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Child Abuse Reporting In California Back to Course Index

 

 

 

Former Elementary School Principal Convicted for Failing to Make Mandatory Report

A former principal at a San Jose, California elementary school, was convicted of failing to make a mandatory report of child sexual abuse after learning a teacher was suspected of molesting one of his second grade students.

When sentencing the former principal, the judge said “I think you made a very bad judgment. “

The former principal had been told by an eight-year-old student that the teacher had blindfolded another second grade female student and put something that was described as a “salty liquid” in her mouth. After the teacher convinced the principal that the incident was part of his “Helen Keller” lesson plan intended to teach students what it was like to be blind, the principal, rather than reporting the incident, instructed the teacher to avoid using the lesson plan in the future.

A jury ultimately convicted the accused teacher on five felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14 years old and multiple victim enhancements. He was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison.

Although the former principal avoided a maximum 6-month jail sentence and was instead granted two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service, her reputation as an educator has likely been tarnished.

 

 

Social Workers Charged With Child Abuse 

Four Los Angeles County social workers have been charged with felony child abuse and falsifying public records in connection with the death of 8-year-old boy who was tortured and killed even though authorities had numerous warnings of abuse in his home.

Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that the county Department of Children and Family Services employees minimized “the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that he suffered and allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused.”

In the months before the boy was killed, county child protection caseworkers and sheriff’s deputies investigated allegations of abuse without removing the boy from the home.

The social workers were aware that the boy had written a suicide note and had a BB pellet embedded in his chest. Yet he was not sent for medical treatment or mental health assessment, county records show. 

Additionally, the boy’s teacher said she made repeated phone calls reporting evidence of abuse. The caseworkers disregarded them, she said.

 

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) pursuant to Penal Codes 11164 through 11174.3 is a body of California laws designed to protect children from suffering harm. California law requires people in positions of authority over children to report known or suspected abuse or neglect.

Adults should always report any instances of actual or suspected child abuse or neglect. However, many professionals are considered mandatory reporters who must follow the mandatory reporting laws.

You must make the report within 36 hours of receiving information about the incident. You may submit the report confidentially.

If you are required to report actual or suspected incidences of child abuse or neglect and you fail to do so, or you impede the making of a mandatory report, you can be charged with a crime.

For the mandated reporter, making a report of suspected child abuse can be difficult. Concerns about what if it isn’t abuse, what if it isn’t true, how the person suspected of abuse will react, what the outcome will be, and whether or not the report will put the child at greater risk are often present.

The best way to minimize the difficulty of reporting is to be fully prepared for the experience. Mandated reporters should be knowledgeable about reporting requirements and the process that is triggered when a report is made. Responding to suspected abuse requires a team effort involving professionals from a variety of disciplines including child protection workers, law enforcement, medical personnel, and mental health professionals.

The purpose of mandated reporter training is to provide information to mandated reporters by helping them recognize signs of abuse and neglect, informing them of their legal obligation to report, and how, when, and where to report.

Getting involved in building a stronger community care net that can save lives takes very little time or effort, but making a difference to one person, whose life may be saved or improved, is tremendous.

Information contained in this course is offered as an aid to mandated reporters in reporting suspected child abuse. It clarifies basic information. It is not meant to be all-inclusive or to cover all situations, nor should it be considered legal advice. Because mandated reporters include individuals in a variety of professions, it is important to be educated about protocols and issues specific to your profession. When in doubt about what to do in a particular situation, contact your local child welfare agency and/or law enforcement agency.

 

Laws

The first child abuse reporting law in California, enacted in 1963, pertained only to physicians. It mandated that physicians report evidence of physical abuse. As knowledge and understanding of child abuse increased over time, it became evident that other professionals might also be in a position to identify maltreatment.

This led to a substantial increase in the number of professional groups designated in state laws as mandated reporters. The expansion of the ranks of mandated reporters was accompanied by a broadening of the concept of reportable maltreatment to include sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment, and neglect.

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) was passed in 1980. Over the years, numerous amendments have expanded the definition of child abuse and the persons required to report it. Procedures for reporting have also been clarified. In California, certain professionals are required to report known or suspected child abuse.

 

 

Who Is A Mandated Reporter

Mandated reporters are individuals who are mandated by law to report known or suspected child maltreatment. They are primarily people who have contact with children through their employment. Mandated reporters are required by the state of California to report any known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the county child welfare department or to a local law enforcement agency (local police/sheriff’s department).

If you are considered a “mandatory reporter,” you must tell a local law enforcement agency or child welfare department if you are aware of or suspect child abuse or neglect.  Telling your supervisor does not fulfill your obligation.

 

Examples of who must report:

  • Clergy Members or Custodian of records of a clergy member.  
  • Child Care Providers
  • Educators
  • Law Enforcement
  • Medical Professionals
  • Mental Health Professionals (including alcohol and drug counselors)
  • Commercial Film and Photographic Print Processors

A complete list of mandated reporters is in the California Penal Code (PC) section 11165.7 which is at the bottom of the lesson material.

 

Why Must Child Abuse Be Reported?

Children cannot always report the abuse that is happening in their lives. Children are raised to trust adults, and when an adult abuses a child they frequently feel that they deserved the abuse, they think that it’s wrong to speak out against the abuser, or are afraid of the consequences of speaking up.

The primary intent of these laws is to protect the child. Protecting the identified victim may also provide the opportunity to protect other potential victims. It is equally important to provide help for the suspected abuser.

The report of abuse may be a catalyst for bringing about change in the home environment, which in turn may lower the risk of abuse.

 

 

Defining Child Abuse

Child abuse and neglect, as defined in CANRA, includes physical abuse, sexual abuse (including both sexual assault and sexual exploitation), willful cruelty or unjustified punishment, unlawful corporal punishment or injury, and neglect (including both acts and omissions).

Under current law, child abuse does not include:

 

  • “A mutual affray between minors.” (PC 11165.6)
  • “Reasonable and necessary force used by a peace officer acting within the course and scope of his or her employment as a peace officer.” (PC 11165.4)
  • “An amount of force that is reasonable and necessary for a person employed by or engaged in a public school to quell a disturbance threatening physical injury to person or damage to property, for purposes of self-defense, or to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects within the control of the pupil.” (PC 11164.5)

In addition, “A child receiving treatment by spiritual means…or not receiving specified medical treatment for religious reasons, shall not for that reason alone be considered a neglected child. An informed and appropriate medical decision made by parent or guardian after consultation with a physician or physicians who have examined the minor does not constitute neglect.” (PC 11165.2[b])

 

What to Report

The California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting ACT (CANRA) can be found in California Penal Code Sections 11164 – 11174.3. The following is a partial description of the statute. Mandated reporters should become familiar with the detailed requirements as they are set forth in CANRA.

Under the law, when the victim is a child (a person under the age of 18) and the perpetrator is any person (including a child), the following types of abuse must be reported by all legally mandated reporters:

  • Physical abuse (PC 11165.6) is defined as a physical injury inflicted by other than accidental means on a child, or intentionally injuring a child.
  • Child sexual abuse (PC 11165.1) includes sexual assault or sexual exploitation of anyone under the age of18. Sexual assault includes sex acts with children, intentional masturbation in the presence of children, and child molestation. Sexual exploitation includes preparing, selling, or distributing pornographic materials involving children; performances involving obscene sexual conduct; and child prostitution.
  • Willful cruelty or unjustified punishment (PC 11165.3) includes inflicting or permitting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or the endangerment of the child’s person or health. “Mental suffering” in and of itself is not required to be reported; however, it may be reported. Penal Code11166.05 states: “Any mandated reporter who has knowledge of or who reasonably suspects that mental suffering has been inflicted upon a child or that his or her emotional well-being is endangered in any other way may report the known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect to an agency specified in Section11165.9”. (The specified agencies include any police department, sheriff’s department, county probation department is designated by the county to receive mandated reports, or the county welfare department.)
  • Unlawful corporal punishment or injury (PC 11165.4), willfully inflicted, resulting in a traumatic condition.
  • Neglect (PC11165.2) of a child, whether “severe” or “general,” must also be reported if the perpetrator is a person responsible for the child’s welfare. It includes both acts and omissions that harm or threaten to harm the child’s health or welfare.
  • General neglect means the failure of a caregiver of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision, where no physical injury to the child has occurred.    
  • Severe neglect means the intentional failure of a caregiver to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care where injury has occurred or is likely to occur. Severe neglect also includes those situations of neglect where any person having the care or custody of a child willfully causes or permits the person or health of the child to be placed in a situation such that his or her person or health is endangered.

 

When Do You Report?

Child abuse must be reported when one who is a legally mandated reporter “…has knowledge of or observes a child in his or her professional capacity, or within the scope of his or her employment whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect…” (PC 11166[a]). “Reasonable suspicion” occurs 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, drawing when appropriate on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse” (PC 11166[a][1]). Although wordy, the intent of this definition is clear: if you suspect, report.

Reports must be made immediately, or as soon as practically possible, by phone. A written report must be forwarded within 36 hours of receiving the information regarding the incident (PC 11166[a]). The written report must be submitted on a Department of Justice form (SS 8572), which can be obtained at www.ag.ca.gov/childabuse. Click on the link for forms. Forms can also be obtained from your local police or sheriff’s department (not including a school district police or security department) or a county welfare department (PC 11168) or can be printed from Appendix A in this manual.

 

To Whom Do You Report?

The report must be made to a county welfare department, probation department (if designated by the county to receive mandated reports), or to a police or sheriff’s department, not including a school district police or security department (PC 11165.9). Reports by commercial print and photographic print processors are to be made to the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the case (PC 11166[e]).

 

Joint Knowledge – Who Reports?

When two or more mandated reporters jointly have knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect, a single report may be made by the selected member of the reporting team. Any member of the reporting team who has knowledge that the designated person has failed to report must do so him or herself (PC 11166[h]).

 

Safeguards for Mandated Reporters

In order to protect mandated reporters from repercussions for reporting as required, CANRA includes specific safeguards as follows:

Those persons legally mandated to report suspected child abuse have immunity from criminal or civil liability for reporting as required, even if the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of the abuse or neglect was acquired outside of their professional capacity or scope of employment. Mandated reporters and others acting in their direction are not liable civilly or criminally for photographing the victim and disseminating the photograph with the report. (P.C. 11172(a))

No supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit a report or subject the reporting person to any sanction (PC 11166[f).

The identity of the reporting party and the contents of the child abuse report are confidential and may only be disclosed to specified persons and agencies (PC 11167[d][1]; PC 11167).

In the event a civil action is brought against a mandated reporter as a result of a required or authorized report, he or she may present a claim to the State Board of Control for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in the action if he or she prevails in the action or the court dismisses the action (PC 11172 [c].)

 

Penalties for Failure to Report

A person who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to a $1000 fine (P.C. 11166[c]). He or she may also be found civilly liable for damages, especially if the child-victim or another child is further victimized because of the failure to report (Landeros vs. Flood (1976) 17C.3d399). Furthermore, PC 11166.01[b] states that “any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report abuse or neglect, or any person who impedes or inhibits a report of abuse or neglect… where that abuse or neglect results in death or great bodily injury, shall be punished by not more than one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

 

Identifying Child Abuse

Identifying evidence of child abuse requires first the understanding that child abuse can occur in any family, regardless of socio-economic status, religion, education, ethnic background, or other factors. Secondly, the professional must be aware of and alert to the signs of child abuse. Red flags for abuse and neglect are often revealed in individual parent or caregiver behaviors, family interactions, and physical and behavioral indicators in the child. A brief overview of some of these warning signals follows:

 

Parental or Caregiver Red Flags 

  • Parent lacks understanding of normal child behaviors and development:
  • Has unrealistic expectations of child (e.g., toilet-training of a six-month-old)
  • Is unduly harsh and rigid about childrearing
  • Singles out one child as “bad”, “evil”, or “beyond control”
  • Attributes badness to child or misinterprets child’s normal behavior (e.g., interprets an infant’s crying as evidence that the child hates the parent)
  • Tells you of use of objects (belts, whips, clothes hanger) to discipline the child, or describes the use of inappropriate or extreme consequences (locking child in a closet, withholding meals)
  • Parent lacks understanding of the parent-child relationship 
  • Is unable to describe positive characteristics of child
  • Berates humiliates, or belittles child constantly
  • Turns to child to have his/her own needs met
  • Is indifferent to child
  • Parenting is impaired by: 
    • Depression or other mental illness
    • Substance abuse
    • Poverty/unemployment
    • Lack of social support
    • Domestic violence
    • Parental history of abuse or inadequate care (Note: Most abused children do not become abusive parents.)

 

Family Interactions

  • Coercive parent-child interactions
  • Limited positive parent-child interactions
  • Heightened family conflicts

  

Physical Indicators in the Child

Physical Abuse

  • Any injury in an infant, even a small bruise
  • Injuries to the back, buttocks, ears, face (particularly the soft tissues of the cheek), neck, and genitalia
  • Unexplained injuries, or injuries with improbable explanations
  • Bruises or burns that are patterned or have a distinctive outline
  • Broken bones, lacerations or unexplained bruises
  • Burns (cigarette, scalding water, iron)
  • Any injury when there is a delay in seeking appropriate medical care

  

Neglect

  • Inorganic failure to thrive (failure to gain weight at the expected rate) or a malnourished child
  • Inappropriate dress for weather
  • Dirty clothes, poor hygiene
  • Unattended medical or dental conditions
  • Developmental delays

  

Behavioral Indicators in the Child

With regard to behavioral indicators, keep in mind that children react differently to being abused, and many abused children do not exhibit behavioral symptoms. The presence of any of the following indicators does not prove that a child is being abused but should serve as a warning signal to look further. While some of these behaviors may occur more with one type of abuse than another, they may overlap.

 

Child red flags for abuse/neglect include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression, self-mutilation, suicidal gestures/attempts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social maladjustment: Delinquent behavior (such as running away from home), use of alcohol or other drugs, academic/behavioral problems in school
  • Other significant behavioral changes

 

Physical Abuse

  • Hostile, aggressive or verbally abusive towards others
  • Fearful or withdrawn behavior
  • Destructiveness (breaks windows, sets fires, etc.)
  • Out-of-control behavior/poor anger management
  • Wariness of adults
  • Discomfort when other children cry
  • Fear of parents/caretakers or of going home

 

Sexual Abuse

The single most important indicator of sexual abuse is disclosure by the child. However, the nature of sexual abuse, the guilt and shame of the child victim, and the possible involvement of parents, stepparents, friends or others in a caretaker role, make it extremely difficult for children to report sexual abuse. It is not unusual for children to delay weeks, months, or even years before disclosing sexual abuse. In addition, sometimes a child who seeks help is accused of making up stories. Many people may not believe the victim because the abuser is well-liked and others cannot believe he or she could be capable of sexual abuse.

When the matter does come to the attention of authorities, the child may give in to pressure from parents or caretakers and deny that sexual abuse has occurred. The child may feel guilty about “turning in” the abuser or breaking up the family, and recant or change his or her story.

Although this pattern of denial is typical, it may result in skepticism when a child discloses sexual abuse. The sad reality of sexual abuse is that without third-party reporting, the child often remains trapped in secrecy by shame, fear, and threats by the abuser. It is important to recognize that children rarely fabricate these accounts; they should be taken seriously.

In addition, mandated reporters must stay alert and responsive to children’s behaviors that are associated with sexual abuse. Although children frequently find it difficult to report they are being abused, they often develop coping mechanisms and behaviors which bring them to the attention of others. Red flag behaviors indicative of possible sexual abuse include: 

  • Sexualized behavior and/or knowledge beyond developmental expectations
  • Fearful or withdrawn behavior
  • Changes in eating, sleeping or toileting (e.g., bedwetting, fecal soiling)
  • Extreme compliance or defiance
  • Emotional and/or behavioral problems

 

Neglect 

Possible symptoms of child neglect are often difficult to identify as they are less defined than those for physical or sexual abuse. Observation, home visits, and/or the child’s description of his or her living situation may be necessary to identify sufficient circumstances for reporting suspicions of neglect. It is important to remember, however, that these indicators should be evaluated in the context of the family’s culture, values, and economic situation. Behavioral indicators of possible neglect include:

  • Clingy or indiscriminate attachment
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Internalized emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression

 

Emotional Abuse

Although emotional abuse is not as clearly defined in the law as other forms of maltreatment, it is generally recognized as a pattern of behavior by a caretaker that impairs a child’s emotional and/or psychological development. This may include constant criticism, threats, rejection, intimidation or humiliation, acts intended to produce fear or guilt, withholding of love and support, and isolation. Witnessing domestic violence also falls within the scope of emotional abuse. Reasonable suspicion of emotional abuse that must be reported often results from verbal disclosures or direct observation and involves any person willfully causing or permitting any child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or endangering the child’s person or health (Penal Code 11165.3).

In the absence of a verbal disclosure or direct observation, suspicions of abuse may be reported when behavioral indicators alert the professional to suspect emotional abuse. Emotional and behavioral problems, in varying degrees, are common among children whose parents abuse them emotionally. Attention deficits, school difficulties, and poor social skills are among the most common. Penal Code 11166.05 provides that, “Any mandated reporter who has knowledge of or who reasonably suspects that a child is suffering serious emotional damage or is at a substantial risk of suffering serious emotional damage, evidenced by states of being or behavior, including, but not limited to, severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or untoward aggressive behavior towards self or others, may make a report…” These emotional and behavioral patterns may, of course, be due to other causes, but the suspicion of abuse should not be dismissed. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove; cumulative documentation by a child protection agency may be necessary for effective intervention. Finally, emotional abuse is most often reported along with concerns of other types of abuse; any child who is being physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected is also being emotionally abused.

 


What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reporting laws require a report be made when a mandated reporter has a “reasonable suspicion” of abuse. This criterion is intended to ensure that a maximum number of abused children are identified and protected. Judging what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion” in practice, however, can be difficult. In the absence of clear physical indicators or verbal reports of abuse, professionals must rely on direct observations of children and families to determine when a report should be made.

Making an assessment of possible child abuse entails collecting information in order to determine what the problem is, who is involved, and how to proceed. When evaluating a concern, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between determining whether there are grounds for reasonable suspicion and conducting an investigation of the allegations. Only a child protective agency or county designee can conduct the investigation.

 

Cultural Considerations

It is important to keep in mind cultural influences when assessing information or behavior and to avoid allowing personal beliefs or biases to influence decision-making.

Culture is shaped by many factors including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, disability status, immigration status, religion, age, nationality, and language. However, it is important to remember that this information is only a generalization and should not be used to stereotype. There is much heterogeneity within each cultural group. Culture shapes attitudes and ideas about acceptable child behavior and discipline, and influences reactions to stress, trauma, and abuse. Furthermore, cultural differences may become evident in various aspects of child-rearing. For example, a family might have an attitude towards nudity that is more relaxed than is typical, but that in itself does not indicate sexual impropriety. The same can be said for family sleeping, which is common in some cultures. Parents might choose alternative forms of medicine for their children, including religious or spiritual healing, but this does not necessarily constitute neglect (P.C. 11165.2). Some families have a highly authoritarian structure and consider corporal punishment, such as spanking, an acceptable disciplinary measure. Other families consider the corporal punishment of children to be unacceptable under any circumstances. In addition, stereotypes concerning age and gender can influence reporting. For example, cases involving teenage boy victims may be least likely to be reported.

In order to work with people with various cultural identities in a way that promotes respect and dignity, mandated reporters must:

  • Recognize and reject own preexisting beliefs and biases
  • Become educated about the culture(s) with whom you are working
  • Focus on understanding information provided by individuals within the context at hand
  • Remember to keep in mind cultural influences when assessing information or behavior
  • Resist the temptation to classify or label persons based on cultural preconceptions
  • Educate individuals/families from other cultures regarding American cultural expectations, practices, and traditions

There may be times when you must decide whether to report child abuse, try to educate the parents, or simply accept a questionable practice as “different” but not harmful. If the practice falls within the legal definitions of child abuse, it must be reported. If you are unsure whether what you have seen or heard is abuse, call a child protective agency for advice.

 

 

Talking with Children

You may become concerned about possible child abuse by observation of physical signs, by a child’s behavior, or by a child’s verbal disclosure. If you observe physical signs of abuse, employ only open-ended questions when asking the child about it. For example, if a child displays unusual bruising, ask “How did you get hurt?” rather than “Did your father do that? or “Who hit you?”. If it is the child’s behavior that concerns you, ask the child privately whether there is anything going on that is making the child angry or unhappy.

Among younger school-age children, verbal disclosures sometimes occur by accident, or the child may tell another child who then tells you. However it is disclosed, do not be dissuaded from reporting the situation if the child recants his or her statements. It is very common for a child who discloses abuse to then deny it out of fear of reprisal or of breaking up the family.

When talking with children about possible abuse, the following guidelines should be followed:

 

The Setting

  • Conduct the discussion in private
  • Sit next to the child, rather than behind a table or desk
  • Conduct the discussion in language the child understands
  • Talk with the child away from parents/guardians/suspects or other potentially influential people.
  • Remember to manage your own emotional response; do not express shock, disapproval, or disgust regarding the child, parent, or disclosure

Allow the child to tell you of their experience in their own words; refrain from asking leading or suggestive questions

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Do not introduce new terminology or information, especially when dealing with allegations of sexual abuse o Be aware that children’s understanding of the concept of time is often limited, and information about when and how often an incident occurred is best obtained from adults familiar with the child’s history.
  • Do not paraphrase. Allow the child to tell of his/her experience in his/her own words, and then document what the child says.

Finally, avoid making unrealistic promises to a child. For example, a child may ask you to promise not to tell anyone else of their disclosure. Mandated reporters must report suspicions of abuse. Therefore, it is important to let the child know what you will do as a result of the disclosure, explaining who you will tell and why. It is also important to reassure the child that he or she is not to blame for the abuse and that he or she deserves praise for having the courage to reveal the abuse.

 

 

What to Tell Parents/Caretakers

One of the biggest obstacles to reporting may be the feelings of the potential reporter. It is important to remember that the intention of a child abuse report is to protect a child, not punish the family. When a report is made, child protective agency workers can investigate and, when appropriate, intervene to provide services and education for parents.

Concerns about the caretaker’s reaction to the report can also be a deterrent to reporting, and should be addressed. Although the identities of mandated reporters are confidential, mandated reporters often worry about repercussions, including being confronted by angry parents. Remember that becoming involved with investigatory agencies is often a confusing and perplexing experience for parents or caregivers. When confronted with an angry parent, it is important to remain calm and maintain a professional demeanor. Listening to and normalizing a parent’s feelings while expressing appropriate concern and respect may help diffuse the situation. Informing the parent of your status as a mandated reporter during your initial contact may also help to alleviate some of this concern.

Deciding whether or not to tell a parent that you plan to report or already have reported child abuse can be a difficult decision. Although there are no legal guidelines for mandated reporters to follow in making this decision, keep in mind that your first priority is establishing the safety of the child. Any information that suggests that informing the parent(s) could increase the risk of further abuse to the child should be considered. Also, be aware that such action could interfere with the initial child welfare agency’s investigation. For example, a parent might intimidate a child into recanting allegations and/or flee to avoid contact with investigators. It is important to advise the child welfare staff if a child is afraid to go home, may be at risk of harm due to disclosing the abuse, or may be under pressure to change or retract his or her statement.

 

 

Confidentiality

Mental health professionals have both an ethical and legal obligation to protect the confidentiality of their clients. Exceptions to this include reporting cases of suspected child abuse. Therefore, it is crucial that mental health professionals provide informed consent detailing the limits of confidentiality at the beginning of the professional relationship. This is best done both verbally and in writing to avoid confusion and ensure that the client understands the information provided. Concerns about how the decision to report may impact the therapeutic relationship can be mitigated when the limits of confidentiality have been clearly explained to the client. In addition, reporting of suspected child abuse can then be incorporated into the therapeutic context and does not necessarily jeopardize progress in therapy.

Child protection workers and/or law enforcement officers may contact the reporter to gather additional information to aid in the investigation. In order to protect confidentiality, information released should be limited to the information contained in the child abuse report. A signed release of information is necessary for further interaction between the professional and investigators. Again, keeping written documentation of all contacts is essential.

 

 

Failure to Report

The Penal Code provides for mandated reporter’s confidentiality as well as immunity from civil or criminal liability when making a legally mandated child abuse report (P.C. 11172 [a]). However, mental health professionals risk both criminal and civil liability for failure to report. If a professional fails to report suspected abuse and a child is abused or killed as a result, the professional can be sued for malpractice. In addition, administrative action may be taken, resulting in suspension or revocation of a practitioner’s license.

 

Barriers to Reporting

In addition to the barriers previously addressed, mental health professionals must confront and overcome their own internal barriers to reporting:

  • Denial

Professionals must recognize that child abuse can happen in any family. When professionals do not acknowledge the possibility of abuse, they miss the opportunity to assess and intervene, leaving children vulnerable and unprotected.

  • Rationalizing

Another danger is the professional’s acceptance of unrealistic explanations for how an injury occurred. If any doubt exists, no matter how small, assessment should continue, and/or consultation should be sought.

  • Betrayal

Some professionals feel that if they report clients for suspected child abuse they will damage the client-therapist relationship because of the possible punitive consequences of such reports. If this notion is held by the professional, parents or caregivers may sense that they are being punished. Reframing the reporting as helpful to the family, because it will protect the child (and the parents in the long run) by getting them needed services, may be a more useful approach. While the fear that reporting will destroy the trust in the therapeutic relationship is understandable if the report is made in a clear and non-threatening way clients will be less likely to feel betrayed. Approaching suspected abuse as a matter-of-fact mandatory duty to protect children can help in undertaking the emotionally difficult task of reporting.

 

  • Family Breakup

Although relatively few of the large number of child abuse reports lead to the removal of a child from his/her home, this is often a fear of both parents and children. Although professionals must guard against giving false assurances, educating the family about the range of possible agency responses to the situation may be helpful. The current emphasis of child welfare services is on keeping the family together by providing intensive services. The child will be removed only if the child protective professionals determine that there is imminent danger to the child or that the caregivers are unable or unwilling to provide a safe environment for the child.

 

 

May reports be made anonymously?

Persons not legally mandated to report may make anonymous reports. Mandated reporters must identify themselves when making child abuse reports.

 

What if I make a mistake?

Dr. C. Henry Kempe, a pioneer in the field of child abuse prevention, once said he would rather apologize to a parent because he made a mistake about reporting the abuse than apologize to a brain-damaged child because he did not report. It is better to err in the direction of over-reporting than under-reporting. It is important to note that mandated reporters are immune pursuant to the statute if they make a report in good faith, but they are liable if they fail to report when they have reasonable suspicion.

 

In Summary

Child abuse isn’t just about black eyes. While physical abuse is shocking due to the marks it leaves, not all signs of child abuse are as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations, or making them feel worthless or stupid are also forms of child abuse and neglect—and they can leave deep, lasting scars on kids.

Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious emotional harm. But there is help available. If you suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, it’s important to speak out. By catching the problem as early as possible, both the child and the abuser can get the help they need.

Reporting should be done when a person either knows or suspects that a child has been or is in danger of abuse or neglect. Hard proof is not needed to make a report. The standard by which a report should be made is “reasonable suspicion”. Reasonable suspicion means that it is “objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect” (Penal Code 11166 (a) (1)). Verbal disclosures of abuse should always be reported.

If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even if you can’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed signs as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise been overlooked.  Reports must be made in good faith. Use common sense. A report of child abuse is serious and may have a lifelong impact on the child and his or her family. Never make a false or malicious report. If you are in doubt at all about a particular situation, consult with a colleague and/or telephone your local child abuse hotline and discuss the situation.

 

California Penal Code

ARTICLE 2.5. Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act [11164 – 11174.3]
  1165.7.  (a) As used in this article, “mandated reporter” is defined as any of the following:

(1) A teacher.

(2) An instructional aide.

(3) A teacher’s aide or teacher’s assistant employed by a public or private school.

(4) A classified employee of a public school.

(5) An administrative officer or supervisor of child welfare and attendance, or a certificated pupil personnel employee of a public or private school.

(6) An administrator of a public or private day camp.

(7) An administrator or employee of a public or private youth center, youth recreation program, or youth organization.

(8) An administrator, board member, or employee of a public or private organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children, including a foster family agency.

(9) An employee of a county office of education or the State Department of Education whose duties bring the employee into contact with children on a regular basis.

(10) A licensee, an administrator, or an employee of a licensed community care or child daycare facility.

(11) A Head Start program teacher.

(12) A licensing worker or licensing evaluator employed by a licensing agency, as defined in Section 11165.11.

(13) A public assistance worker.

(14) An employee of a childcare institution, including, but not limited to, foster parents, group home personnel, and personnel of residential care facilities.

(15) A social worker, probation officer, or parole officer.

(16) An employee of a school district police or security department.

(17) A person who is an administrator or presenter of, or a counselor in, a child abuse prevention program in a public or private school.

(18) A district attorney investigator, inspector, or local child support agency caseworker, unless the investigator, inspector, or caseworker is working with an attorney appointed pursuant to Section 317 of the Welfare and Institutions Code to represent a minor.

(19) A peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, who is not otherwise described in this section.

(20) A firefighter, except for volunteer firefighters.

(21) A physician and surgeon, psychiatrist, psychologist, dentist, resident, intern, podiatrist, chiropractor, licensed nurse, dental hygienist, optometrist, marriage and family therapist, clinical social worker, professional clinical counselor, or any other person who is currently licensed under Division 2 (commencing with Section 500) of the Business and Professions Code.

(22) An emergency medical technician I or II, paramedic, or other person certified pursuant to Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code.

(23) A psychological assistant registered pursuant to Section 2913 of the Business and Professions Code.

(24) A marriage and family therapist trainee, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 4980.03 of the Business and Professions Code.

(25) An unlicensed associate marriage and family therapist registered under Section 4980.44 of the Business and Professions Code.

(26) A state or county public health employee who treats a minor for venereal disease or any other condition.

(27) A coroner.

(28) A medical examiner or other person who performs autopsies.

(29) A commercial film and photographic print or image processor as specified in subdivision (e) of Section 11166. As used in this article, “commercial film and photographic print or image processor” means a person who develops exposed photographic film into negatives, slides, or prints, or who makes prints from negatives or slides, or who prepares, publishes, produces, develops, duplicates, or prints any representation of information, data, or an image, including, but not limited to, any film, filmstrip, photograph, negative, slide, photocopy, videotape, video laser disc, computer hardware, computer software, computer floppy disk, data storage medium, CD-ROM, computer-generated equipment, or computer-generated image, for compensation. The term includes any employee of that person; it does not include a person who develops film or makes prints or images for a public agency.

(30) A child visitation monitor. As used in this article, “child visitation monitor” means a person who, for financial compensation, acts as a monitor of a visit between a child and another person when the monitoring of that visit has been ordered by a court of law.

(31) An animal control officer or humane society officer. For the purposes of this article, the following terms have the following meanings:

(A) “Animal control officer” means a person employed by a city, county, or city and county for the purpose of enforcing animal control laws or regulations.

(B) “Humane society officer” means a person appointed or employed by a public or private entity as a humane officer who is qualified pursuant to Section 14502 or 14503 of the Corporations Code.

(32) A clergy member, as specified in subdivision (d) of Section 11166. As used in this article, “clergy member” means a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, temple, or recognized denomination or organization.

(33) Any custodian of records of a clergy member, as specified in this section and subdivision (d) of Section 11166.

(34) An employee of any police department, county sheriff’s department, county probation department, or county welfare department.

(35) An employee or volunteer of a Court Appointed Special Advocate program, as defined in Rule 5.655 of the California Rules of Court.

(36) A custodial officer, as defined in Section 831.5.

(37) A person providing services to a minor child under Section 12300 or 12300.1 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

(38) An alcohol and drug counselor. As used in this article, an “alcohol and drug counselor” is a person providing counseling, therapy, or other clinical services for a state licensed or certified drug, alcohol, or drug and alcohol treatment program. However, alcohol or drug abuse, or both alcohol and drug abuse, is not, in and of itself, a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse or neglect.

(39) A clinical counselor trainee, as defined in subdivision (g) of Section 4999.12 of the Business and Professions Code.

(40) An associate professional clinical counselor registered under Section 4999.42 of the Business and Professions Code.

(41) An employee or administrator of a public or private postsecondary educational institution, whose duties bring the administrator or employee into contact with children on a regular basis, or who supervises those whose duties bring the administrator or employee into contact with children on a regular basis, as to child abuse or neglect occurring on that institution’s premises or at an official activity of, or program conducted by, the institution. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as altering the lawyer-client privilege as set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 950) of Chapter 4 of Division 8 of the Evidence Code.

(42) An athletic coach, athletic administrator, or athletic director employed by any public or private school that provides any combination of instruction for kindergarten, or grades 1 to 12, inclusive.

(43) (A) A commercial computer technician as specified in subdivision (e) of Section 11166. As used in this article, “commercial computer technician” means a person who works for a company that is in the business of repairing, installing, or otherwise servicing a computer or computer component, including, but not limited to, a computer part, device, memory storage or recording mechanism, auxiliary storage recording or memory capacity, or any other material relating to the operation and maintenance of a computer or computer network system, for a fee. An employer who provides an electronic communications service or a remote computing service to the public shall be deemed to comply with this article if that employer complies with Section 2258A of Title 18 of the United States Code.

(B) An employer of a commercial computer technician may implement internal procedures for facilitating reporting consistent with this article. These procedures may direct employees who are mandated reporters under this paragraph to report materials described in subdivision (e) of Section 11166 to an employee who is designated by the employer to receive the reports. An employee who is designated to receive reports under this subparagraph shall be a commercial computer technician for purposes of this article. A commercial computer technician who makes a report to the designated employee pursuant to this subparagraph shall be deemed to have complied with the requirements of this article and shall be subject to the protections afforded to mandated reporters, including, but not limited to, those protections afforded by Section 11172.

(44) Any athletic coach, including, but not limited to, an assistant coach or a graduate assistant involved in coaching, at public or private postsecondary educational institutions.

(45) An individual certified by a licensed foster family agency as a certified family home, as defined in Section 1506 of the Health and Safety Code.

(46) An individual approved as a resource family, as defined in Section 1517 of the Health and Safety Code and Section 16519.5 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

(47) A qualified autism service provider, a qualified autism service professional, or a qualified autism service paraprofessional, as defined in Section 1374.73 of the Health and Safety Code and Section 10144.51 of the Insurance Code.

(48) A human resource employee of a business subject to Part 2.8 (commencing with Section 12900) of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code that employs minors. For purposes of this section, a “human resource employee” is the employee or employees designated by the employer to accept any complaints of misconduct as required by Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 12940) of Part 2.8 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code.

(49) An adult person whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of minors in the performance of the minors’ duties in the workplace of a business subject to Part 2.8 (commencing with Section 12900) of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code is a mandated reporter of sexual abuse, as defined in Section 11165.1. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to modify or limit the person’s duty to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect when the person is acting in some other capacity that would otherwise make the person a mandated reporter.

(b) Except as provided in paragraph (35) of subdivision (a), volunteers of public or private organizations whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of children are not mandated reporters but are encouraged to obtain training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect and are further encouraged to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to an agency specified in Section 11165.9.

(c) (1) Except as provided in subdivision (d) and paragraph (2), employers are strongly encouraged to provide their employees who are mandated reporters with training in the duties imposed by this article. This training shall include training in child abuse and neglect identification and training in child abuse and neglect reporting. Whether or not employers provide their employees with training in child abuse and neglect identification and reporting, the employers shall provide their employees who are mandated reporters with the statement required pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 11166.5.

(2) Employers subject to paragraphs (48) and (49) of subdivision (a) shall provide their employees who are mandated reporters with training in the duties imposed by this article. This training shall include training in child abuse and neglect identification and training in child abuse and neglect reporting. The training requirement may be met by completing the general online training for mandated reporters offered by the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the State Department of Social Services.

(d) Pursuant to Section 44691 of the Education Code, school districts, county offices of education, state special schools and diagnostic centers operated by the State Department of Education, and charter schools shall annually train their employees and persons working on their behalf specified in subdivision (a) in the duties of mandated reporters under the child abuse reporting laws. The training shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, training in child abuse and neglect identification and child abuse and neglect reporting.

(e) (1) On and after January 1, 2018, pursuant to Section 1596.8662 of the Health and Safety Code, a childcare licensee applicant shall take training in the duties of mandated reporters under the child abuse reporting laws as a condition of licensure, and a childcare administrator or an employee of a licensed child daycare facility shall take training in the duties of mandated reporters during the first 90 days when that administrator or employee is employed by the facility.

(2) A person specified in paragraph (1) who becomes a licensee, administrator, or employee of a licensed child daycare facility shall take renewal mandated reporter training every two years following the date on which that person completed the initial mandated reporter training. The training shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, training in child abuse and neglect identification and child abuse and neglect reporting.

(f) Unless otherwise specifically provided, the absence of training shall not excuse a mandated reporter from the duties imposed by this article.

(g) Public and private organizations are encouraged to provide their volunteers whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of children with training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect.

(Amended by Stats. 2020, Ch. 243, Sec. 1. (AB 1963) Effective January 1, 2021.)

 

 

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