Georgia Mandated Reporter Law Updated Effective January 1, 2022
The Georgia legislature recently updated the state’s mandated reporter law, adding new definitions and responsibilities effective January 1, 2022. Georgia’s complex web includes more than traditionally-understood abuse or neglect. The new law imposes a responsibility to report such things as abandonment, prenatal abuse, and emotional abuse, and specifically includes temporary caretakers. Most of the statute’s previous requirements remain in place.
This survey discusses only the mandated reporter statute in Georgia. If your organization is governed by a state licensing agency, such as education or childcare, then that agency likely has its own set of reporting requirements. Be sure to consult those regulations.
WHO Must Report?
Georgia has a specific list of people who must report, including “child service organization personnel.” That definition includes employees and volunteers with any organization that provides “care, treatment, education, training, supervision, coaching, counseling, recreational programs, or shelter to children.” Thus, most youth serving organizations must train both their employees and any volunteers.
Child Care Centers: Employees and volunteers at these centers are mandated reporters.
Camps: Camps are included in the definition.
Mentoring Organizations: Most mentoring organizations will fit in the statutory definition.
Schools: The statute specifically names school administrators, teachers, counselors, social workers and school psychologists as mandated reporters.
Religious Organizations: The statute does not specifically list religious organizations, but the vast majority of religious youth-oriented programs will fit within the statute’s definition. There is a specific exception for clergy who learn about abuse solely during “confession or other similar communication required to be kept confidential under church doctrine or practice.”
WHAT Must You Report?
Georgia requires the reporting of “suspected child abuse,” including physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, prenatal abuse, trafficking “for labor servitude,” and any act presenting “an imminent risk of serious harm” to a child’s health.
Physical Abuse: You must report physical injury caused “by other than accidental means.” There is an exception for corporal punishment that does not cause physical injury.
Neglect: The new statutory definition sets out several specific actions that constitute neglect, including the failure to provide parental care required by law or “other care or control necessary for a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health or morals.”
- Lack of Supervision: The new definition of neglect includes “failure to provide a child with adequate supervision necessary for such child’s well-being.” There are no specific statutes or regulations, but the state Department of Family and Children’s Services has issued some guidelines: (1) children 8 years old and under should not be left unsupervised; (2) children between the ages of 9 and 12 can be left alone for less than two hours; and (3) children 13 years and older “who are at an adequate level of maturity” may be left alone and serve as a babysitter for up to 12 hours. Children in foster care cannot babysit, and those 14 and older can be left unsupervised only with prior approval of the caseworker.
- Abandonment: The new definition of abandonment (now included as a form of neglect) includes “any conduct” showing that the parent, guardian, or legal custodian intends to forgo parental duties. Examples of evidence that the statute lists include failure for at least 6 months to communicate meaningfully, maintain regular visitation with the child, or participate in a reunification plan, and being absent from home “for a period of time that creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the child left in the home.”
Emotional Abuse: The mandated reporter statute now incorporates the definition from custody statutes, specifically acts or omissions that “cause any mental injury to [a] child’s intellectual or psychological capacity as evidenced by an observable and significant impairment in such child’s ability to function with a child’s normal range of performance and behavior or that create a substantial risk of impairment.” The definition also includes emotional abuse not only by parents or guardians, but also by any “other person responsible for the care of a child.” Thus, emotional abuse in a youth-serving organization would require a report. Cyberbullying by a classmate, on the other hand, would not fall within this particular statute.
Sexual Abuse: The statute requires the reporting of sexual abuse and includes a long and exhaustive list of specific acts.
- Teen Sexual Activity: The age of consent in Georgia is 16, but there is an exception for consensual acts between a minor who is at least 14 and someone not more than four years older than the minor. If either child involved is under 14, staff members must report those incidents.
- Exploration or Horseplay: The statute includes “physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.” Not all contact between children is sexual. Consensual exploration among young children, for example, rarely involves sexual stimulation or gratification. Similarly, horseplay that involves accidental or non-sexual touching would not automatically fall within the statute. An organization may need to counsel children about appropriate conduct and enforce boundaries, but not necessarily report it to child protection authorities.
Sexual Exploitation: The new law mandates a report of anyone who allows a child to participate in sexual servitude or “sexually explicit conduct” in “any visual or print medium.”
- Sexting: The law covers pictures of a minor that show any specific acts of a long list of “sexually explicit conduct.” The law does not apply to a minor who “takes or possesses” such a picture of himself or herself, but it does apply to anyone who procures or transmits it. The law has lower penalties for minors who procure or transmit such photos in certain circumstances.
WHEN Must You Report?
Georgia requires a report no later than 24 hours “from the time there is reasonable cause to believe that suspected abuse has occurred.”
WHERE Must You Report?
The statute requires a report to the Division of Family and Children Services. That agency has a statewide hotline at 1-855-GACHILD (1-855-422-4453). The statute also allows a mandated reporter to consult with and make a report to a supervisor. Anyone who has “reasonable cause” to suspect abuse at a “hospital, school, agency or similar facility” should notify that facility. In either case, the supervisor should transmit the report without any changes, although he or she may add additional information.
WHY Must You Report?
Knowingly and willfully failing to report suspected abuse is a misdemeanor.