• Child Abuse Registries Harm Families and Exacerbate Child Poverty


    While child abuse registries across the country are designed with the laudable goal of protecting children, due to inconsistent definitions and unaccountable practices, registries inflict lifelong harm on parents and caregivers with minimal oversight or due process.  The harm to children and families of our current child abuse registry approach has been described in two recent reports by Texas Public Policy Foundation and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Families living in poverty and families of color are disproportionately likely to experience the harms of the registry, and because child abuse registries severely limit employment opportunities for parents and caregivers, registries drive and exacerbate child and family poverty. A few common problems with child abuse registries include:


    • Vague, inconsistent definitions that mistake poverty for abuse or neglect. Minor forms of neglect have resulted in lifetime registry in some states, including, for example, brief lack of supervision while a parent runs an errand or substance use such as cannabis that had no demonstrated harm. 

    • A lack of neutral fact-finding. A person doesn’t have to be convicted or even charged with a crime to get listed. A name can be added to the registry for years, or even for life, simply on the word of a child welfare investigator.

    • Limited to nonexistent due process. Few states offer parents and caregivers the opportunity for a hearing before a neutral arbiter prior to being placed on the registry. Even when these listings can be appealed, it can take months or even years for a name to be removed from a registry, and parents and caregivers are left to navigate confusing appellate processes, often without access to counsel. 

    • Driving families deeper into poverty. Registries are used by employers to screen applicants for a broad and growing number of employment opportunities, including health care, home health care, education and childcare. Critically, the caregiving jobs that low-income women and women of color rely on to stabilize their families and rise out of poverty are the very jobs from which they are most likely to be barred once they are placed on the registry. Worse, in many states, the consequences are lifelong. In others, the consequences last decades.

    Model Child Abuse Registry Legislation

    United Family Advocates has created model state legislation to ensure due process and limit unintended harms caused by child abuse and neglect registries. The model legislation is available here.