Child and Elder Abuse Reporting Laws


Child and Elder Abuse Reporting Laws

Childand Elder Abuse Reporting Laws

Thereare ethical dilemmas that emerge when psychologists are dealing withcases of child and elder abuse. Physicalabuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation andneglect are important challenges faced by children and elderly in themodern society. These abuses are mainly perpetrated by individualsknow to the victim, mainly family members and caregivers. However,majority of these cases go unreported and therefore the perpetratorsare not held accountable for their action. The victims, theirfamilies as well as professionals such as psychologistsare unwilling to report these cases. Psychologists can identifyincidences of child and elder abuse while dealing with the clients orcaregivers. However, psychologists are required by ethical principlesand standards to be confidential and treat client information withprivacy. Therefore, sharing information without the consent of theclient is unethical. However, psychologists are also expected torespect mandatory reporting laws as well as protect the welfare oftheir clients.

Childand Elder Abuse Reporting Laws

Psychologistsare faced by ethical dilemma in dealing with cases of children andelder abuse. While they are required by ethical standards to keepinformation they come across as confidential, some incidences ofchild or elder abuse require immediate action by the authorities toprotect the victim from further abuse. Child abuse is any form ofphysical or emotional mistreatment of a child. According to JuvenileAct and Elder Justice Act child abuseas commission or omissions of an act that result into harm or threatchild. It included physical assault, sexual harassment and abuse andchild neglect. On the other hand, elder abuse can be defined asintentional harm to an elderly person which includes physical,emotional or financial harm (Turton,2012).In many cases, child abuse is perpetrated by a close family member oran individual known to the family members and it occurs at home, inschools or in the community. There are four major classes of childabuse. Physical includes any physical violence against a childresulting into injuries. Sexual abuse involves an adult or anindividual using the child for sexual stimulation. Emotional abuseinvolves an adverse psychological condition that is associated withmistreated. Example mistreatments that result into emotional abuseinclude yelling, inattention or harsh criticism. Neglect is also amajor type of child abuse where parents or caregivers intentionallyfail to fulfill their responsibility on the child, especiallyprovision of basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and medicalcare (Sebreet al, 2004).Financial abuse in elders involves financial exploitation of theelder. Both elderly and child abuse amounts to violation of thevictims’ rights (Laumann,et al 2008).

  1. History of child and elder abuse

Althoughthe basic reference point in ethical dilemmas related to child andelder abuse is the psychologist code of conduct, there arelegislation and laws that psychologist need to be familiar with. Theenactment of the “Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997” was ahuge stride in the fight against child abuse (Phillips&amp Mann, 2013, 862). It also assured maltreated permanencyand stability. There are several historical factors that led to theenactment of the law. Before the law, there were other legislationsthat aimed at securing the safety of abused children and the generalwelfare of children. There is no doubt that the challenges facingchildren in the modern society have increased. Thus, more childrenare prone to child abuse in the modern society. According to Phillipsand Mann, (2013) the “reduced government spending on socialservices and child welfare, poor economic conditions, the influx ofcrack cocaine usage in impoverished communities, mandatory drugcharge sentencing, heightened material involvement in the criminaljustice system and increased rate of HIV/AIDS infections” hasresulted into an increase in the number of children that requirefoster care (Phillips &amp Mann, 2013, 864).However, the need for safety and stability of children who requirefoster care is not a new phenomenon

Inthe industrial era, orphans children were often mistreated and forcedto work or life in almshouses. This initiated the child rightsactivism which focused on promoting the idea those children should beloved and nourished and reducing incidences of child abuse. Theseattempts led to the creation of private homes for children living inalmshouses, fight against child labor, compulsory primary educationas well as the creation of a juvenile criminal justice system(Phillips &amp Mann, 2013).Additionally, changing dynamics of the Americansociety has also increased the risk of elder abuse. With the aging ofthe baby boomers, there are an increased number of aged populationsin the modern society which has increased the number of elder abuseand neglect cases. Cases of elder abuse have been reported over theyears (Zeranski &amp Halgin, 2011). Although the Federal Elder AbuseAct in the 1980s did not see the light of the day in the legislatureand therefore did not become law, there have been numerous attemptsto protect the elders from abuse. These attempts led to the creationof the National Center on Elder Abuse under the US Department ofHealth and Human Services (Loue, 2001).

  1. Reporting laws for child abuse

Accordingto London et al (2005), despite the fact that children abuse is awidespread problem in the modern society, there is limitedinformation on the number of children abused. This is because theestimated by the child protection agencies are does not reflect thereal numbers. Majority of the cases go unreported and therefore arenot captured in the children protection agencies. Additionally, thereis limited medical and psychological evidence that support theavailable data. Therefore, reporting of child abuse cases is animportant aspect. It is therefore important for caregivers andparents to understand their roles in protecting children againstabuse and upholding mandated reporting requirements related to childabuse. Despite cases of child abuse being reported regularly tomental health practitioners directly or indirectly, majority of themare unwilling to report these cases for further actions (London etal, 2005).

Psychologicalexamination of a child is likely to reveal that a child has beenabused or neglected (Kalichman,1999a. Kalichman, 1999b).According to the professional ethics that guide professional mentalhealth practitioners, any client information is supposed to betreated as private and confidential. The code of conduct alsorequires psychologists to strive to benefit their clients, be justand respect the dignity of individuals. Using the information for anyother purpose, other than the treatment of the client, and withouthis or her consent violates the professional code of conduct(AmericanPsychological Association, 2010).As a result, a good number of clinical cases of children abuse arenot reported and therefore no actions are taken against theperpetrator and the case is not captured in the national statistics.In some cases, the client is reluctant to have the information madeknow to a third party. However, there are laws that mandate thepractitioner to report the case to the authorities without theconsent of the client. This mainly includes cases where theperpetrator is the primary caregiver living with the child. This isbecause failure to report will result into repeated abuse since thechild is at a constant risk (Renninger et al, 2002).

Additionally,section 1 of the ethical standards gives a guideline on howpsychologists should resolve ethical dilemmas in their professionalduties. The standards require that the psychologist make a decisionwhich is consistent with the general principles and code of ethics. In cases where the psychologist is required to cooperate with otherprofessionals or entities such as law enforcement agencies, informedconsent is required. However, when informed consent is not applicabledue to the nature of the case, the psychologists should be guided bythe law as well as the welfare of the client (AmericanPsychological Association, 2010).Therefore, reporting cases of child abuse requires an informedconsent from the parent or guardian. This is not practical in caseswhere the perpetrator is the parent. In such cases, psychologistsshould be guided by mandatory reporting laws as well as the welfareof the child.

  1. Reporting laws for elder abuse

Inmany instances, cases of elder abuse are not reported to the relevantauthority. This is despite the fact that a good number of people maybe aware of an abused elder in the neighborhoods or their families.Additionally, many cases of elder abuse are handled by psychologistsbut does not are not reported to the authorities. There is a growingtrend of elderly people being taken to nursing homes where they aregiven specialized care by trained caregivers. However, centrally tothe common belief, majority of elderly individuals in the UnitedStates stay at their homes where the primary caregivers are theirfamily members or a paid nurse (Rinkler,2009). Due to lack of a definitive law on elder abuse, the protection ofthe elderly is combined with disable adult protection. Elder abuseprotection laws are mainly aimed at colleting information onsuspected case of abuse, reducing or eliminating the risk of abusethrough community education and interventions and providing a legalframework for law enforcement in relation to elder abuse. Some stateslaws have mandatory requirement where individuals are obligated toreport any case of elder abuse. However, this law is mainlyrestricted to incapacitated elders or those who are considered highlyvulnerable. This includes elders who are unable to physically oremotionally protect themselves or report abuse (Bergeron&amp Gray, 2003).

Thereare many ways through which psychologists are able to obtaininformation on elder abuse. One of the most important methods isthrough elderly caregivers support groups. These are support groupsthat are established to help individuals caring for elderly in theirfamilies to cope with the challenges such as stress and financialburden. The support groups are also involved education programs onthe best methods of taking care of the elderly. Through these groups,psychologists can identify incidences of elder abuse from theexperiences of the caregivers. However, confidentiality becomes animportant ethical and legal issue in support group’s activity. Thisis due to incidences where caregivers in the support groups aremanipulated or coerced by professionals or facilitators to revealinformation beyond what they intended to reveal. As a result, thereare some arguments that caregivers’ support seasons shoulddiscourage the attempt to make them forums for reporting elder abusedue to legal and ethical issues (Bergeron&amp Gray, 2003).The facilitators of the support groups’ activities areprofessionals guided by the psychologists’ code of conducts.Psychologists’ code of conduct dictates that the facilitator has anobligation to take precautions in protecting ensuring privacy andconfidentiality is maintained. The code of conduct also states thatsoliciting of testimonies from client susceptible to undue influenceis unethical (AmericanPsychological Association, 2010).Any information obtained from a client should be treated as privateand confidential. This includes how the information will be used.The confidentiality is limited by the law or other regulations(Bergeron&amp Gray, 2003).Therefore, encouraging reporting of elder abuse through support groupis against the ethical principles that guide psychologists. This isbecause the information is obtained and in some cases used withoutthe knowledge of the victims. Nonetheless, information on elder abuseshould be handling according the provisions in the law.

  1. APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists

Psychologistplays a major role in the management of elderly and children abusecases. Elderly and children abuse results into trauma which haspsychological implications. Trauma especially among children canaffect the normal development and socialization (Cohenet al, 2009).There mental health practitioners will always encounter abuse casesregularly. There are both ethical and legal implications as well asobligation associated with psychological services to abusedindividuals. Psychologists are guided by professional codes ofconducts as well laws that have an impact on their work. Ethicsinvolves making decisions based on values when faced with an ethicaldilemma (Scheiderer,2012).The most important ethical dilemma facing psychologists dealing withabused elderly or children is how to deal with the information theyget from their clients. The ethical standards states that“psychologists have a primary obligation and tale reasonableprecautions to respect the confidentiality rights of those with whomthey work” (AmericanPsychological Association, 2010).In cases involving child and adult abuse, the need to respect theconfidential rights of the client conflicts with the obligation ofthe psychologist to report cases of abuse for legal action. Forexample, in the course of their work, psychologists may come acrossinformation that a child or elder is being abused. This informationmay be essential in protecting the victim against abuse. However,sharing this information with a third party goes against the ethicalprinciples. The ethical dilemma is whether the need to protect theconfidentiality of information overweights the need to protect thechild or elder from further abuse (AmericanPsychological Association, 2010).In some states, there are mandatory laws that require psychologists to report certain cases of abuse to the authorities. The mandatoryreporting laws indicate the cases where the social value is moreimportant than confidentiality.

  1. Conclusion

Whethera psychologist should report incidences of elder or child abuse is animportant ethical dilemma. The code of conducts requires thatpsychologists should keep information about their clientconfidential. Psychologists may come across sensitive informationregarding child or elder abuse. In some cases, they may have legalobligation to share this information. The ethical dilemma is whetherto protect the child or elder from further abuse by reporting to theauthority or keeping the information confidential to protect theintegrity of the profession. With the increased cases of abuse,psychologists have a moral and legal obligation to help in the fightagainst elderly and child abuse. This can be done by reportingincidences of abuse they come across in the course of theirprofessional work.


Psychologistsneed to act in the best interest of their client by reportingincidences of elder and child abuse. Although they should be guidedby professional code of conduct and ethical standards, failure toreport some of these cases threatens the welfare of their clients. Moredefinitive laws in relation to elder and child abuse are necessary.This will increase the cases being reported to the authorities bycreating a more defined legal framework. Community based programsthat are aimed at encouraging reporting of abuse cases are alsoessential. Mandatory reporting laws are likely to achieve very littleif there is no community support.


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