Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting

One thing we do not think about as law students, is that once we pass the bar we become "officers of the court."  One of these responsibilities that this carries is the fact that you are a mandatory child abuse reporter.

Oregon Revised Statute 419B.010, "Any public or private official having reasonable cause to believe that any child with whom the official comes in contact has suffered abuse, or that any person with whom the official comes in contact has abused a child shall immediately report or cause a report to be made . . ."

Failure to report is a violation and carries a maximum penalty of $1,000.00 [and for attorney's a sanction from the bar]. Mandatory reporters have also been successfully sued for damages in civil court for failing to report.

ORS 419B.015, "a person making a report of child abuse shall make an oral report by telephone or otherwise to a local Child Welfare office of the Department of Human Services, to the division's designee, or to a law enforcement agency within the county where the person making the report is at the time of the contact."

Oregon law (ORS 419B.025) provides that anyone participating in good faith in the making of a report of child abuse and who has reasonable grounds for making the report, shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed with respect to the making or content of such report.

I have been familiar with this reporting requirement for some time now.  I have been a mandatory reporter for a few years now because of my voluntary position as an advocate for abused women.  Our office requires it.  I have had to report people, even a family member and it was hard, hard, hard.  Your life changes with this responsibility.  There are CLE classes you can take to become familiar with things you have to report.  And in addition, there is a question whether you can report if your child is a client and they tell you.  Things get awful thorny there.

But start thinking about this now.  Especially if you are going to be a prosecutor, do juvenile law, or work in family law issues.  You will be faced with this responsbility and you will have choices you have to make.  Each state has it's own statutes that govern what is abuse.  Somethings that surprised me about abuse/neglect that I would not have thought of were these situations:

1.  Parent dating a known and untreated sex offender....this is a threat of harm, or neglect issue and must be reported.
2.  A filthy house that would endanger the health or welfare of a child....this is a treat of harm and considered child abuse.  Actually, if the house is dirty enough, it is an actual criminal charge.  In my state it's called criminal mistreatment.
3.  Exposure to pornography.  If the parent is open with it, does not keep items out of child's exposure or reach, it is a neglect issue.
4.  Parental drug use.........failure to protect, threat of harm.
5.  Domestic violence, even if the child is never hurt but merely exposed to it.  This is failure to protect and exposure to abuse.
6.  The standard is minimally adequte.  There must be minimum shelther, food, and heat.  Therefore lack of electricity, food or shelther is also neglect, even if the parent cannot help it.  The parent must find a way to provide the bare minimum.
7.  Lack of medical care.  If a parent refuses to take a child to the doctor for regular check-ups, this can be an issue.  Dental care is also an issue.  [likely not a removal situation, but assistance and intervention by the state to help.]

Those are some issues that I never really thought of before my own training.  Sometimes you have to use judgment in order to decide.  Sometimes there are close class.  Sometimes you will call the state welfare office and they will take your report and do nothing at that time......However, I have seen cases where there were 22 reports before the state intervened.  Every report counts.

As a mother, I take this responsibility VERY seriously.


  1. Interesting! In Nebraska, everybody (and their dog, too) is mandated to report abuse. As a social worker, I am aware of this but many people are not. I had actually not thought of the pornography scenario...could it be argued that this is a sexual abuse situation, as well?

  2. Depends on the extent of the pornography. More of a failure to protect is the issue the state will call it. Depending on the parents, and whether there is sexual offenders in the house, then it could be a sexual abuse situation as well.

  3. Thanks for the insightful post. I linked to it from my page on the statute: