Child Abuse: Mandatory Reporting

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What is Mandatory Reporting for Child Abuse?

All 50 U.S. states have child abuse laws that serve to protect children from child abuse.  These laws also include reporting requirements which make it mandatory for certain persons to report instances of child abuse.  The word “mandatory” means required, meaning that failing to report child abuse can result in legal consequences for certain people or agencies. 

Reports of child abuse should be made to either law enforcement agencies (the police) or child protective services.  The report should include such information as the child’s name, the children’s parents and address, the child’s age, the name of the person who committed the abuse, and the nature and extent of the child’s injury.  In some jurisidictions, mandatory reporting also includes the duty to report child neglect.

Who is Required to Report Child Abuse?

In all states, child abuse laws require the following persons to report confirmed or suspected instances of child abuse:

In some jurisdictions, attorneys, clergy leaders, foster parents, and summer camp counselors are also required to make reports if they suspect child abuse.

The reason why such persons are subject to mandatory reporting laws is that they often interact with children in ways that can reveal evidence of child abuse.  For example, in the course of a routine physical check-up, a doctor may discover bruises or scars on a child’s body.  This may be a sign that the child has been abused- therefore the doctor would be required to file report with the proper authorities stating that they suspect that the child has been abused. 

Are There Any Legal Consequences for Failing to Report Child Abuse?

Failure to report child abuse is considered a crime in most jurisdictions, if the person is required by law to do so. 

A first-time failure to report child abuse is generally classified as a misdemeanor.  This is a crime punishable by criminal fines and up to a year in jail.  Fines can range anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on the state.   

In some states, a first-time violation of child abuse reporting requirements can even result in felony charges, especially for very serious situations.  Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota are examples of states that impose felony charges for failure to report child abuse.  Also, repeat offenses can sometimes elevate the misdemeanor charge into a felony charge. 

Finally, a person who fails to report child abuse can also become subject to a civil lawsuit.  This is especially common if the failure to report results in death or serious injury to the child. 

What is “False Reporting of Child Abuse”?

Just over half of the 50 U.S. states also make it a crime for a person to file a false report of child abuse.  False reporting of child abuse occurs where a person files a report of child abuse while knowing that the report is false.  False reporting is a serious crime, since a person accused of child abuse can suffer major consequences elsewhere in life, such as a loss of employment or benefits. 

Filing a false report of child abuse is classified as a felony in Florida, Tennessee and Texas.  In some states, false reporting is classified as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the seriousness of the accusations.  As with failure to report, filing a false report can be elevated to felony charges with repeat offenses. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Mandatory Reporting Requirements for Child Abuse?

Filing a child abuse report is a very serious matter.  If you suspect that a child has been or is being abused, you may wish to contact a lawyer for advice, especially if you are required by law to make such a report.  An experienced lawyer can assist you in filing report to ensure that you are following reporting requirements.

Also, any time a child abuse report is filed, it can lead to a criminal or civil trial.  You may wish to retain the services of your lawyer in the event that a trial becomes necessary.  

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Last Modified: 03-20-2014 11:47 AM PDT

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