An investigation by the Associated Press found that state-based child abuse registries are raising widespread and significant concerns of implicating innocent people.
According to the article, the registries are not public, but rather used by day-care centers, schools and adoption agencies to screen people who want to work with or adopt children.
Those whose names appear on the lists do not have to be accused or convicted of a crime. Rather, in many states, names get into the registries if a child protection authority substantiates a claim that a person abused or neglected a child.
The AP reports that the state-based registries – which could eventually be swept into a federal database – are seeing pushback from even the most ardent defenders of children:
Even the National Child Abuse Coalition, a major player in Washington in advocating on behalf of abused children, is cautious about the proposed national registry.
Tom Birch, the coalition's legislative counsel, said there are many unanswered questions about the registry's costs and how it would reconcile differences in the states' definitions and handling of child maltreatment.
''Rushing ahead to create a national registry is not the way to go at this point,'' he said. ''It would need to be done right.''
The article highlights the plight of one California couple who have struggled to get off the state’s Child Abuse Central Index even after they were cleared of child abuse charges.
Their case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the AP reports. Here are the particulars:
The couple, Craig and Wendy Humphries of Valencia, were arrested in 2001 after their daughter, then 15, accused them of abuse; their younger children were placed in foster care.
State courts ruled the allegation was false but they remain on the list of 800,000 names. In 2008, a federal appeals court found the registry system unconstitutional because there's no way for the innocent to clear their names.
The ruling empathized with the Humphries as ''living every parent's nightmare.''
Esther Boynton, the Humphries' attorney, is frustrated by what she considers a slow, piecemeal government response to the ruling.
''It shows how the defendant is circling the wagons, how hard they will fight,'' she said. ''This goes on and on and on. My clients are living through that.''
The federal Health and Human Services agency will be examining state registries and exploring whether there's a reasonable way forward for a central nationwide registry, the article says.
However, one attorney quoted at the end of the article points out the uphill battle faced by those seeking to pull the innocent out of the lists' dragnet.
''You can't find a lawyer or judge who isn't shocked,'' [Missouri attorney Timothy Belz] said. ''Yet you go to the legislature and it's like pulling teeth to get it changed. All it takes is one kid to get molested, one horrible story, and the legislators just go nuts. The legislature ought to require itself to cool off."