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The Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse

*Given the recent Penn State/Sandusky scandal and questions that may arise, we felt it was important to educate people on California law regarding the legal duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect.

In an effort to protect children from abuse and neglect,Californiahas passed the “Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act,” which requires certain persons to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities.

Who must report? The law specifies who is a “mandated reporter,” that is, someone that must make a report. The list is long and includes persons working in social services (police officers, social workers, probation officers, district attorneys, coroners, animal control officers), education (teachers, aides, district employees, administrators), medical field (doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists), recreational services (camps, youth programs, youth centers, day cares), employees of film and photo printing services, and religious organizations (clergy members, record-keepers, etc.), among others. In a nutshell, if your job requires direct contact with or supervision of children, consider yourself a mandatory reporter.

What triggers a report? A report must be made when the mandated reporter, in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observes a child whom the person knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect. “Reasonably suspects” does not mean abuse has occurred, it means that most people with similar training and experience faced with the same facts would suspect that abuse has occurred.

How and when must a report be made? The report must be made immediately by telephone, then followed-up with a written report within 36 hours.

To whom is the report made? Reports must be made to a police department, sheriff’s department, county probation department, or county welfare department. The receiving agency must accept the report and then perform several tasks, including opening a file, cross-reporting to other agencies, and investigating the suspected abuse.

The duty to report is individual, meaning that no supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit an employee from reporting, and no person making a good faith report can be punished in any manner for doing so. Even if the employer does not advise or train employees on the reporting requirements, the duty still exists.

A mandated reporter who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be prosecuted. In addition, the mandated reporter may be civilly liable to the victim of the abuse if it can be shown that a report would have prevented further or future abuse.

Even if not a mandated reporter under the law, any person (i.e., a parent, neighbor, relative, anonymous person, etc.), may make a report if abuse or neglect is suspected. The authorities must act on that report just as they must act on a report made by a mandated reporter.

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