Mandatory Reporting Laws: Child Abuse and Neglect
Incidences of child abuse and neglect have a profound effect on the lives of many children across the United States. Therefore, all states have set in place variations of mandatory reporting laws in order to decrease and prevent these incidents from occurring. These laws help ensure that cases of child abuse are reported to the proper authorities.
What are Mandatory Reporting Laws?
Mandatory reporting laws differ for each state when it comes to child abuse – which includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. However, it's important to remember that many of these laws also cover child neglect. In some states, these laws require that people in certain professions report child abuse and neglect to a proper authority, such as a law enforcement agency or child protective services. In other states, the mandatory reporting laws require that any person who suspects child abuse or neglect report any such instance.
What Types of People are Typically Required to Report Abuse?
According to information provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are 48 states that have mandatory reporting laws that require designated professionals to report child abuse and neglect. These individuals are usually people who have frequent contact with children because of their occupation. The following is a sampling of mandatory reporters according to state:
In California – Teachers, teacher's aides, employees of day camps and youth centers, social workers, physicians, and clergy members.
In New York - Physicians, dentists, licensed therapists, school officials, peace officers, and district attorneys.
In Texas – any professionals who are licensed by the state or are employees of facilities licensed by the state and have direct contact with children, like teachers, nurses, doctors and juvenile probation officers.
Many other states have institutional reporting laws. These laws refer to individuals who work or volunteer for mandated reporters and who during their time of employment, gain knowledge of anything that may lead him or her to suspect abuse. In these situations, some states require that the staff member alert the head of the institution when he or she believes that an appropriate agency should be notified. Similarly, many states do not differentiate between professionals or institutions and require that anyone who has a suspicion of child abuse or neglect must report it.
To view a more general list and determine whether you may be a mandatory reporter, refer to this checklist.
What Should Mandatory Reporters do?
Situations in which mandatory reporters must report vary depending on the state. However, according to the HHS, there are typically two standards as to when a report should be made:
When the reporter has reason to believe or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected.
When the reporter sees a child being subjected to harm or knows of conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child.
Reporters shouldn't be concerned about their identity being disclosed to the alleged perpetrator in a majority of states. However, many states do require the mandatory reporter to provide his or her name and contact information as part of the initial report. This information may be published to government officials who will be conducting an investigation.
To find more child abuse information specific to your state, see Findlaw's Child Abuse Information by State page. If you are aware of, or have any suspicion of child abuse or neglect, contact your local law enforcement agency or call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at (800) 422-4453.