By Bruce DePuyt
Advocates for children told a House panel Thursday that teachers, medical professionals and others who fail to report child abuse must face tougher sanctions than current law allows.
Backers of HB500 told the House Judiciary Committee that Maryland is one of only two states that doesn’t provide for jail or financial penalties when “mandatory reporters” — educators, doctors, nurses, social workers and others — fail to contact child protective services when they have knowledge of sexual or physical abuse.
Although the bill has been around for years, much of the conversation in committee revolved around the Deonte Carraway case. Carraway, a former teachers aide at Sylvania Woods Elementary School in Glenarden, was sentenced last year to 100 years in prison for sexually assaulting two dozen children over a period of years. The failure of school administrators and staff to stop the abuse is proof, advocates say, that state law must be strengthened.
“What we discovered, after investigating, is that there was no penalty associated with the crime” of not reporting, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D) said in an interview. “So there was no way to hold the person accountable.”
Several lawmakers expressed skepticism that new legislation is necessary, given that professionals already face a steep sanction — the possible loss of their license — for failing to report abuse.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), committee vice chairwoman, bristled against the notion that advocates care more about children than legislators do. “I find that offensive,” she told the bill’s backers.
Some on the committee also expressed concern that fears of jail time or fines would lead to an avalanche of abuse claims.
“It’s a little scary” to face harsh sanctions, committee Chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) said.
Advocates say the bill has been amended over the years to respond to critics’ concerns about what constitutes knowledge of abuse.
The debate over reporting abuse comes as the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University officials face widespread condemnation over the failure to stop Larry Nassar, a former team doctor who recently admitted to molesting hundreds of female athletes under the guise of medical care.
Alsobrooks called the push back from the committee “agonizing,” adding, “juxtaposed against the innocence of a child that has been stolen, it’s feels, I think, like there [is] so little understanding.”
The bill, sponsored by Dels. Carlo Sanchez (D-Prince George’s) and Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s), would provide for six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for failing to report child abuse.
Wyoming is the only other state in the nation without prison and/or fines for professionals who fail to report child abuse, advocates said.