Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 7 - Mandated Reporters

Chapter 7: Mandated Reporters

Case Vignette

“When I was ten, it seemed like every adult who knew me also knew that I was beaten nearly every day of my life. How could the dentist not see that my tooth didn’t just fall out like my mother said; it was knocked out by my father and she was protecting him, not me. She had explanations for my broken arm, my black eyes, and the cigarette burns on my arms. Teachers used to ask my mother what happened, and they believed her fake stories. Not one person ever asked me how I got all these injuries.”
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, all states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have laws establishing mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. Mandatory reporters do not have to know that child abuse or neglect is or has been occurring; this is the job of Child Protective Services and law enforcement. It is only necessary that a mandatory reporter suspect that a child is being maltreated before they make a report of their suspicions to CPS.

[QN.No.7.Before making a report to CPS of child maltreatment:]

Mandatory reporters include people who have frequent contact with children, including:
  • Social workers
  • School personnel
  • Health care workers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Childcare providers
  • Medical examiners or coroners
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Group Home Administrators
The list of mandatory reporters is growing in many states, including commercial film or photographers, substance abuse counselors, probation and parole officers, and in 25 states, members of the clergy. It’s safe to say that professional people who work closely with children are becoming increasingly accountable for reporting suspicions of child abuse or neglect. An anonymous citizen whose child was sexually molested by a clergy member testified in a Congressional hearing that, “The clergy must no longer be allowed to hid behind the confidentiality of priest and parishioner. We must remove these predators from our streets and worry about Heaven later.”

Eighteen U.S. states and Puerto Rico require all citizens, regardless of their profession, to report suspected abuse or neglect. In all other states and territories, any private citizen can make a report to CPS; these are voluntary, not mandatory, “permissive” reporters. Among the US armed services, all officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees of the Department of Defense are mandated reporters of any suspected incident of spouse and child abuse and neglect.

The issue of privileged communications exists among attorneys and clients, clergy members and penitents in confession, physicians and patients, husbands and wives, and some mental health providers and patients. A privileged communication is one that, by law, allows non-disclosure of information when the discloser has a reasonable and legal expectation of confidentiality. In most states, the privilege is extended only to psychiatrists since they are physicians, but not to psychologists, social workers or nurses. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the privilege does not extend to either professionals or members of anonymous 12-step programs. Medical and mental health providers must, on their own, determine whether their state’s laws concerning privileged communications apply to them. Five states and Puerto Rico currently deny privilege among physicians and patients and husbands and wives. The attorney-client privilege is the most widely recognized.

The majority of states have toll-free around-the-clock emergency numbers for reporting suspicions of child abuse and neglect. While state statutes specify that reports can be made anonymously, CPS workers prefer to know the identity and contact information of the reporter if more in-depth information is needed. In these cases, CPS workers must not include the name of the reporter in an official record or disclose it to anyone, especially not the subject of the report. Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands require mandatory reporters to give their names when making an oral or written report. This extends to ancillary medical personnel such as X-Ray technicians.

The release of a reporter’s name can be compelled under special conditions and/or to some people with a legal, specific “need to know.” For example, the release of a reporter’s identity can be ordered by a court if there is a clear and compelling need to do so. This issue usually arises when a judge and/or defense attorney believes there is a possibility that the report was made maliciously and was known to be false by the reporter. Since this is always a “hot” appellate issue, the reason(s) for disclosure must be very clearly documented. Finally, any reporter of abuse and neglect can voluntarily waive their confidentiality and allow his/her identity to be disclosed, or even testify against the alleged perpetrator.

Group Home Administrators

Group Home Administrators have a significant responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care. Not only are they mandated reporters, but so are those that work under them. The failure to train staff on their responsibilities of reporting suspected child abuse will most likely result in investigations and citations from governing boards (such as state licensing agencies), in addition to placing the workers, administrators and agencies at risk for criminal and civil penalites. 
Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 7 - Mandated Reporters
Page Last Modified On: April 18, 2015, 11:31 AM