States granting access to the accused child abuser often place restrictions on what
information can be disclosed or under what circumstances the information will be disclosed.104
New Jersey, for example, only permits disclosure to an accused perpetrator who is appealing a
finding of substantiated child abuse or neglect – that is, the investigating agency must have found
evidence of abuse or neglect.105 Moreover, either the division of child-protective services or a
judge must determine that disclosure of the information is necessary for the alleged abuser’s
States also place restrictions on access to records by the child who is the subject of the
report. For example, South Carolina requires the child to be at least fourteen years of age to
access his or her records, and allows the child welfare agency to withhold from any victim,
regardless of age, information in the record that it determines could cause harm to the child’s
emotional well-being.107 New Jersey permits the child welfare agency to disclose information to
a child “as appropriate to the child's age or condition, to enable the child to understand the basis
for the department's involvement and to participate in the development, discussion, or
implementation of a case plan for the child.”108
The accused’s need for access is obvious in many cases; these individuals will need
information to appeal or defend a finding of substantiated abuse or neglect. Children who may
have been the victims of abuse or neglect also have an obvious right to the information; as the
New Jersey law evidenced, this information can help children better understand their situation.
Additionally, this information may be helpful as victims seek medical treatment.
Some of the restrictions states place on disclosure to subjects of the report, however, may
hinder accountability. For example, limiting the accused’s access to substantiated cases of abuse,
or for the purpose of criminal defense, prevents those individuals from reviewing records of
government investigation that resulted in unfounded reports of abuse. This access would seem to
offer a great deal of information about the process of investigation. Additionally, if
unsubstantiated records are retained for future use by agencies, the accused should have the
ability to challenge any inaccurate information. In contrast, the limits placed on a minor’s access
to child abuse records in South Carolina seem reasonable; restricting access to sensitive
information by age likely reduces the risk of further distress to the victims. To maximize
accountability, however, once the child reaches the age of majority,109 restrictions should be lifted
to allow the child full access to the records.
In addition to these protections for minors, states should redact any sensitive information,
such as the name or identifying information of the person who filed a report of suspected abuse,
when an individual named in the agency record requests access, to provide a more balanced
approach to disclosure. This would allow individuals to have relevant access and the ability to
challenge any inaccurate information, while also promoting accountability and oversight of child
welfare agencies by those most closely associated with an agency’s investigative and placement
104 See, e.g., FLA. STAT. ANN. § 39.202(2)(e) (West 2013) (permitting disclosure when the accused is not a parent and limiting the
disclosure to information about the investigation process); MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. § 722.627(2)(f) (West 2013) (requiring the name
of the reporter to be redacted); MO. ANN. STAT. § 210. 150(2)(5) (West 2013) (prohibiting disclosure before a criminal “indictment is
returned or an information filed”).
105 N.J. STAT. ANN. § 9:6-8.10a(b)(12) (West 2013).
107 S.C. CODE ANN. § 63-7-1990(B)(6) (2013).
108 N.J. STAT. ANN. § 9:6-8.10a(c).
109 Children exit or “age out” of child welfare systems between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, depending on state policy. See
CHILD WELFARE INFO. GATEWAY, U.S. DEP’T HEATH & HUMAN SERVS., FOSTER CARE STATISTICS 2012 5 n.4 (2013), available at