Records from child-welfare agencies are confidential, as mandated by the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Typically, only treatment providers, officers of the court, the individual involved in the complaint and the child's parents or legal guardians are permitted access to child-abuse and neglect reports.
The laws and procedures regarding the public disclosure of information about cases of child abuse and neglect vary by state. For example, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow some public disclosure if a child dies or nearly dies as a result of abuse or neglect. Additionally, in approximately six states, public disclosure is mandatory when the person suspected of committing the offense is criminally charged. However, 16 states bar the release of information if doing so might compromise a criminal investigation.
As of July 2015, 28 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam provide access to records from child abuse cases to placement agencies, and prospective foster or adoptive parents have similar access in 21 states. Additionally, a number of states allow an individual who has been the subject of a child-abuse complaint to petition the court for access to the complaint and records from the investigation in an attempt to clear his name.
Many states also allow people who are involved in research to obtain a limited amount of information about child-abuse complaints. This information typically does not include the names of victims, specific allegations or investigative reports.