What are your rights and obligations as Mandatory Reporters?
School is back – albeit different – yet the laws in place regarding child abuse and mandated reporting remain. They are as important and relevant today as they were before COVID-19 reached our shores. Over the past several years, amendments have been made to the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), including major reforms in 2013 and 2014. More recently greater penalties have been put in place for mandatory reporters and the willful failure to act.
Whether you are required to report by law or accused of child abuse allegations, understanding the law is key. So as we return to the classroom and other facilities, such as day care centers, where mandated reporting is to be enforced, it seems an appropriate time for a refresher – highlighting some of the most frequently asked questions.
- What is child abuse?
In the most briefest of definitions: Child abuse is intentional, knowing, or reckless harm upon a child under the age of 18. (Note: For a list of child abuse violations as well as signs of abuse and neglect, visit: http://www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov/about/signs/index.htm.)
- What is the governing law for Mandated Reporting?
Mandated Reporters are defined under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), Section 6311.
- Who has a legal duty to report suspected child abuse?
According to the CPSL, a mandatory reporter who has “reasonable cause” to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse must file a report. This includes any school employee who comes into direct contact with children. Note: The mandate expands beyond teachers to any one in direct contact with children, whether or not that person is paid by the school. The important distinction is “direct” contact.
The mandate to report suspected child abuse extends beyond the traditional school and classroom. Any individual providing a regularly scheduled program or activity—whether or not it is sponsored by the school directly (e.g. youth groups, after school activities) has a responsibility to report.
(Full list: https://www.pa-fsa.org/Mandated-Reporters/Understanding-Mandated-Reporting/Who-are-Mandated-Reporters)
- What is reasonable cause to report?
The CPSL does not provide a clear definition for “reasonable cause” but it is inferred that firsthand knowledge of child abuse is not required in order to have a reporting obligation under the law. Some clearly stipulated circumstances include:
- “The mandated reporter comes into contact with the child in the course of employment, occupation and practice of a profession or through a regularly scheduled program, activity or service;
- The mandated reporter is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child, or is affiliated with an agency, institution, organization, school, regularly established church or religious organization, or other entity that is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance or training of the child;
- A person makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of child abuse.”
- Are there penalties for not reporting?
The short answer is yes. In an act meant to protect sexual assault survivors, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania overhauled its child abuse laws, including those which govern mandatory reporters. In addition lowering the bar for such reporters, the statute raised the resulting penalties for not doing so. These changes were addressed in a prior blog. (Read more: https://neffsedacca.com/educators-take-note-mandatory-reporters-fail-to-act-raised-to-a-minimum-felony-3rd-degree/.
Clearly the importance of reporting child abuse cannot be understated, but the laws are complex and continue to evolve as the Commonwealth navigates many of the new systems being instituted due to the pandemic. If you have questions regarding mandated reporting requirements, have been charged with a crime, or believe your rights may have been violated, you should seek experienced legal counsel. To schedule a confidential consultation with the attorneys at Neff & Sedacca, P.C., contact the firm by phone at 215-563-9800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.