South Carolina Mandated Reporter Law

June 2018

South Carolina has a complex web of laws governing mandatory reporting, and the responsibility includes more than traditionally-understood abuse or neglect. The law imposes a responsibility to report such things as emotional abuse, teen sexting, and some cases of domestic violence. Furthermore, the statute specifically includes volunteers, thus placing a responsibility on youth-serving organizations to train volunteers as well as employees.

This survey discusses only the mandated reporter statute in South Carolina. If your organization 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.

WHO Must Report?

South Carolina has a specific list of professionals, including many child-care organizations. The only exceptions are privileged attorney/client and clergy/penitent communications. Also, you must report only if you learn of the abuse in your professional capacity. Even if you learn of possible abuse in a social setting, however, best practices would be to report your concerns.

Child Care Centers: Child care workers are specifically named and must report suspected abuse.

Camps: The statute does not include camps, but best practices are to report anything that you suspect.

Mentoring Organizations: The statute does not list mentoring organizations, but best practices are to report.

Schools: School teachers, counselors, principals and assistant principals are mandated reporters.

Church Programs: Members of clergy and religious counselors who charge for their services must report, but lay leaders are not included.  Again, the best practice is to report suspected abuse.  There is an exception for information covered under the clergy/penitent privilege.

WHAT Must You Report?

South Carolina professionals must report possible abuse or neglect.

Abandonment: A parent or guarding is guilty of abandonment when he or she “willfully deserts a child or willfully surrenders physical possession of a child without making adequate arrangements” for continuing care.

Abuse: The South Carolina law covers physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The definition specifies “physical or mental injury” or actions that “present a substantial risk of physical or mental injury to the child.”

  • Physical Abuse: You must report actual or risk of physical injury, excluding reasonable and moderate corporal punishment. “Physical injury” includes “disfigurement or impairment of any bodily organ or function.”
  • Lack of Supervision: South Carolina doesn’t have any specific rules about supervision. The law states only that no one can place a child “at unreasonable risk of harm.” Thus, “unreasonable risk” would be a judgment call for mandated reporters.
  • Domestic Violence: There are no specific rules for this situation, so it would fall under the general prohibition against placing a child at unreasonable risk of harm.
  • Mental Abuse: The statute prohibits “mental injury,” and defines it as injury “evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment of the child’s ability to function” as diagnosed by a mental health or medical professional.
  • Sexual Abuse: The statute requires the reporting of “sexual offenses” and actions “that present a substantial risk” of sexual abuse.
  • Teen Sexual Activity: The age of consent in South Carolina is 16, but it is not a crime for a person under 18 to engage in sexual activity with someone at least 14 years old. Thus, you need not report sexual activity among minors as long as the younger person is at least 16 years old, or both are between the ages of 14 and 18.
  • Sexual Exploitation: Professionals must report anyone who “encourages, condones, or approves” sexual exploitation of anyone under age 18. That requirement includes not only using children in prostitution or pornography, but allowing children to view pornography.
  •  Sexting: South Carolina law includes in its list of “sexual offenses” the distribution of nude or sexual pictures to minors, as well as allowing a minor to view such material. There is an exception for parents, and for a school, museum, or other institution that is carrying out “its legitimate function.”  There is no age limit, so professionals must report teens who text nude photographs of each other to their friends.

Neglect: South Carolina professionals must report failure to supply the child with food, clothing, shelter, education, appropriate supervision, or health care, if the parents “have or are offered the means to do so.”

WHEN Must You Report?

South Carolina does not have a specific time frame for reporting.   Named professionals must report when they have learned information in their professional capacity that gives them reason to believe that a child’s health has been or may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect.

WHERE Must You Report?

The statute requires a report to the county Department of Social Services or to law enforcement “where the child resides or may be found.” To date, the state apparently does not have a statewide hotline.  If someone other than a parent or person responsible for the child commits the abuse, you must report to local law enforcement.

The statute contemplates that a professional will report to a supervisor. The amended law specifically states that people who report to supervisors still have an individual obligation to report, and that internal investigations do not abrogate that responsibility. Best practices for an organization would be for employees to report to supervisors, and then both together make a report to DSS or law enforcement.

WHY Must You Report?

Knowing failure to report suspected abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.

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