All states require that if certain defined persons (such as pediatricians and child care workers) know or suspect that child abuse is going on, they must report the abuse to the authorities. These mandatory reporting laws were instituted to help promote awareness of child abuse and early intervention, if possible. To that effect, the laws make reporting quite straightforward.
In most states, reports are anonymous and there’s generally no reason to be hesitant about making a report if you genuinely suspect that child abuse is occurring. These laws generally don’t punish people for making a good faith effort to report child abuse if the claim turns out to be unfounded. A reporter might, however, be punished if he or she was reporting child abuse without any basis for such a belief, and if the report was motivated entirely by a desire to get the reported person in trouble with the law -- known as malice.
But are you a mandatory reporter? The following information will help you know the answer to this question and get prepared.
In most states, professions that engage in regular contact with children are listed as mandatory reporters. In at least 18 states, however, there are no listed mandatory reporters – anyone and everyone who knows or suspects that child abuse has occurred is required by law to make a report.
In states with defined mandatory reporter lists, however, the following professions are frequently listed:
The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) maintains a list of mandatory reporters by state.
Mandatory vs. Permissive Reporting
Though the states may differ with regard to who is a mandatory reporter, in every state everyone is permitted to report child abuse. A person who reports child abuse voluntarily is known as a permissive reporter. To better understand the difference, consider the following situation.
Suppose that you’re a homemaker, and you’re aware of child abuse occurring next door at the neighbor’s house. If you reside in a state where there’s a defined list of mandatory reporters (various professions), then you wouldn’t necessarily have to report this abuse. In other words, you wouldn’t be punished for failing to report. On the other hand, if you resided in a state where all persons are mandatory reporters (no matter their profession), then you would have to report the neighboring child abuse or you would be subject to possible criminal penalties (most likely a misdemeanor offense).
But what if you actually wanted to report the abuse? That’s perfectly okay, and even encouraged. Even if you’re not a mandatory reporter, you can report the abuse to local authorities. As a voluntary reporter you’ll also enjoy immunity from liability for a good faith report of suspected child abuse.
Are You a Mandatory Reporter of Child Abuse? Get Answers from an Attorney
Perhaps the strongest weapon against child abuse is active reporting as early as possible. However, this isn't always easy to do, especially if the perpetrator is someone that you know well. That's why many states allow for anonymous reporting, allowing authorities to investigate and, if needed, step in to protect a child, while preserving the confidentiality of your report. You can find out more about the reporting laws in your state by speaking with an experienced family law attorney near you.