As described in the Adam Walsh Act, a national child abuse registry would be an electronic database identifying perpetrators of substantiated child maltreatment investigations. It would not be a true registry in that those identified would not personally "register" and data on them (e.g. address or other personal information) would not be updated on an ongoing basis. It would contain only historical records of past substantiated child maltreatment investigations. A national registry would contain data submitted voluntarily by state or tribal government agencies, or at state option by local government agencies, and would include "case-specific identifying information that is limited to the name of the perpetrator and the nature of the substantiated case of child abuse or neglect." The database would not be accessible to the public and is thus very different from the public sex offenders registry operated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Instead, as described in the statute, the child abuse registry would be accessible only to governmental agencies (federal, state, local or tribal), or agents of such entities, that need the information in order to protect children from abuse or neglect. This would certainly include inquiries for investigative purposes, such as if a state agency investigating potential maltreatment wishes to determine if the alleged perpetrator has a prior history of maltreatment substantiated in another state. Employment-related inquiries (for example as part of a background check on someone who would work with children) are not mentioned explicitly in the statute. However, HHS's reading of the law is that such inquiries would be allowed if they were submitted to the registry by (or through) a state or local child protection agency.
Participating in a national registry of child maltreatment perpetrators would be voluntary for states. The law provides no incentives for a state that maintains a child abuse registry or other electronic repository of data on child maltreatment perpetrators to submit data to a national registry and there are no consequences for not doing so. In addition, the law explicitly prohibits HHS from requiring states, local governments or Indian tribes to modify their existing registries or child maltreatment records in order to comply with any national registry established under the Act.
Since the 2009 interim report, there has been no action by the relevant congressional committees to resolve the statutory barriers identified in the interim report or to clarify congressional intent regarding the major issues left ambiguous in the Adam Walsh Act.
The pertinent section of the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act may be found attached to this report as Appendix 2.