WASHINGTON — The latest federal data indicate child-protection agencies nationwide continue to target Christian families, according to Christian legal experts and advocates for reforming aggressive child-welfare agencies.
The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4), released earlier this year, indicated a dramatic nationwide drop in the incidence of suspected child abuse and neglect. The report, mandated by Congress and issued once a decade by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the Department of Health and Human Services, is considered the gold standard in estimating abuse and neglect rates nationwide and providing a point of comparison from previous years.
The study, which is based on reports between 2005 and 2006 from more than 10,000 “sentinels” who are connected in various ways to child protection, found that the estimated rate of all forms of maltreatment is down 26% since the last study in the mid-1990s. Drops included a 47% decrease in the rate of sexual abuse and a 29% decrease in physical abuse.
The recent national study was released with no public notice or press release, which contrasted with the Clinton administration’s highly touted release in 1996 of the previous NIS that had found large increases in child abuse and neglect.
The report confirmed the anecdotal concerns of some critics of child-protection agencies because it singled out as “endangered” children not enrolled in school — including home-schooled children, children from large families and children whose mother is abused.
For instance, the report found that sentinels were most likely to file abuse or neglect allegations against families with four or more children.
“The real epidemic is in false reports,” said Stephen Krason, professor of political science and legal studies at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “Some people will think large families must have neglect because parents couldn’t possibly look after all of these kids.”
Krason, who has overviewed the existing research on child-protection overreach, said the data reflect a focus by the agencies and other “mandated reporters” on families that they disfavor for personal reasons, including anti-Christian bias. Such mandated reporters are uniquely exempt from civil liability claims and are not required to provide actual evidence of abuse or neglect to submit families to lengthy and invasive investigations.
“These people are notorious for inserting many things under the label of ‘abuse’ that no commonsense person would think of as abuse,” Krason said.
Another trend among sentinels is higher rates of reported sexual assault by allegations involving children who are not enrolled in schools. Included among these children are the roughly 2 million home-schooled students, who have faced frequent aggressive investigations by suspicious agencies around the country. Importantly, the report found sentinels were much more likely to suspect abuse and neglect in these children overall, but they also were much less likely to find any actual evidence of abuse among these children than among kids enrolled in schools.
“All of this is really dependent on what your definitions of abuse and neglect are,” said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, about the notoriously ill-defined terms that can become simply an extension of the biases of the officials involved.
Examples of such bias-based investigations include a recent case in which Farris defended a family from allegations that their children were in danger of abuse because the social workers involved “believe being serious about your religion is a risk factor for abuse.”
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