New Jersey's U.S. Senator Robert Menendez plans to introduce the Child Abuse Reporting Enforcement (CARE) Act that would require states to mandate the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement and child protective services in order to receive federal social services funding, and to make it a felony for any individual who fails to report such abuse.

“If common sense doesn’t dictate when and to whom an adult should report child abuse, this law will,” said Menendez. “The bottom line is simple: If you see something, say something.”

The goal of the Menendez legislation is to create consistency among state child abuse reporting laws. The Senator’s bill would require a penalty of at least a year in prison and would specify that all witnesses report abuse to the law enforcement authorities and child protective services. Recent events surrounding child abuse allegations at Penn State University underscored the lack of uniformity in child abuse reporting laws among states.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), failure to report child abuse is a misdemeanor in 39 states, and in 3 states, failure to report child abuse is a felony. Of those states, only 20 specify the penalties associated with failing to report. 18 states require that any person who witnesses child abuse report it while many states specify only certain professionals. HHS also reports that 17 states require reporting specifically to law enforcement. This inconsistency creates confusion about mandatory reporting requirements that can lead to tragic consequences for children. 

In New Jersey, any person with information about child abuse is required to report that information to the Division of Youth and Family Service. Failure to report abuse is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment.