Family Law

Health Care Provider Duties to Report Child Abuse

Child protection agencies in the US receive thousands of child abuse reports every year. No matter the type of child abuse, effects can last a long time after the abuse or neglect is stopped.

A child abuse report may be the first step in helping a child who is in trouble. Mandatory reporters are people who have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse, and include health care providers. Learn about key laws guiding the reporting of child abuse, and the role of mandatory reporters in health care.

Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

A key federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), requires states to meet certain minimum requirements in defining child and sexual abuse, and reporting abuse incidents. All 50 states have laws on reporting child abuse and neglect. While laws vary, all name designated or mandatory reporters.

Mandatory reporters have a special relationship with a child or a child's family. The legal duty to make a report arises upon knowledge or "reasonable suspicion" of child abuse and neglect, gained while on the job. In every state, health care providers are mandatory reporters. Other groups include child care providers, law enforcement officials and teachers.

CAPTA requires that to receive certain federal funding, each state's law must include minimum elements in its definitions of child abuse or neglect and sexual abuse.

Child abuse must at least include any recent act, or failure to act, by a parent or caretaker, leading to a child's death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation. Child abuse also includes direct acts, or a failure to act, placing a child in imminent risk of serious harm.

Sexual abuse is employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing a child to engage in or help another person to engage in sexually explicit conduct. Also included are simulations of such conduct to make a visual depiction of sexual conduct or rape. The definition also covers:

  • Statutory rape
  • Molestation
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Incest

Review your state's laws for specific definitions. Remember, federal law sets the minimums states must meet.

Reports and Health Care Providers

Health care providers with a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect must report it to the state child protection service agency. Next, the agency decides whether or not to do an investigation.

There are consequences when health care providers don't meet reporting duties. In most states, failure to report suspected abuse can lead to criminal prosecution.

Health care providers have other important roles in fighting child abuse, such as treating abuse victims, providing expert testimony in child abuse and neglect cases, and teaching others about the medical aspects of abuse. Finally, a health care provider is often best equipped to spot families at risk for abuse, and get them help so abuse doesn't become a reality.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I make a child abuse report and remain anonymous?
  • What can parents do if they don't agree with a child abuse report?
  • What can a parent do if a child's injury looks like it was caused by abuse, and there's fear of required reporting?
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