See Something, Say Something: Mandatory Reporters and the Duty to Report

By: Morgan Lamandre, STAR Legal Director

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is a federal law that requires states to adopt laws requiring certain individuals to report suspected instances of child abuse and neglect as a condition to receiving certain federal funding. Louisiana, like most states, have adopted laws to maintain compliance with Federal law.

Who is a Mandatory Reporter?

Under Louisiana Law, a mandatory reporter(1) is any of the following people:

  • Health practitioners
  • Mental health/social service practitioners
  • Members of the clergy
  • Teaching or child care providers
  • Police or law enforcement officials
  • Commercial film or photographic print professionals
  • Mediators
  • Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
  • Organizational or Youth Activity Providers
  • Coaches
  • Any person 18 years of age or older who witnesses child sexual abuse.(2)

Mandatory reporters are required to make reports when they have “cause to believe a child’s physical or mental health or welfare is endangered as a result of abuse or neglect.”(3) The Louisiana Children’s Code Article 603 defines abuse as

[A]ny one of the following acts which seriously endanger the physical, mental, or emotional health and safety of the child:

  • The infliction, attempted infliction, or, as a result of inadequate supervision, the allowance of the infliction or attempted infliction of physical or mental injury upon the child by a parent or any other person.
  • The exploitation or overwork of a child by a parent or any other person.
  • The involvement of the child in any sexual act with a parent or any other person, the aiding or toleration by the parent or the caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person, the child’s involvement in pornographic displays, or any other involvement of a child in sexual activity constituting a crime under the laws of this state.
  • Female genital mutilation as defined by R.S. 14:43.4.

The Louisiana Children’s Code further defines neglect as:

[T]he unreasonable refusal or failure of a parent or caretaker to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, care, treatment, or counseling for any injury, illness, or condition of the child, as a result of which the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and safety is substantially threatened or impaired. Neglect includes prenatal neglect.

What are Mandatory Reporters Required To Do?

Mandatory reporters are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect by a “caretaker” to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). A caretaker is defined as “any person legally obligated to provide or secure adequate care for a child.”(4) This could include a parent, guardian, foster parent, employee of a daycare, or any person providing a residence for the child. It also includes someone living in the same residence of the child.

If the reported abuse or neglect requires immediate attention, then mandatory reporters must call the child protection hotline at 1-855-4LA-KIDS (855-452-5437). If the initial report was made orally, then it must be followed by a written report within five days through the DCFS online mandated reporter portal. If a mandatory reporter needs to report abuse or neglect that does not require immediate attention, then a report can be made directly through the online portal in the link above.

If a mandatory reporter needs to report the abuse or neglect of someone other than a caretaker, then they should make a report to the local law enforcement agency. If a mandatory reporter has any doubts about who the perpetrator is, then a dual report to both DCFS and the local law enforcement agency is permitted.

What if a Mandatory Reporter Doesn’t Have Proof the Child was Abused?

Mandatory reporters are not required to have proof to make a report. In fact, mandatory reporters should never try to obtain proof or ask children probing questions as doing so may actually impede a child abuse investigation. As long as a report is made in good faith, mandatory reporters have immunity from civil and criminal liability even if the allegations do not turn out to be true.(5)

What if a Mandatory Reporter Fails to Make a Report?

If a mandatory reporter knowingly and willfully fails to report abuse or neglect of a child, then they can be fined up to five hundred dollars, imprisoned for up to six months, or both. The penalties become more severe if the failure to report abuse or neglect of a child results in serious bodily injury, neurological impairment, or death of a child. As long as mandatory reporters aren’t reporting allegations they know to be completely false, they should air on the side of caution and make a report.(6)

Training for Mandatory Reporters

DCFS provides a free online training for mandatory reporters. This training is updated every two years or as needed when laws change. Access to the training can be found at this link. Starting in 2020, all teaching and child care providers are required to take the DCFS training online. This is required even if a school or daycare already provides a similar training. A certificate of completion must be maintained in an employee’s file each year as evidence that it was completed.

Questions and Answers

  1. I’m a teacher and one of my students comes to school very often with bruises and what appears to be small burns. He has told me he gets them from falling down the stairs at home, but I think he may be abused at home. He seems very jumpy when anyone gets too close to him. I told my school principal, but she has not made a report to DCFS yet. Should I make a report even though our school policy says we must first report to our principal any suspicions of abuse?

Yes. First, your school policy is not compliant with the Louisiana Mandatory Reporter laws. Even though you told your school’s principal about your suspicions, the obligation to report falls on you. You should make your report to DCFS and then notify someone if you believe your school’s policy violates the mandatory reporter laws. Second, unexplained physical injuries or injuries that do not seem to be the result of just being an active child (burn marks) are one of the signs of child abuse. Remember, you just need to have “cause to believe” that a child’s physical and mental welfare is endangered to make a report.

  1. I am a mandatory reporter and need to make a report. Can I stay anonymous?

No/Sort of. While all calls to the child protection hotline are confidential, mandatory reporters cannot stay completely anonymous because they need to be available for follow-up questions by investigators, if necessary. However, a mandatory reporter’s identity is protected from public record requests and disclosure under Louisiana Revised Statutes 46:56. 

  1. I am a mandatory reporter and I received a disclosure from a child who said her Mom’s boyfriend sexually abused her. The boyfriend is not a caretaker. Do I report to DCFS or law enforcement?

Both. You must report to DCFS because they will likely initiate an investigation to make sure Mom did not knowingly let the sexual abuse occur, and to make sure Mom will not maintain a relationship with her boyfriend and put her child at any further risk. You must also report to the local law enforcement agency because they will initiate a criminal investigation against the boyfriend. 

  1. I’m a social worker, so I am a mandatory reporter when I am working at my job. The other day while I was visiting my sister, a little girl that lives in the neighborhood came over to play with my nieces and nephews. My sister asked the little girl if she wanted to use their shower again. I noticed the child smelled and seemed malnourished. After the girl showered, my sister gave her some clothes to wear and something to eat. When the little girl left I asked my sister what was going on. She said this little girl’s parents are never home because they are into drugs and don’t always have working utilities. Do I have any legal obligation to report this even though I was not in my professional capacity when I witnessed this?

Yes! Louisiana law requires mandatory reporters to make a report if they have cause to believe a child’s physical and mental wellbeing are endangered. Mandatory Reporters still have a duty to report even if they are not “performing their occupational duties.”(7)

  1. I’m a pediatrician. Adult parents of one of my patients called and said they walked in on their 8 year old nephew that lives with them sexually abusing their 5 year old son. They asked me if they are required to report the sexual abuse. They are not mandatory reporters, should I tell them they need to report?

Yes! They are required to report since they are 18 years of age or older and witnessed the sexual abuse. You are also required to report the abuse now that they have made that disclosure to you.

  1. What is an example of something that does not require immediate attention and can be reported through the online system?

Let’s say you are a counselor who received a referral from a DCFS caseworker to provide counseling to someone who has been removed from the home due to abuse. During the child’s intake, the child discloses the abuse that prompted DCFS to remove them from the home. Since you know the child is no longer in danger and DCFS is well-aware of the abuse, then it is not necessary to call the hotline to report. However, you must still make a report because current law does not make an exception to report even if the child is in DCFS custody. 

  1. I’m a mandatory reporter, but I am still reluctant to report things I only have suspicions of. Can you give examples of the difference between making a report that is knowingly false and making a report of something I am not sure is true?

Example of a report you make that is knowingly falseParent A asks you to make a mandatory report against the child’s other parent, Parent B, for abuse. Parent A tells you that Parent B has never abused the child, but it would help Parent A’s custody case if you made the report. You like Parent A, so you make the report. 

Example of when to make a report even if you do not know it’s trueYou notice bruises on a child and ask one of the child’s parents, Parent A, what happened. Parent A tells you that Parent B physically abused the child. You know there is an ongoing child custody dispute that has gotten ugly and you have doubts about Parent A’s credibility. 

This is something you should report to DCFS. You would tell DCFS the information you know: that the child has bruises and Parent A said the bruises were caused by Parent B. You DO NOT investigate further by asking the child if Parent B hurt them or by calling Parent B. If at a later time the child discloses something to you, then you can call DCFS and make a subsequent report. 

  1. Does STAR offer any trainings related to mandatory reporting?

Yes! STAR offers a three hour workshop called, “Ethical Considerations for Working with Survivors of Sexual Assault.” The training helps participants identify and process ethical issues that arise when working with survivors of sexual trauma. The workshop provides a foundational understanding of sexual trauma, a review of mandated reporting requirements, and scenarios utilizing the ethical decision-making model. The training is approved for 3.0 Ethics contact hours for counselors and social workers. You can visit the link here to obtain more information about our workshops.

  1. Does STAR offer any technical assistance for organizations to develop policies surrounding mandatory reporting?

Yes! STAR has consulting services for businesses and organizations to review internal policies and procedures. You can visit the link here to obtain more information about our consulting services. 

Citations:

  1. La. Ch. C. Art. 603.
  2. La. R.S. 14:403(4)(a).
  3. La. Ch. C. Art. 609.
  4. La. Ch. C. art. 603(4).
  5. La. Ch. C. art. 611. Note: Any person who makes a report known to be false or with reckless disregard for the truth does not have immunity.
  6. La. R.S. 14:403.
  7. See ACT 268 of 2012 that revised the law for mandatory reporters to make reports of child abuse and neglect even if they are not performing their occupational duties.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s