Child abuse: who should have to report it?


Mandated reporters

The following people are required by Georgia law to report to the proper authorities whenever they have “reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused”:

  • Physicians licensed to practice medicine, physician assistants, interns, or residents;
  • Hospital or medical personnel;
  • Dentists;
  • Licensed psychologists and persons participating in internships to obtain licensing pursuant to Chapter 39 of Title 43;
  • Podiatrists;
  • Registered professional nurses or licensed practical nurses licensed pursuant to Chapter 26 of Title 43 or nurse’s aides;
  • Professional counselors, social workers, or marriage and family therapists licensed pursuant to Chapter 10A of Title 43;
  • School teachers;
  • School administrators;
  • School guidance counselors, visiting teachers, school social workers, or school psychologists certified pursuant to Chapter 2 of Title 20;
  • Child welfare agency personnel, as that agency is defined pursuant to Code Section 49-5-12;
  • Child-counseling personnel;
  • Child service organization personnel;
  • Law enforcement personnel; or
  • Reproductive health care facility or pregnancy resource center personnel and volunteers.

 

Failure to report is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Source: Official Code of Georgia Annotated 19-7-5(c)(1)

Test your knowledge

This quiz is drawn mainly from the school district websites for Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties.

1. A mandated reporter is someone who is required by law to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the authorities. Who are mandated reporters in Georgia?

a. Medical professionals

b. Most school employees and daycare workers

c. People who process or produce visual or printed matter

d. All the above

Correct answer: d. Anyone may report suspicions of child abuse, but these groups are required to do so, as are law enforcement officers and workers at child welfare agencies.

2. When you suspect child abuse, the correct course of action is:

a. Wait to see whether your suspicions are correct

b. Tell your supervisor and ask him or her to report to the authorities

c. Report your suspicions to the Department of Family and Children Services within 24 hours

d. Call the child’s parents and demand that they stop the abuse

Correct answer: c. In the school system, employees typically are expected to tell their supervisor or the principal AND call DFCS within 24 hours. If there is no DFCS office, reporters must call police.

3. What if I suspect child abuse or neglect and make a report in good faith, but my suspicions turn out to be baseless?

a. You can be sued by the parents of the child or by other injured parties

b. If you’re acting in good faith, the state grants immunity from civil or criminal liability

c. You can be arrested and charged with making a false report

d. You can be ordered by a judge to move out of your county of residence.

Correct answer: b. The “in good faith” part is important. If you’re acting in good faith when you report your suspicions, you can’t be held liable for making the report. Your call is a request for an investigation by DFCS, not an allegation.

4. Any mandated reporter in Georgia who knowingly and willfully fails to report suspicions of child:

a. Could be charged with a felony and sent to prison

b. Could be charged with a misdemeanor

c. Faces the revocation of his or her driver’s license

d. Will be suspended and investigated by his or her employer

Correct answer: b. The failure to report is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine

Signs of child abuse

This is adapted from the Fulton County school district’s online training program for school volunteers, who are also mandated reporters.

Outward signs

• Unexplained bruises and welts on the face, torso, back, buttocks or thighs

• Bruises and welts that may be healing, clustered or form patterns.

• Unexplained fractures or dislocations

• Unexplained burns or burns in the shape of an object

• Bald patches on the scalp

• High or frequent incidence of “accidents”

Signs of abuse in a child’s behavior

• Extreme vigilance or watchfulness

• Frightened of parents or caregivers or afraid to go home

• Poor social interactions

• Bullying smaller children

• Acting out inappropriately with dolls or stuffed animals

• Having a poor self-concept

Outward signs of neglect

• Underweight, failure to thrive

• Poor hygiene

• Inappropriate dress

• Consistent hunger

• Evidence of little or no supervision

• Untreated physical problems or medical or dental needs

Signs of neglect in a child’s behavior

• Begging, stealing or hoarding food

• Extended stays at school

• Constant fatigue, listlessness or falling asleep in class

• Inappropriate seeking of attention

• Assuming adult responsibilities or concerns

• Reports that there is no caretaker

a. Medical professionals

b. Most school employees and daycare workers

c. People who process or produce visual or printed matter

d. All the above

a. Wait to see whether your suspicions are correct

b. Tell your supervisor and ask him or her to report to the authorities

c. Report your suspicions to the Department of Family and Children Services within 24 hours

d. Call the child’s parents and demand that they stop the abuse

a. You can be sued by the parents of the child or by other injured parties

b. If you’re acting in good faith, the state grants immunity from civil or criminal liability

c. You can be arrested and charged with making a false report

d. You can be ordered by a judge to move out of your county of residence.

a. Could be charged with a felony and sent to prison

b. Could be charged with a misdemeanor

c. Faces the revocation of his or her driver’s license

d. Will be suspended and investigated by his or her employer

· Unexplained bruises and welts on the face, torso, back, buttocks or thighs

· Bruises and welts that may be healing, clustered or form patterns.

· Unexplained fractures or dislocations

· Unexplained burns or burns in the shape of an object

· Bald patches on the scalp

· High or frequent incidence of “accidents”

· Extreme vigilance or watchfulness

· Frightened of parents or caregivers or afraid to go home

· Poor social interactions

· Bullying smaller children

· Acting out inappropriately with dolls or stuffed animals

· Having a poor self-concept

· Underweight, failure to thrive

· Poor hygiene

· Inappropriate dress

· Consistent hunger

· Evidence of little or no supervision

· Untreated physical problems or medical or dental needs

· Begging, stealing or hoarding food

· Extended stays at school

· Constant fatigue, listlessness or falling asleep in class

· Inappropriate seeking of attention

· Assuming adult responsibilities or concerns

· Reports that there is no caretaker

Let’s say your child’s friend repeatedly shows up at your door with bruises on his back and face. One day, you see his mother grab him hard and slap his face.

In about 18 states, the law would require you report your suspicion that the child was being abused. Georgia is not among them, but the idea surfaces periodically — especially after a child dies at the hands of an adult.

Time and again, a neighbor or relative acknowledges they saw danger signs but didn’t make the call. Take the case of 5-year-old Heaven Woods, who died last month of blunt force trauma to the abdomen: Family members recounted a string of mysterious injuries that the mother — now charged with murder — tried to explain away. A knot on the girl’s head, supposedly the result of a clumsy fall. Marks around her throat, supposedly self-inflicted.

Would Heaven and children like her be safer if every adult had a legal duty to report suspected neglect and abuse?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution probed the issue with lawmakers and child protection advocates and by reaching out to states that have adopted such laws. Overall, there was great enthusiasm for the concept but serious doubt that it works in practice.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur isn’t afflicted with those doubts.“I believe children would be safer if everyone had the legal obligation to report child abuse,” she said.

But even Oliver, among the state’s leading child advocates, hesitated when asked if she planned to submit a bill. She still remembers the defeat she faced years ago when she pressed for such a law. It’s government going too far, opponents said. Parents have the right to discipline their kids, said others. The punishment my father doled out made me a better men, still others argued.

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, another child advocate, said that while she is sympathetic to universal mandated reporting, she sees difficulties in crafting a law that would hold up in court. How would you prove a person’s negligence? Who would be witness to it? What would be the evidence?

“It sounds good, it’s just not practical,” Unterman said. In addition, she said, any measure of the sort would strike some lawmakers as government overstepping its role in people’s lives. “I don’t see it being passed in Georgia.”

Certain cases of child abuse and neglect are clear to see: the father who repeatedly hauls off and beats his child in public. But some instances can be subtle, with the damage inflicted out of public view. When you see a child with injuries, how do you know the cause? And if you err on the wrong side and don’t report it, should you end up in handcuffs?

Georgia’s existing mandated reporter law goes back decades. It has long covered doctors, teachers and many other professionals who work with children. In 2012, after the Penn State scandal focused attention on adults who fail to report, lawmakers expanded the law to include sports coaches, clergy and volunteers for groups that work with children. Mandated reporters who fail to report suspected abuse within 24 hours face a misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Advocates point to the 14,000-plus reports filed in each recent year by school employees, guidance counselors and daycare workers as evidence that a legal mandate works. But there have been few prosecutions of mandated reporters who failed in their legal duty — evidence, in the eyes of one Georgia child protection expert, that expanding the mandate to all adults would have scant impact.

“Educating and training the entire adult population about how to detect and report child abuse may not be feasible,” said Melissa Carter, executive director of Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Poverty Center.

A 2012 analysis by the State Policy Advocacy & Reform Center found that states with universal mandated reporting had no higher rates of abuse reports than those without the mandate. In addition, administrators from several states with universal reporting acknowledged that many people simply don’t know the law exists.

States that require all adults to report include Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, New Jersey and Wyoming.

Nationally, a federal universal mandated reporting law was proposed in 2011, but was put on hold while lawmakers reviewed the impact of such laws in states that had them. When the proposal resurfaced this May, the Speak Up for Every Abused Kid Act limited mandated reporters to medical professionals, school employees, law enforcement and social service workers.

Proponents of broader reporting laws said they generate useful information for child protection workers and make family members more comfortable speaking up because they know it is the law.

“It puts a priority on the safety of children,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant of Rhode Island Kids Count. “It helps to create an atmosphere where people feel we are responsible for the safety of children.”

In 2012, Florida went so far as to upgrade failure to report from a misdemeanor to a felony.

But Andrea Moore, a longtime child advocate in Florida, said a universal reporting law matters little compared to having a well-resourced child welfare system that diligently investigates child abuse reports. Despite the law, Florida’s system continues to struggle to adequately protect children, she said.

Georgia, too is struggling to improve a system with many documented gaps and weaknesses. The AJC has repeatedly exposed systemic failures that leave children vulnerable and shield agency errors from public view.

In April, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a Child Welfare Reform Council, which is headed by longtime advocate Stephanie Blank. Among the issues the panel will explore is overcoming people’s reluctance to report their suspicions of abuse or neglect, Blank said.

Some people are concerned their own safety if the person they report learns of it. (There is no need to fear: People can make reports anonymously in Georgia.) Some hesitate to intrude on the private goings-on inside another household. And some people just have trouble believing that a parent they know would actually go so far as to hurt their child.

“Sometimes the people most likely to know are the least likely to report,” Blank said.

The council, she added, could also discuss a universal mandated reporting law.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Father’s dying wish fulfilled as his 7 daughters stage wedding ceremony
Father’s dying wish fulfilled as his 7 daughters stage wedding ceremony

Seven brides for one dying father. An Ohio man was granted his final wish shortly before he died from brain cancer, as he got to give away his seven daughters in a bridal ceremony. William L. “Willie” Shelton died on Oct. 16 at the age of 44. Only one of his daughters is married, but all seven of them decided to create a ceremony so...
Texas carnival worker charged with operating ride while intoxicated
Texas carnival worker charged with operating ride while intoxicated

A carnival worker at an eastern Texas festival was arrested Thursday night and charged with assembling or operating an amusement ride while intoxicated, KLTV reported. Gilmer police arrested Darrell Wayne Clayton, 63, after responding to a complaint at the East Texas Yamboree, KLTV reported. Clayton was given a Breathalyzer test, and police...
Honolulu bans smokers in cars when children are present
Honolulu bans smokers in cars when children are present

Smoking in a car in Honolulu can bring a hefty fine if there are children in the vehicle, KHON reported. In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council passed a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle if someone under 18 is in inside. The ban also extends to electronic cigarettes, KHON reported. First offenders would be...
Court: Cross shaped monument honoring WWI vets ruled unconstitutional
Court: Cross shaped monument honoring WWI vets ruled unconstitutional

A 40-foot Latin cross-shaped monument in Maryland, built nearly a century ago to honor soldiers who died during World War I, has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, CNN reported The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday by a 2-1 margin that the 92-year-old structure was in violation of the First Amendment...
Georgia man, 93, eats lunch daily next to photo of late wife 
Georgia man, 93, eats lunch daily next to photo of late wife 

A 93-year-old man from Georgia lost his wife four years ago, but he still has a daily lunch date with her. Clarence Purvis takes a picture of his late wife, Carolyn, and sets up her photograph at a table of their favorite eatery, Smith’s Restaurant in Reidsville, WTOC reported. “She was always with me when we were livin',” Purvis...
More Stories