Federal Response: Watching Child Abuse Online

On July 21st, The Imprint published an article concerning incidents of possible child abuse or neglect appearing on social media. Reporter Justin Pye made mention of several incidents where Internet video posts of children using marijuana had prompted local police and child protective services to be involved.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, the division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, e-mailed the Chronicle with a statement on the subject.

The statement supports what became evident in Pye’s piece: A sense that action should be taken in such situations, but standards on how to proceed have yet to catch up to this modern dilemma of abuse/neglect investigations.

Child abuse and neglect issues are handled on a State level by Child Protective Services (CPS); agency policies and practices vary by State and counties.  When the identity and/or location of child victim(s) or abuser(s) posted on a social media outlet is/are known and the video content reported to the local CPS, the agency that has jurisdiction over the matter will investigate the incident and proceed according to State laws and agency regulations.

As social media is impacting the world of child protection, and is a relatively new phenomenon, at this time we are not aware of State specific protocols differentiating the handling of cases of child abuse shown on Youtube, Facebook, or similar websites from ordinary reports.  In addition, sometimes the location is not clear and the website may originate from outside the United States, in that case there may not be enough information for any CPS agency to intervene.

In an interview with Pye for the article, Prevent Child Abuse America CEO James Hmurovich said that Internet posts of child abuse and neglect challenge the population at large to become more active participants in reporting and “invest in being the stewards of all children, not just the ones that are related to us.

“This is a chance to see what the American public really thinks about the treatment of children,” Hmurovich said, “If we see something we have to report it.”

The Gateway also provided the Chronicle with three links to provide readers with more information:

Click here for a general overview of State protocols on the general topic of child protection, you may find it helpful to conduct a search of our State Guides and Manuals here: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/sgm/.

Click here for the Gateway’s section on Responding to Online Child Victimization or Exploitation, which lists selected national and international organizations that are equipped to address reports of child pornography, prostitution and internet related crimes.

Click here for the Virtual Global Task Force, which accepts and investigates concerns of abuse captured in media outside the United States.

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