A new state law will go into effect July 1 that will require individuals who volunteer to work with children to report suspected signs of child abuse to the proper authorities. It’s a blanket law. It covers everyone, from the occasional school lunch room helper who may catch fleeting glimpses of hungry children to Cub Scout leaders who might be in the same room with a group of children an hour or less a week. Nonpaid summer camp assistants also are included, as are mentors to preteens and teens during or after school.
There’s nothing wrong with the law per se. Adults should report physical signs of abuse when they see it. They should bring it to someone’s attention without delay.
What’s bothersome is the “or-else” part of the state law, which takes effect July 1. Why does the state feel compelled to threaten adults who fail to report obvious indications of child abuse with fines and arrest? Violators, those who decline to notify authorities of something that is readily apparent, could face up to a year in prison and $1,000 fine.
Threats of fines or jail should not be necessary. Adults should do this automatically, without being told or ordered to do so. To ignore signs of mistreatment would be to condone it. As Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens explains, it’s more a moral obligation than anything else.
Children depend on parents or guardians to protect them from the monsters of the world, the bad side of human behavior. To most children, parents are an always-steady and dependable wall of protection and home a safe harbor in even the stormiest of times.
Sadly, not every boy or girl has a secure or stable environment to return to each day. For some, home is a topsy-turvy world of turmoil, a place where they are mentally or physically abused.
Many of these children do not know what to do. Some tend to withdraw within themselves when the very people they are supposed to trust become violent or abusive toward or to them. They do not know who to turn to, who to trust.
Certainly we as a human race have not become that cold, that callous or insensitive or tuned out that we would knowingly send a child back into a dangerous or hostile environment without reporting it. We would hope not, but for those who would - well, soon there will be a state law requiring it.