Mandated Reporter Essentials

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With summer on the horizon and many nonprofit organizations gearing up for youth-centered activities, nonprofits that serve children need to help their paid staff and volunteers understand applicable mandatory reporting requirements.  While there has been a general downward trend over the last 20 years, sadly the problems of child abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse remain pervasive.  In 2013, there were 3.1 million reported incidents, an estimated 679,000 victims, and 1,520 child victims died.[1] Both state and federal governments have enacted statutes that require certain individuals to report suspected incidents of child abuse and neglect.  The reporting obligations are thus critical for protecting children. 

By way of historical background, the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974 grants the U.S. government broad powers to “protect the interests of children and intervene when parents fail to provide proper care.”[2] CAPTA provides funding to the states to help prevent and treat victims of child abuse and neglect.  The grants are contingent upon the state implementing laws and programs that mandate certain individuals to report incidents related to child abuse and neglect.[3]

The federal funding incentive worked; all fifty states have implemented mandatory reporting statutes.  The Illinois legislature enacted the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA) forty years ago.  Since then, the Act has been amended several times and now lists over forty professions required to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect.  In May of 2015, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services revised its Manual for Mandated Reporters, available here.  The manual lists who must report, when they must report, and how to make a report. 

Nonprofit workers who regularly have contact with children should understand the requirements under ANCRA or other state counterparts.  ANCRA specifies that failure to comply with the statute is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent violation.  More importantly, nonprofits that proactively address this issue help protect the very people they serve. Compliance with ANCRA and other similar laws safeguards the interests of children who are often the focus of the nonprofit’s charitable, educational, or religious work. Accordingly, nonprofits serving children should establish mandatory reporting policies that, at a minimum, address the following key questions.

  • Who is a mandatory reporter?
    Nonprofits should understand which occupations are included in its state’s law.  In Illinois, for example, the list ranges widely:  physicians, substance abuse treatment personnel, school personnel (including administrators and both certified and non-certified school employees), members of the clergy, foster parents, homemakers, child care workers, and many others are included.  Certain professions, such as members of the clergy, may have limited exemptions from reporting information gained through privileged conversations.  Such exemptions are usually highly nuanced, however, and vary widely from state to state.  Consult qualified legal counsel to determine which, if any, exemptions apply.
  • How do reporters recognize abuse?
    State statutes provide definitions of “abuse,” “sexual abuse,” and “neglect.”[4] Workers should be provided with these definitions and an explanation of warning signs to help them recognize conditions that may trigger their obligations to report.
  • What are reporters’ duties?
    Most states have a child abuse hotline to field calls from mandatory reporters.  In Ilinois, the hotline number is 800-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873). The reporter’s obligation usually ends with the making of the report.  The agency receiving the report is responsible for any follow up investigations. A nonprofit should provide its mandatory reporters with adequate information for them to fulfill their reporting duties under the law.  Nonprofit leaders should note that, under ANCRA and other state laws, it is unlawful for managers or supervisors in the organization to attempt to suppress, change, or edit a worker’s report.  Mandated reporters further owe reporting obligations regardless of any management inaction or decision not to make a report.

By implementing policies that effectively address these elements, nonprofits help protect the children they serve, the organization itself, and its workers.