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# 412 Reporting child abuse or neglect

mp3 #412 Child Abuse or Neglect - Reporting it (mp3 file)


Law enforcement officers investigating a crime may ask you questions without arresting you. Volunteering information can lead to your arrest. If you suspect you may be the subject of an investigation, you should IMMEDIATELY consult with a criminal attorney to avoid incriminating yourself. Continue here to be referred to an experienced and insured criminal defense attorney:


If you have reasonable suspicions that a child under the age of 18 has been abused, molested, or neglected, there are a number of steps you can take to help.

In California, you can report the situation to what the law terms a "child protective agency," which means a police or Sheriff's department, a county probation department, or a child protective services agency, which is listed in your telephone book under your county's department of public social services.

Ordinary citizens are not required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, although the law allows you to make such a report voluntarily. In such a situation, you may make a report anonymously if you wish.

The California child abuse and neglect reporting act does, however, require persons in certain occupations to report their suspicions of child abuse, and these persons are called "mandated reporters." They must report physical abuse and inappropriate corporal punishment, physical neglect or inadequate supervision, and sexual abuse or exploitation. They may report, but are not mandated to report, emotional abuse and deprivation.

Mandated reporters are required to report when they have only a reasonable suspicion of child abuse. A mandated reporter may not delay reporting until he or she obtains proof of child abuse. The law defines "reasonable suspicion" as when it is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain such a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position to suspect child abuse, drawing when appropriate on his or her training and experience.

In California, there are five types of mandated reporters who are required by law to report child abuse.

The first group is called child care custodians, which includes both public and private school personnel, such as teachers, teacher's aides, instructional aides and assistants, and administrators, classified employees with child abuse prevention training, the administrator or employee of a community care facility licensed to care for children, Headstart teachers, licensing workers or evaluators, public assistance workers, employees of child care institutions, including foster parents, group home personnel, and personnel of residential care facilities, social workers, probation and parole officers, school police, employees of community service and prevention programs for abused or neglected children, district attorney investigators, family support officers, firefighters, animal control officers, and humane society officers.

The second group of persons who are required to report are called health practitioners, which includes physicians and surgeons, psychiatrists and psychologists, psychological assistants, dentists, residents and interns, podiatrists, chiropractors, dental hygienists, optometrists, and licensed nurses.

In addition, health practitioners include clinical laboratory technicians, speech pathologists and audiologists, opticians, physical therapists, optometrists, pharmacists, psychiatric technicians, veterinarians, nursing home administrators, hearing aid dispensers, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics.

Health practitioners, also include state and county public health employees, coroners, marriage, family, and child counselors, and their trainees and interns, licensed clinical social workers, persons who perform autopsies.

The third group are members of the clergy, including priests, ministers, rabbis, religious practitioners, or similar functionaries of a church, temple, or recognized religious denomination. Clergy members are mandated reporters of child abuse, based on information obtained in their professional capacities. However, clergy members are not required to report child abuse or neglect if the clergy member gains this knowledge in the context of a penitential communication, such as a sacramental confession or a rite of reconciliation.

The fourth group of mandated reporters includes employees of child protective agencies, such as police and sheriff's departments, county probation and welfare departments. Child visitation monitors, firefighters, animal control officers, and humane society officers are also mandated reporters.

Fifthly, commercial film and photographic print processors who observe any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide showing a child under age 16 engaged in any act of sexual conduct, are also required by law to report such cases of child abuse.

All of the persons who have just been listed in these various occupations are required to report child abuse. A mandated reporter who fails to make a timely report could be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

In addition, the child's parents, guardian, or a guardian appointed by the court could file a civil suit for negligence against a mandated reporter who failed to file a report of suspected child abuse.

Persons who are required to report must immediately make a telephone report to a child protective agency, and they must give their name. Ordinary citizens may make anonymous reports, but if you do give your name, your identity may or may not be kept confidential. You may be required to testify in a criminal proceeding. Your identity may also be revealed through the freedom of information act.

When making a telephone report, you will be asked to provide certain information, such as the name of the child, the child's present location, the nature and the extent of the injury, and information about the abuse.

In addition to the immediate telephone report, mandated reporters must also send a written report within 36 hours of receiving information concerning the incident, on a special form available from a child protective agency.

Persons who are mandated reporters are authorized to take photographs of child abuse victims without the parent's consent. Physicians and dentists are also allowed to take skeletal x-rays of child abuse victims for diagnostic purposes, without the parent's consent.

Child abuse reports are confidential, and may be disclosed only to certain agencies and investigators. Violation of the confidentiality requirements is a misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to six months in jail, or a $1,000 fine, or both.

The legal mandate to report is not excused or barred by some professional privileges of confidentiality, such as the physician patient or the psychotherapist-patient privileges. Knowledge of child abuse acquired through communication with a patient or client, whether the patient or client is the victim or the abuser, must be reported. However, clergy members are not required to report child abuse if the information is received in the context of a penitential communication, such as a confession or a rite of reconciliation.

In order to encourage individuals to report and to publicize mandatory child abuse reporting laws, the law now requires employers of persons required to report to have their employees sign a statement provided by the employer which states they are aware of their duty to report, and their willingness to comply.

Can you be successfully sued for reporting suspected child abuse? Not if you are listed as a mandated reporter who is required to report. Any other person who reports suspected child abuse is criminally or civilly liable only if it can be proved a false report was made, and the person knew or should have known that the report was false, or made the report with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the report. It is a misdemeanor to knowingly file a false report of child abuse or neglect. Any legal action filed against you may require you to consult an attorney. If you as a mandated reporter are sued and you win, the state may reimburse you for reasonable attorney's fees, up to $50,000.

Reporting duties are individual for any mandated reporter who suspects child abuse. No supervisor or administrator may prevent or excuse you from making a report, and no person who makes a report can be subject to any sanction for making a report.

California's law offers some protection to those individuals who are required to report, and provides for both criminal and civil liability for those who fail to report as required by law.

In enacting the child abuse reporting law, the California legislature recognized that the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect involves a delicate balance between the right of parents to control and raise their own children by imposing reasonable discipline, and society's interest in the protection and safety of each child. The intent of the legislature is to protect children from abuse.

If you are required to report child abuse under California's law, contact child protective services, listed in your telephone book under your county department of public social services, or a law enforcement agency in your area. For a description of "What is child abuse?", view SmartLaw Message #411.

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