Each year the ACSA Member Assistance and Legal Support Team, under the direction of Senior Director of Member Services and Support Margarita Cuizon-Armelino, works with 750-800 members. One of the issues that members call about is their responsibilities as a mandated reporter. Member Assistance Advocates John Almond, Sharon Dezutti, Joe Jones, Janet Morey, Gary Rutherford, Bill Tschida and Lloyd Wamhof answer key questions related to this topic. We especially appreciate the review and valued input to this article by ACSA panel attorneys Tim Cary and Shannon DeNatale Boyd of the firm Price, Postel & Parma, LLP.
Have the advocates on the ACSA Legal Team received calls from our members who have issues related to mandated reporting?
Yes. Too often, the member is reaching out because he/she is facing an adverse action for not responding properly to an incident that required a mandated report. Adverse actions range from an internal investigation that often includes administrative leave, to documentation as part of progressive discipline, all the way to suspension, release or termination. A report to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing often accompanies these actions.
Who is responsible for making the determination and actually filing the mandated report?
If an incident of child abuse or neglect is suspected, it is every mandated reporter’s responsibility to immediately contact the appropriate law enforcement agency. Proper agencies include the police or sheriff’s office or the county probation office if designated by the county to take child abuse reports. At the top of the reporting list is Child Protective Services, which is part of the county welfare department.
What is the legal citation for “mandated reporters” of child abuse and neglect in California?
The legal citation is found in California Penal Code Section 11164-11174.3.
How do you know if you are a mandated reporter?
Anyone hired into positions included on the extensive list of mandated reporters found at Penal Code section 11165.7 are required, upon employment, to be provided with a statement informing them that they are a mandated reporter and they are obligated to report abuse and neglect pursuant to Penal Code 11166.5. This includes administrators and all other school employees.
How does an employee on the list of mandated reporters determine when it is necessary to report suspected abuse or neglect?
It is important to remember that it is not the responsibility of the mandated reporter to determine whether the allegations of child abuse and neglect are valid. Here is the key: If child abuse or neglect are reasonably suspected or if a student shares information with a mandated reporter leading him/her to believe abuse or neglect has taken place, the report must be made. An administrator who has received information about possible child abuse should always lean in the direction of reporting the information as a mandated reporter rather than attempting to make an independent determination as to whether the administrator personally believes that the allegations of abuse are true or false.
Does a mandated reporter meet their obligations under the Penal Code by notifying their supervisor?
Absolutely not. This has become an issue for several of our members the last couple of years. District personnel should understand their interference in this process is problematic. It is the mandated reporters’ responsibility to notify the appropriate law enforcement agency. The reporter should immediately first make a phone call and then follow up in writing. The mandated reporters’ legal obligation under the Penal Code isn’t satisfied by making a report to a supervisor or to the district’s police or security department.
When making a report, does the mandated reporter need to give their name and could there be personal liability exposure for filing the report?
While you are required to give your name when filing a report, it is kept confidential as is the report itself. Mandated reporters have immunity from state criminal or civil liability for reporting as required by law.
What if the suspected abuser is a district employee?
In the case of an allegation against an employee, a report must be made to outside law enforcement and cannot be made only to the county welfare department. If the suspected abuser is a private party, then the report may be made only to the welfare agency, who then has a duty to report to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
What is the penalty for not reporting suspected neglect or child abuse?
A mandated reporter who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. In addition to criminal conviction, there is also the very real risk of civil action against both the individual and the school district. There is also a risk that the mandated reporter is reported to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which could take adverse action against the reporter’s credentials up to and including revocation.
What happens after a report is made by the mandated reporter?
In addition to making the immediate report by phone, a written follow-up must be made within 36 hours of receiving information concerning the incident. The local enforcement agency is required to investigate all reports. Child Protective Services is the primary agency that intervenes in child abuse and neglect cases.
What is the school district’s role in this process?
School districts are required to inform every employee they are a mandated reporter. The district is also required to provide annual training on how to identify child abuse and neglect as well as the reporting process. The district should have a board policy related to this topic that may include additional requirements for their mandated reporters. It is important to note that any additional requirements cannot substitute or conflict with the Penal Code. We should also be clear the district may not interfere in the requirement of mandated reporters under Penal Code 11165.7.
Can you give an example of what district interference might look like?
A district might require a mandated reporter to delay their report to the proper agency while the district conducts its own investigation. Such interference would be in violation of the Penal Code.
What is the most important thing I need to know about being a mandated reporter?
The most important thing to remember is the 24-hour toll free hotline for your county. The California Hotline phone number is 1-800-344-6000. Any time you suspect abuse or neglect, make the call. Not sure you have enough details? Make the call anyway. Not sure if it really fits the criteria for abuse or neglect? Don’t labor over the decision — go ahead and call.
How can our members contact the ACSA Member Assistance and Legal Support Team?
Call 1-800-608-2272 and ask for Joanne Godfrey in our Ontario office. Joanne will connect you with one of the seven Member Assistance Advocates.