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Home    >    NASW Law Note Social Workers and Child Abuse Reporting
NASW Law Note Social Workers and Child Abuse Reporting
A Review of State Mandatory Reporting Requirements
NASW General Counsel, NASW Legal Defense Fund
ISBN: 978-0-87101-432-0. 2013. Item #4320. 126 pages.

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Social Workers and Child Abuse Reporting: A Review of State Mandatory Reporting Requirements is part of a series of General Counsel Law Notes written with the support of the NASW Legal Defense Fund.

Social workers often find themselves torn between their commitment to their clients and their responsibility to society when faced with the possible need to report child abuse to authorities. Yet the reporting of child abuse represents far more than just an ethical dilemma. Social workers are not only required to report any suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, they can face varying levels of civil and criminal liability if they fail to do so. Intervention on behalf of the child has become a societal expectation, and federal and state laws reflect the values underlying that expectation.

This law note discusses the legal issues social workers confront when dealing with situations of child abuse and neglect. First, it provides a brief history of the federal legislation establishing mandated standards for Child Protective Services and the reporting of suspected child abuse. Second, it surveys state statutes and case law, providing an overview of current mandatory reporting laws (an appendix summarizing each state's reporting requirements is also included). Third, it identifies the various ethical considerations social workers face in meeting their reporting obligations. Fourth, it discusses emerging issues related to child abuse reporting that are particularly complex and may require further analysis. Finally, it outlines practical steps for reporting child abuse.

Federal and state laws and court interpretations are constantly developing and changing, so legal advice must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of a particular case, but Social Workers and Child Abuse Reporting provides practitioners with an authoritative overview of the crucial issues presented by child abuse and neglect cases. All social workers whose practices involve children and families will want to have this invaluable resource on their shelves.

The NASW General Counsel Law Note series provides information to social workers about legal topics of concern to the social work profession. The Law Notes are developed with the support and financial assistance of the NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF). Contents vary by title, but generally include legal information, civil procedure, contracts, legal methods, and glossaries. Checklists, timetables, case law, and other resources help social workers understand and exercise their legal rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of their clients.

Introduction

Federal Legislation - The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA)

CAPTA Requirements
Minimum Acceptable Definitions
State Statutes

Definitions
Child
Physical Abuse
Sexual Abuse
Neglect
Emotional Maltreatment
Corporal Punishment
Problems of Ambiguity in State Definitions
Mandated Reporters

Reporting and Reporting Procedures

Jurisdiction
Acceptable Time Frame for Reporting
Content of Reports
When Reporting Responsibility Ends
Privileged Communication Exception
Immunity

Good Faith Requirement
Good Faith Presumption
Absolute Immunity
Failure to Report

Criminal Liability
Civil Liability
Statutory Civil Liability
Negligence Per Se
General Common Law Tort Theory Professional Malpractice
Intentional False Reporting
Ethical Considerations

Issues Involving CPS Workers

Emerging Issues

Adult Survivors of Abuse and Adult Recovered Memory
Cross-Jurisdictional Cases
Child Pornography
"Sexting"
Practical Steps for the Social Worker

Verify Reporting Duty with Local Authorities
Understand the Signs of Abuse
Understand the Process of Investigation
Document the Details
Consult Supervisors and Appropriate Legal Counsel
Conclusion

Endnotes

Appendix A: Individual State Summaries of Mandatory Reporting Requirements 2011
Social workers may find themselves torn between their commitment to their clients' interests and their responsibility to the larger society when faced with the possibility of reporting child abuse to authorities.1 "Since the 1960’s social workers throughout the United States have been required to disclose confidential information, sometimes against a client’s wishes, to comply with mandatory reporting laws on child and elder abuse and neglect."2 Social workers were initially concerned about the requirements’ effects on their relationships with clients; however, "social workers now recognize the public’s compel- ling interest in this social policy."3

For social workers, the reporting of child abuse represents far more than an ethical dilemma. Mandatory reporting laws not only require social workers to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, but also there can be varying levels of civil and criminal liability for failing to do so. For example, a social worker at a family services agency failed to report an incident of child abuse he witnessed during a counseling session to "preserve the therapeutic relationship."4 The parent involved later killed his child, and the social worker was charged with a criminal offense for his failure to comply with the state’s mandatory reporting law. The level of attention given to these issues by federal and state governments emphasizes the importance society places on the need for intervention on behalf of children victimized by abuse.

As captured in federally collected data for the reporting year 2010, an estimated 695,000 children were the victims of maltreatment.5 Among these children, those in the age group of birth to one year were the most frequently victimized. Girls were more frequently harmed – 51.2 percent versus 48.5 percent for boys – and neglect was the most reported violation at more than 75 percent of the reports.6 However, more than 15 percent of the victims suffered physical abuse, and another 9 percent suffered sexual abuse.7 Tragically, during the reporting period, approximately 1,560 children died due to neglect and abuse,8 and most of these children - nearly 80 percent - were younger than four years old. Of the fatalities, boys had a higher rate.9 Because of mandatory reporting requirements, three-fifths of all reports of child abuse came from professionals – including medical personnel; law enforcement; educators; lawyers; and social service workers, including professional social workers. "The three largest percentages of FY 2010 reports were from... educational personnel (16.4%), law enforcement and legal personnel (16.7%), and social services staff (11.5%)."10

This law note discusses the legal issues social workers confront when dealing with child abuse and neglect situations. First, this note provides a brief history of the federal legislation that established mandated federal standards for CPS and the reporting of suspected child abuse. Second, this note surveys state statutes and case law, providing an overview of the current state of mandatory reporting laws (Appendix A summarizes each state’s reporting requirements). Third, it identifies the various ethical considerations social workers face in meeting their reporting obligations. Fourth, it discusses emerging issues related to child abuse reporting that may be complex and require further analysis. Finally, it provides practical steps for reporting child abuse.

Please note that federal and state laws and court interpretations continue to develop and change. As a result, legal advice must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of a particular case. This note is designed to provide you with a general overview of many of the issues presented in cases of child abuse and neglect. However, nothing reported herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. If you have any questions or concerns applicable to a specific situation, please seek legal advice.

Endnotes
1. Frederik Reamer, Ethical Standards in Social Work 24 (2nd Ed. 2006); see also Seth C. Kalichman, Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse, Ethics, Law & Policy 52 (1993).

2. Frederik Reamer, Ethical Standards in Social Work 24 (2nd Ed. 2006).

3. Id.

4. Id. at 119.

5. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servs., Admin. for Children & Families, Admin. on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2010, 22-24 (2011), available at http://www.acf.hhs. gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can.

6. Id.

7. Id.

8. Id. at 58-59.

9. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servs., Admin. for Children & Families, Admin. on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2010, 24-26 (2010), available at http://www.acf.hhs. gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can.

10. Id.