Getting people to report child abuse has always been a bit of a challenge. In the 1960s, stories of battered children not being helped by society spurred lawmakers to enact policies that would lead to more reporting and investigation of child abuse. The concept of mandatory reporting was always popular, but fights over who would be required to report were contentious. Many argued that only doctors should be penalized for not reporting abuse, because they have the medical knowledge necessary to diagnose abuse. Others argued that child abuse was so heinous that every American had an obligation to report any suspicions. As a result, the states wound up all over the map. Be sure to check your local laws or consult a lawyer, but this summary should give you some idea of where your home state falls on the reporting spectrum.
Universal reporting states
Nineteen states have decided that every individual should have an obligation to report child abuse when they see it. This means that every individual is expected to recognize the signs and call the proper authorities. Individuals living in these states must pay attention because failing to report abuse can be a serious crime. In some states, the penalties can include years of jail time and thousands of dollars. The states include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Related: Child Abuse Laws by State
Mandatory reporting for certain professionals
The remaining 31 states have a specific list of professionals that must report child abuse. These states were persuaded by the argument that “a duty for all is a duty for none,” and decided that certain individuals in a position of trust should have special obligations. It is impossible to list out every mandated reporter, as some states list as many as 40 different categories of mandated reporters. If you are a professional you need to check your local laws, but here are some common professions that are mandated reporters in many states:
- Doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals
- Teachers, principals, and other school employees
- Law enforcement officers
- Mental health professionals
- Social workers
- Photograph processors
- Substance abuse counselors
- After school program or camp counselors
- Domestic violence workers
- Animal control officers
Permissive reporting and immunity
Note that many states say that all people should report child abuse. This is sometimes called a “permissive” or “voluntary” reporting requirement. Of course, that is a bit of a misnomer because a permissive requirement is not much of a requirement. It simply means that the state wants you to report child abuse if you see it, even though you may not be required to report. Another way states encourage reporting is by offering immunity to anyone that makes a good-faith report. Every state has protection for people who report in good faith.
Even if you are a mandatory reporter, you should be careful to avoid false reports. Over half the states will impose penalties on individuals that knowingly make false reports. Good faith is important.