Youth Services Law

New North Carolina Mandated Reporting Law

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North Carolina has a new mandated reporting law as of December 1, 2019. It does not change any of the older laws, but adds a new reporting requirement for certain offenses.

The new law requires all adults (with some limited privilege exceptions) to report to law enforcement certain crimes against juveniles, specifically serious injuries, violent crimes, sex crimes, and misdemeanor child abuse. The definitions of the crimes covered include attempts, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit those crimes. The adult must report immediately after they know or shown they have known of the offense. Failure to report is a Class I misdemeanor.

The first three crimes are fairly straightforward. Misdemeanor child abuse involves children younger than 16 and a caretaker who (1) inflicts or allows to be inflicted physical injury or (2) creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of physical injury. The latter standard is vague, and an ambitious prosecutor could find a duty to report when, for example, a parent failed to watch a child on a public playground.

This new law is in addition to the longstanding requirements to report suspected child abuse, neglect, or dependency to the Department of Social Services (DDS). Thus, if you face a situation of child abuse that is one of the listed crimes, you must report to both DSS and law enforcement. If it is another type of abuse, such as bruises from corporal punishment or emotional abuse, then the report goes only to DSS. Similarly, if you suspect neglect, the report goes only to DSS.

North Carolina’s new law evidences good intentions, but it conflicts with the old law and creates several areas of confusion. For example, the new statute applies when the adult knows or reasonably should have known of danger, but the old statute requires a report when a person merely has “cause to suspect” abuse or neglect. The newer statute effectively changes the standard for reporting.

A more serious question arises for people exempted from the reach of the new statute, such as psychologists, certified social workers, licensed professional counselors, and agents of rape crisis centers. The old law exempts none of these professions. Yet, the crimes listed in the new law undoubtedly constitute abuse under the long-standing mandated reporting statute. It is far from clear which exemption would apply to those cases. Professionals that the new statute exempts should seek guidance from their licensing agencies about how to balance their ethical confidentiality responsibilities with their mandated reporting obligations.

The law is a step forward in the attention it pays to trafficking victims, and its requirement that public school employees receive training in how to recognize those victims. The law’s confusing and conflicting rules about child abuse cases, however, are not likely to increase protections for children in the state.

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