Take Note: The “Who – What – When” Requirements and Penalties Associated with Failures to Report
Reporting alleged child abuse is the law in Pennsylvania and failure to meet a mandatory obligation is a serious offense. As the school year begins and children return to the classroom, it seems a good time to outline the who, what and when such reporting is required along with the associated penalties for turning a blind eye. These may include incarceration, fines and loss of one’s professional credentials.
Any school employee, whether a teacher or anyone who comes into direct contact with children, is mandated to report suspected child abuse. This is true even if that person is not paid directly by the school. In addition, any individual providing a regularly scheduled program or activity—whether or not it is sponsored by the school directly (i.e., youth groups, after school activities and the like) has a responsibility to report. Excluded from the “who” are those in administrative or staff positions that do not involve direct contact with children. They are not deemed mandatory reporters nor are they held to the same requirements.
To demonstrate the Commonwealth’s resolve to enhance child protections, in 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature addressed cases when a confidentiality and/or non-disclosure agreement is in place. In such instances, a mandatory reporter’s requirement to disclose in conversations with law enforcement overrides any such agreement provisions that could hinder an investigation.
The list of alleged child abuse that mandates reporting is extensive and includes acts that can be physical, mental, neglectful, or sexual in nature. In addition to the specific offenses that endanger a child, reporting is mandated if the alleged victim is under 18 years of age and abuse has occurred within the past two years.
Adults are not the only individuals that may be accused. Child-on-child abuse, when the child inflicting damage is over 14 years of age and is either responsible for (i.e., babysitter), living with, or commits an act constituting rape or other sexual assault-type behavior, must be reported.
The most recent changes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania child abuse laws took place in 2019 and spoke to the “when” related to mandatory reporting. Specifically, one’s obligation to report requires that a teacher or other mandated reporter need only have “reasonable cause to suspect a child is being subjected to abuse.” It does not have to be confirmed, but merely suspected.
Some examples include:
- When a mandated reporter comes into contact with a child in the course of their job or service to children and witnesses or hears something that could be child abuse.
- When a person makes a specific disclosure to a mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of abuse.
- When an individual 14 years of age or older makes a specific disclosure to a mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of abuse.
To coincide with the 2019 lowering of the bar for mandated reporting, the penalties increased dramatically. Now the failure to report a “suspected act of child abuse” has been elevated from a Misdemeanor-1st Degree to a Felony-3rd Degree or higher if the actual offense constitutes a Felony of the 1st or 2nd Degree and where the same individual continues to have direct contact with children through his or her employment.
At Neff & Sedacca, P.C., we are committed to providing strategically-sound, aggressive defense for our clients. If you are a mandated reporter and find yourself faced with a criminal charge for failure to report, it is imperative that you acquire the services of a lawyer with the qualifications, experience, and reputation to properly defend these charges. This is especially true as reporting laws are frequently amended. 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