Florida Mandated Reporter Law

September 21, 2016

This survey discusses only the mandated reporter statute in Florida. If your industry is governed by a state licensing agency, such as education or child care, then that agency likely has its own set of reporting requirements. Be sure to consult those regulations if they apply to you.

This survey lists only broad categories, and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice about your specific situation, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.

WHO Must Report?
Anyone who suspects abuse must report. Specific occupations must give their name when making a report. Even if the state does not require it, however, you should leave your name and the organization that you work for, so that there is a record of the report in the state system. Also keep a record in your own files.

  • Child Care Centers: Workers at these centers must give their names when reporting.
  • Camps: The statutes do not specifically mention camps, but “professional child care” and “residential” workers must give their names. Arguably, those categories would include camps.
  • Mentoring Organizations: The statutes do not specifically mention these groups, but “professional child care” arguably would include mentoring groups, and require those employees to give their names when reporting.
  • Schools: The statute specifically requires school personnel to give their names.
  • Church Programs: The statues does not require clergy or lay leaders to give their names. The clergy/penitent privilege does not apply; clergy must report anything they learn in course of confession or counseling.

WHAT Must You Report?
The statute requires reports of abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a child (under age 18) by any person, or when a child is in need of supervision and has no adult to provide it.

  • Abandonment: A child is “abandoned” when a parent, custodian, or caregiver “has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance, or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child, or both.” 
  • Abuse: This definition includes “any willful act or threatened act” . . . “that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental or emotional health to be significantly impaired.” Corporal punishment is not abuse if it causes no harm to the child.
    • Physical Abuse: You must report any willful or threatened act that causes physical harm.
    • Lack of Supervision: The definition of “harm” also includes leaving a child without supervision when the child is (a) unable to care for its need or another’s, or (b) is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to a crisis. Florida criminalizes leaving a child under six years old in a car unattended for more than 15 minutes, or any amount of time with the engine running or other dangerous situation.                    
    • Domestic Violence: Florida residents also must report when an adult “engages in violent behavior that demonstrates a wanton disregard for the presence of a child and could reasonably result in serious injury to the child.” 
    • Mental Abuse: The statute includes mental abuse, defined as “an injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability to function within the normal range of performance and behavior.” Also, you must report when a child is exposed to drugs or alcohol, including chronic use by a parent “when the child is demonstrably adversely affected by such usage.”
    • Sexual abuse: Residents must report any criminal sexual battery, including female genital mutilation, or indecent exposure involving a child.
    • Teen Sexual Activity: The Florida statute requires a report of “any sexual behavior” by a child that is “without consent, without equality, or as a result of coercion.” The age of consent in Florida is 18 years old, but children age 16 and 17 can consent to sexual activity with anyone up to the age of 24. Thus, organizations need not worry about consensual activity between older teenagers.
    • Sexual exploitation: The statute specifically lists taking “lewd photographs” of a minor as a circumstance requiring a report. There is no lower age of consent. Unless the pictures are sexting between teenagers (see below), organizations must report any instance of child pornography.
    • Sexting: Florida has a specific sexting statute. Note that it only covers (a) nude photographs (b) shared among teenagers. If the pictures depict sexual activity, or adults are involved, they are child pornography that you must report. If the sexting statute applies, then you can rely on the mandated reporter statute’s exception for consent “based on age, maturity, developmental level, functioning, and experience.” Average consenting teenagers who send lewd photographs of each other may be in need of counseling or discipline under anti-bullying policies, but there is no requirement to report them to the authorities. 
  • Neglect: “Neglect” is when a child is deprived of adequate food, clothing, shelter, or health care, and the deprivation “causes the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.”

WHEN Must You Report?
Florida requires a report “immediately” whenever a person has “reasonable cause to suspect” harm to a child. That standard is lower than a certainty, and most state authorities tend to interpret it in favor of reporting sooner rather than later.

WHERE Must You Report?
You must report to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which has its hotline number and online reporting forms listed at www.myflfamilies.com.

WHY Must You Report?
Failure to report is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. Schools that fail to report are subject to a $1 million fine.

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