Magazine article Policy & Practice

For Mandated Reporters, Concern Is Not the Same as Suspicion

Magazine article Policy & Practice

For Mandated Reporters, Concern Is Not the Same as Suspicion

Article excerpt

In the process of doing her monthly visit, a social work case manager notices another child in the foster home. The child is moaning softly and seems listless and groggy. There are no noticeable bruises, no bleeding, no obvious broken bones. The child is not the case manager's client, nor a client of the worker's agency. When the case manager gets back to her office she casually mentions her concern regarding the child to her supervisor. Both are mandated reporters but neither calls the state child abuse hotline. A week later they find out that, tragically, the child died a few days after the case manager had made her visit. The cause of death was non-accidental blunt force trauma.

Months later a lawsuit is initiated by the estate of the deceased child. Among the named defendants are the social work case manager and her supervisor. The plaintiffs claim that, as mandated reporters, both were negligent in not contacting the state hotline. Had they done so the child would not have died.

In its publication, Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect (2016), the Child Welfare Information Gateway reports: "The circumstances under which a mandatory reporter must make a report vary from State to State. Typically, a report must be made when the reporter, in his or her official capacity, suspects or has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. Another standard frequently used is in situations in which the reporter has knowledge of, or observes a child being subjected to, conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child (p. 3)."1

Mandated reporters, especially child care workers, health professionals, and educators, may see children on a daily basis who have suffered harm. This does not necessarily mean the children were abused or neglected. Mandated reporters are not obligated to determine whether abuse or neglect has in fact happened or is likely to occur. They are not CPS investigators. Their duty to report begins once, in their own minds, they reach the threshold point of suspecting that abuse or neglect may have occurred or may occur in the future. What may be characterized as "concern" to one mandated reporter may be "suspicion" to another. The two terms are not the same. …

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