Youth Services Law

Mandated Reporter Requirements: General Principles

Teacher helping students

Every state has its own requirements for mandated reporters, but there are a few general principles underlying all of the various formulations. For example, some states list specific jobs as mandated reporters, while other states list every adult as a mandated reporter. Whatever your state, if you work with minors, you are almost certainly a mandated reporter. You can check the specific requirements for your state on the website for the state child protection authorities, or at this website for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Volunteers: Mandated Reporter?

One item to check is whether volunteers are mandated reporters. Most states include them, and certainly those states that require everyone to report suspected abuse. Your organization will have an obligation to train those volunteers as well as your employees. Be sure to document the training for both employees and volunteers.

Timeframe for Reporting

All states also have a time limit for reporting suspected abuse. The most common time frame is 24 hours, but some states require immediate reporting.

Where to Report

You will need to double-check where you should report. Most states require reports to child protection authorities, but a few states require reports to law enforcement. This requirement can be confusing, particularly in those states that require reports to law enforcement where the abuse occurred. So, for example, if a child reports abuse on an overnight camping trip, you would have to track down the law enforcement officials in that location. Most states have a state-wide hotline for reports, which is much easier for reporters.

The next question is whether employees must report directly to authorities or to a supervisor. I admit to being partial to Georgia’s mandated reporting law, which says that a report to a supervisor will satisfy an individual’s reporting responsibilities. The supervisor must transmit the report verbatim, without removing anything, but he or she can add information. This provision allows supervisors to add any additional non-specific reports that they have received.

How to Report

It is important that the person with first-hand information make the report. That consideration underlies two of my standard recommendations, even in jurisdictions that require direct reports. First, supervisors should have staff put any concerns in writing. It may be difficult later to remember all of the important and relevant details. Second, supervisors and employees should call child protection authorities together. That practice will meet all the concerns of ensuring that authorities get first-hand information while keeping supervisors in the loop on what is happening in their program.

Report Standards

It is important to know the standard for reports in your state. Most states have some variation of “reasonable suspicion,” that is, requiring reports when you have reason to suspect abuse. This standard means that you should not wait until you believe the abuse occurred, or even have strong reason to suspect abuse. It requires a minimal level of suspicion. For example, as I have advised frequently, we have to report any disclosure of abuse, no matter how vague the claim or how much we doubt the credibility of the reporter. We do not have the authority to judge credibility or investigate suspicions.

What to Report

The final question is what we report. All states require reports of physical or sexual abuse and neglect. Some states require reports of emotional abuse, while others include witnessing domestic violence as a form of abuse. The requirements are specific to each state, and can come up in a variety of factual circumstances. In future blog posts this month, I will cover some of those situations. For now, simply check what broad categories your state enforces.

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