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Reporting Child Abuse: Everyone's Responsibility

Jun 10, 2014

Child Abuse Reporting LawsAs horror story after horror story about the abuse of children comes to light, state after state, and even the federal government, is responding with legislation for schools and for the private sector to protect children.  While the morality of mandatory reporting to protect is clear, state and federal statutes and the level of responsibility for reporting is not.


At the federal level, all schools are required to report crimes to the proper authorities, particularly crimes of a sexual nature. Universities carry that responsibility even when the crime is committed against visitors or off-site, if the visitor is under the responsibility of a campus employee or volunteer. As the Penn State scandal illustrated, no school, no matter how prestigious, is immune. Most schools are working hard to identify mandatory reporters and to train them in what to look for, how to respond and whom they must contact.


In the private sector the response has been just as urgent. In the past year, over 120 bills in 37 states have been introduced at legislative session on the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. They bills vary by state and the District of Columbia, with the responsibility to report falling on everyone from private citizens to teachers, coaches, health care providers, volunteers and more.


Some states require multiple reports of the same incident when more than one mandated reporter is aware of the abuse – even if the reporters know their colleague has already filed. Some states have created central abuse hotlines; still others have enacted felony distinctions for failure to report.  In some states abuse, sexual abuse and child neglect is covered: in other states reporting is required even if the abuse or neglect is only suspected.


While the range of legislation is broad, the mandate from the public is clear: protect children from abuse and neglect at any cost. The challenge for anyone who works with or around children is to understand their responsibility under the applicable laws and know how to report an incident or even a suspected incident, if needed. In many states, a phone call is all that’s needed: in others a follow up report must also be filed. In almost all states, the onus is on the reporter to make sure the information is given to the appropriate authoritative body.


When one witnesses child abuse, sexual abuse or assault against a child, or neglect it’s important to respond quickly.  If contacting the authorities is needed to stop an incident that is in progress, of course call 911. But for suspected behavior, or incidences that are not witnessed, it can be critically important to err as an advocate for the child.  It’s better to report a suspicion than to let a child go another day as a victim of abuse.


For employers, don’t assume your staff has the ability to recognize abuse, nor the training to respond appropriately.  Look to Workplace Answers’ Child Abuse Prevention and Reporting training to help your employees recognize the signs and understand their responsibility in protecting children.  Contact us today to learn more. 




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