This guest post was authored by Meredith Karasch

Telephone.jpgWe have all heard about the scandal at Penn State that brought down college football royalty.  We cringe at what happened (or didn’t happen).  We agree there was a moral obligation to report child abuse.  However, moral obligation aside, all public and private entities need to know that, if this situation occurred in California, anyone who failed to report suspected child abuse may not only be out of a job.  They would be prosecuted. 

I know what you are thinking; “This doesn’t apply to us, we are not a school.”   Maybe you are not even a public agency.  Please keep reading.  All public and private entities must know that everyone who works with minors is required to report any suspicion of child abuse when they learn of it “within the scope of his or her employment.”    

The California Penal Code contains provisions detailing who are mandated reporters in the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act.  You may be surprised about the scope of those who are “mandated reporters.”  The list includes far more than teachers and other school district employees.  Here is a partial list:

  • An administrator of a public or private day camp;
  • An administrator or employee of a public or private youth center, youth recreation program, or youth organization;
  • An administrator or employee of a public or private organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children;
  • Any employee of a county office of education or the State Department of Education, whose duties bring the employee into contact with children on a regular basis;
  • A public assistance worker;
  • A peace officer or police department employee;
  • A non-volunteer firefighter;
  • A physician, surgeon, psychiatrist, psychologist, dentist, resident, intern, podiatrist, chiropractor, licensed nurse, dental hygienist, or optometrist;
  • An EMT or paramedic;
  • A coroner or medical examiner;
  • A commercial film and photographic print processor;
  • An animal control officer;
  • A clergy member.

In order to trigger the duty to report, a mandated reporter must actually know or have an objectively reasonable suspicion that abuse or neglect has occurred.  A mandated reporter must make a telephone report to a child protective agency immediately and follow up with a written report in 36 hours.  Reporting to a supervisor does not satisfy the reporter’s duty.  People who report suspected abuse generally have immunity from liability.  On the other hand, a mandated reporter who fails to report an incident of suspected child abuse “is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months confinement in a county jail or by a fine of $1,000 or both.” 

We would like to use this as a teachable moment:  this situation, and the abuse itself, might have been prevented if everyone who was a witness or heard suspicions from a witness knew exactly what to do.  All entities should train their mandated reporters regarding their duties, as well as the procedures they must follow to fulfill those duties.