Child Abuse: Child Abuse Reporting
Who are some of the individuals who are mandated to report suspected child abuse? What are some of the conditions under which mandated reporters must report?
The California Child Abuse and Reporting Act (CANRA) places upon community members the responsibility to report suspected cases of child abuse involving children in their care, or those with whom their interact in the course of their work (McCulloch, 2012). The overriding aim of CANRA is to protect vulnerable children from neglect and abuse by unscrupulous persons. Initially, the number of people who qualified as mandated reporters was very limited; numerous amendments have, however, been made to the law over the years, expanding the ranks of mandated reporters. It would be prudent to mention, however, that community members not recognized as mandatory reporters can also file reports of suspected child abuse although they are not required to by the law. Individuals currently recognized as mandatory reporters by the California Penal Code (PC) Section 11165.7 include:
i) Clergy members -- religious practitioners, rabbis, ministers, priests and any employees of recognized religious institutions (McCulloch, 2012). The law obliges clergy members to report all child abuse claims, including those made under penitentiary provisions if they suspect that the life or well-being of the affected child is in danger as a result of the abuse (McCulloch, 2012).
ii) Educators -- teachers and teachers' aides in both private and public schools, classified school employees, child welfare supervisors, Head Start Program teachers, certificated pupil personnel workers, and State Department or County Office of Education employees whose duties require direct supervision of, and contact with children
iii) Law enforcement officers -- humane society officers, animal control officers, fire fighters (except voluntary fire fighters), peace officers, and employees of county welfare, county probation, county sheriff's and police departments (McCulloch, 2012).
iv) Medical and mental health professionals -- physical therapists, chiropractors, dentists, physicians, paramedics, custodial officers, nurses, psychological assistants, marriage and family counselors, clinical social workers, and any other health professionals whose duties require direct supervision of, and contact with children (McCulloch, 2012).
v) Child visitation monitors -- any individual whose duty is to monitor conversations between a minor and another person, especially when the conversation in question is driven by court action (Cudeman, 2006).
vi) Commercial photographic and film print processors
These reporters are required by law to report whenever they have reasonable suspicion that a child in their care is, or has been a victim of child abuse (McCulloch, 2012). This requirement provides a number of key conditions under which a mandated reporter must report a case of suspected child abuse. First, there must be reasonable suspicion that an act of abuse has taken place. Reasonable suspicion, according to PC 11166[a], occurs when it is objectively reasonable for a person to be suspicious based on the information they have gathered about the case in question, and their level of experience and expertise (McCulloch, 2012). Secondly, the victim in question must be a child (below the age of 18) and their suspected abuser could be any person, including another child (McCulloch, 2012). Thirdly, the suspected abuse must take one or more of the following forms -- i) a physical injury inflicted by means that are not accidental; ii) sexual exploitation, assault or abuse by another person; iii) maltreatment or negligence of a child by a person to whom their care is entrusted; and iv) intentional endangerment or harming of a child's health or life through inhumane punishments or other kinds of treatments resulting in traumatic conditions (California Department of Education, 2015).
Question 2: What are the timelines for reporting child abuse? What are the steps to follow when making a child abuse report?
State law requires child abuse reports to be made immediately a reasonable suspicion is established (California Department of Education, 2015). It is not the mandated reporter's job to investigate whether the investigations gathered are valid; as such, they are required to make their reports immediately they develop a reasonable suspicion. This is meant to prevent further harm from being done to the child in case the abuse allegations are indeed true (California Department of Education, 2015). The rule of thumb basically is that if you suspect, report immediately (McCulloch, 2012).
To make their report,...
The specific hotline numbers for all the counties are available at http://www.childsworld.ca.gov/res/pdf/CPSEmergNumbers.pdf. The telephone report should be followed by a written report within 36 hours (McCulloch, 2012). Filing the written report requires the mandated reporter to make a physical trip to the particular agency to which they made their telephone report, and fill out the 'Suspected Child Abuse Report Form', in which they provide their contact and personal details, including their mandated reporter category, as well as the name and age of the victim, and the contact details of their guardian or caretaker (McCulloch, 2012). In addition to the contact details, the reporter will be required to give a brief narrative of what they heard or observed (the basis of their suspicion) (McCulloch, 2012). The agency will often use this part of the report to assess the urgency of the situation, and the validity of the allegations made (McCulloch, 2012). If a reporter is unable to make their report by phone, they are allowed to send a fax or e-mail to the receiving agency; the rest of the procedures, however, remain unchanged (McCulloch, 2012). Once the written report has been made, the reporter is expected to stay clear of the investigations until such a time when the investigating agency contacts them either to ask for more information or to make them aware of the results of the investigation (McCulloch, 2012). This is because their involvement could interfere with the evidence-gathering procedures or could endanger the victim's life and health even further (McCulloch, 2012).
Question 3a: What legal implications could be present if a reporter fails to report suspected child abuse?
A mandated reporter who fails to report a suspected case of child abuse is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable for a fine of not less than $1,000 and/or six-month imprisonment in a county jail (McCulloch, 2012). Further, such a reporter is liable for civil damages, especially if the victim in question or another child suffers damage owing to their failure to report (McCulloch, 2012). The penalties are more stringent if the victim suffers significant body harm or even death as a result of this failure to report -- then, the reporter is liable for a fine not exceeding $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of not less than 1 year (McCulloch, 2012). For these reasons, reporters are encouraged to make reports whenever they establish reasonable suspicion (McCulloch, 2012).
Question 3b: What Legal Implications could be present when mandated reporters make a report but suspected abuse is not confirmed?
California, unlike other states such as Texas, Tennessee, Illinois and Florida, does not impose criminal or civil liability upon mandated reporters who make child abuse allegations that turn out to be false (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014). However, this immunity does not extend to persons who are not mandated reporters but who choose to make reports nonetheless (non-mandated/voluntary reporters) (Cudeman, 2006). Penal Code 11172[a] holds non-mandated reporters who file false reports civilly liable for damages, especially if it is proven that the person knew that the report was false, but made it nonetheless (Cudeman, 2006). This arrangement gives credence to the 'your duty is to report and not to investigate' provision that governs mandatory reporters in their reporting duty (McCulloch, 2012). However, mandatory reporters still need to exercise caution because although there are no criminal or civil penalties, having too many reports that end up unconfirmed could damage one's reputation and place children-victims at risk in case a genuine report is made by a 'questionable' reporter (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013).
Question 4: How does physical abuse differ from neglect?
Physical abuse and neglect are both forms of sexual abuse recognized under the state reporting law; however, the two differ significantly both in terms of scope and physical/behavioral indicators. Physical abuse is defined as the intentional infliction of physical injury on a child (McCulloch, 2012). Neglect, on the other hand, is defined as the failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life (McCulloch, 2012). Neglect could take one of two forms -- general neglect and severe neglect. General neglect is said to occur when a caregiver fails to provide a child with adequate supervision, medical care, shelter, clothing and food, but the child does not suffer any physical injury as a…
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