacity to provide data. This is because State legislation often governs to whom data may be released. While the creation of a national registry could limit who could gain access to information, the initial access could not be controlled by each State. The release of additional data could be determined by each State, once the State was contacted by an agency. Thus, whether a State may provide data to a national registry may hinge on current law as to who may receive data from a data repository and what data they may receive.
The Adam Walsh Act requires that a national registry of child abuse "shall only be accessible to 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 to protect children from abuse or neglect." Findings regarding the persons to whom and purposes for which data on perpetrators may currently be provided are described below.
The law or policy governing the release of information on perpetrators varies from State to State. All but one State indicated that they have State law or written policy that allows out-of-State entities to access information on their data repository. A majority of States provide access to individuals from child welfare agencies and law enforcement personnel. About one-third of the States (30.8%) provide access to employers of child care personnel. (See table 10.) Fewer States provide access to persons employing people who provide care or services to children (other than child care), schools, and citizen review boards. Two-thirds of the States (65.4%) have additional categories of persons to whom they will release data, including employers of health care professionals, grand juries, courts, physicians who have identified a child as suspected to have been abused or neglected, and child fatality review boards. There is considerable variation in terminology about additional classes of persons who may receive data on perpetrators.
Almost all States (96.2%) have law or written policy that specifies the purposes for which information may be released from the data repository. A majority of States will release information under the following circumstances: as part of an abuse and neglect investigation; a background check to become a foster or adoptive parent; or a background check for employment or licensing in child care or other direct child services. Additionally, States will release the information for other purposes with the consent of the maltreatment perpetrator. Ten out of 36 States (27.8%) have laws or written policies that would prohibit the State from providing information to a national registry. An additional 16 States (44.4%) are not clear about this issue. No State reported that it would be prohibited from obtaining information from a national registry. (See table 11.)
Child protective services (CPS) agencies also have practices that determine how much data they currently release upon a request for information. When responding to an inquiry, nearly two-thirds will provide the type of maltreatment that was substantiated (61.1%), and more than one-half of the States (58.3%) will provide the recorded name of the perpetrator and the date of the incident. (See table 12.) Between one-third and one-half of States will also provide the following perpetrator information:
- alternative names (36.1%)
- date of birth or age (41.7%)
- relationship to victim (36.1%)
- gender (33.3%)
- social security number (33.3%)
- dates of dispositions (33.3%)
States will also provide information on child victims, but with somewhat less consistency. In addition, no specific piece of information was provided by more than one-half of the States. Between a one-third and one-half of the States will provide the following information:
- date of incident (48.6%)
- type of maltreatment (45.7%)
- relationship of perpetrator to victim(s) (40.0%)
When determining what information to provide to other States about child maltreatment perpetrators, some respondents reported that it depends on the purpose of the request and who is making the request. Some State-specific examples include:
- the requesting State may only be informed about whether the person is on the data repository as a perpetrator for those screening foster care providers
- some States will provide information only if the case involves another investigation of child abuse or neglect
- some States will provide only responses such as "founded" or "not founded," regardless of the purpose, without any additional information
States will provide much less data on child victims. Six States (16.7%) will not provide information about child victims unless it has been confirmed that the request applies to an ongoing investigation of child abuse or neglect. Eight States (22.2%) reported that they do not provide data on child victims or do not keep the information in the central CPS agency. Three States (8.3%) will refer the request to a local CPS agency.
Once a request has been made from another State, more than three-quarters of States (77.8%) reported that they verify the identity or credentials of the requesting entity. More than one-half of the States (58.3%) require all requests to be mailed or faxed on official agency letterhead. Some States employ a complex verification process. For example, one agency stated that "verification can usually be obtained by checking an official telephone listing or checking with a third party at the business office at the requestor's reported place of employment. When in doubt of the requestor's identity or authority to receive such information, staff is required to deny the telephone request and instruct the requestor to send a notarized written request." Five States (13.9%) reported that they do not ask for verification.
In general, most States (77.8%) do not charge other States for providing information in response to inquiries. Of those who do charge, the costs range from $10 to $49 or may vary according to the type of inquiry.