Recent national surveys have suggested that professionals who are mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect report only about half the incidents about which they knew. They reported being confused about the reporting laws and procedures, being unsure of the warning signs or cues of child abuse and neglect or unclear about how abuse or neglect is defined by state law. You have already learned quite a lot about New York State’s legal definitions of child abuse and neglect, and the warning signs of child abuse or maltreatment, so you should be more confident about when you think you suspect it and need to report it.
In this section and the next, we will clarify the reporting laws and procedures so that you are sure of the process of reporting, and clear as to why it is mandated for social workers and other professionals. The majority of suspected child abuse or maltreatment reports registered annually are made by mandated reporters.
The Child Protective Services Act of 1973 provided the law that requires mandated reporting. The law requires mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or maltreatment by specific professionals. Mandated reporters are those professionals who, while acting in their professional capacity, are required by law to report suspected incidents of child abuse or maltreatment/neglect. They are required to report anytime that a person is acting within the scope of their employment or carrying out functions as part of the duties and responsibilities of their profession. The law also required the creation of a round-the-clock central registry, known as the State Central Registry (SCR) in New York, which is operated by the New York State Office for Children and Youth Services (OCFS). The Child Protective Services Act also required the creation of local Child Protective Services (CPS) to receive and investigate registered reports.
The following persons are considered mandated child abuse reporters in New York State:
*As of October 1, 2007, this now includes, but is not limited to, school teacher, school guidance counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, school nurse, school administrator or other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate.
**As of October 1, 2007, social services workers are defined as staff of social service agencies. Social services workers must make a report when a person comes before them, not the parent, child or other legally responsible person, just a person.
Mandated reporters must report child abuse:
*Professional capacity: When a person is acting within the scope of their employment or carrying out functions as part of the duties and responsibilities of their profession.
A person can have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abused or maltreated if, considering what physical evidence her or she observes or is told about, and from his or her own training and experience, it is possible that the injury or condition was caused by neglect or by non-accidental means. The reporter need not be absolutely certain that the injury or condition was caused by neglect or by non-accidental means; the reporter should only be able to entertain the possibility that it could have been neglect or non-accidental to possess the necessary reasonable cause.
A reasonable cause to suspect means that based on what you have observed or been told, combined with your training and experience, you feel that harm or imminent danger of harm to the child could be the result of an act of omission by the person legally responsible for the child. Explanations of injuries that are inconsistent with your observations and/or knowledge may be a basis for your reasonable suspicion.
Certainty is not required. To be suspicious, it is enough for the mandated reporter to distrust or doubt what he or she personally observes or is told. In child abuse cases, many factors can and should be considered in the formation of that doubt or distrust. Physical and behavioral indicators may also be helpful in forming a reasonable basis of suspicion. While these are not diagnostic criteria of child abuse or maltreatment, they illustrate patterns that may be recorded in the written report when relevant.
The first mandated reporter who suspects child maltreatment is legally required to immediately report their concerns directly to the State Central Register by phone. In 2007, the NY State Legislature passed a law which requires that all mandated reporters of child abuse directly and personally report their concerns to the state central registry. That means that that no institution should have a “designated reporter” who makes reports, or a committee or persons who decide whether or not reports of abuse or neglect get made. Social workers or other administrators or mental health professionals cannot be considered “designated reporters”. If a teacher in a school or a worker in an institution who is a mandated reporter comes to you with concern of child abuse, you should remind them that it is their obligation to call it in directly. If you are the source of the report, you would make the call.
You do not need to seek permission or approval from a supervisor before calling concerns of child maltreatment in to the State Central Register. According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services Summary Guide for Mandated Reporters, and to NY State law, supervisors or administrators cannot require their prior approval to be given before an employee files a report of child abuse or neglect. Additionally, an agency, school or institution cannot require that a mandated reporter notify a supervisor before such a report is made to the SCR. Supervisors cannot forbid or dissuade an employee from making a report. Also, punitive action cannot be taken or threatened against any individual for making a report to the State Central Register. You are required to let a supervisor know after a report has been made.
Find a private place, if at all possible, and remain calm. Use your best social work interview techniques––be honest, open and up front with the child. Remain supportive, and actively listen to the child. Stress that it’s not the child’s fault. Don’t overreact, make judgments or make promises. Try not to interrogate the child or investigate on your own. This is especially true in sexual abuse cases. Simply reach your decision and, if you suspect child abuse or maltreatment, report the situation immediately.
Mandated reporters are subject to serious consequences for failure to report. Any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report may be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, and/or may be civilly liable for the damages caused by such failure, including wrongful death suits. A Class A misdemeanor can result in a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. In New York State, it is important to remember that Child Protective Services cannot act until child abuse/maltreatment is identified and reported. No service can be offered to the family nor can processes to protect the child begin until a report is made. Mandated reporters must call the SCR to ensure immunity and be protected from criminal and civil liability. If the mandated reporter calls the local county CPS or a law enforcement official, then that mandated reporter has not fulfilled their legal duty to the SCR. To encourage prompt and complete reporting of suspected child abuse and maltreatment, the Social Services Law, Section 419, affords the reporter certain legal protections from liability. Mandated reporters who make good faith efforts to report, take photographs, and/or take protective custody of children suspected of having been abused and/or maltreated, have immunity from any liability, civil, or criminal, that might result from such actions. They are presumed to have done so in good faith as long as they were acting in the discharge of their official duties and within the scope of their employment and so long as their actions did not result from willful misconduct or gross negligence. The good faith of such a person, official or institution required to report is presumed. This means if a person accuses you of making a false report in bad faith, they must prove you acted with gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Confidentiality to the reporter is assured by New York State Law (SSL 442 (4) (A). OCFS and the local child protective service units are not permitted to release any identifying data of the person who made the report to the subject of a report, unless the reporter has given written permission for the central register or the local child protective services unit to do so. Information regarding the report source may be shared by OCFS or the local CPS with certain individuals (e.g., courts, police, district attorney), but only as provided by law.Adapted from: Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Maltreatment/Neglect: Mandated Reporter Trainer’s Resource Guide. New York State Office of Children and Family Services: CDHS/Research Foundation of SUNY/BSC (2009).