People in a number of professions are considered “mandatory reporters.” That means they have a legal obligation to report knowledge or reasonable suspicion that a child is or has been abused or neglected to the proper authorities. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor that can be punishable by fines and/or jail time.
To help ensure that people don’t maliciously use their positions to knowingly make false reports of abuse or neglect, there are laws against that as well. However, here we’re going to discuss mandatory reporters’ legal obligations and the penalties for neglecting those obligations.
Who is a mandatory reporter in California?
Under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), each state is required to have mandatory reporting provisions in place. Mandatory reporters vary by state. California lists more professions as mandatory reporters than many other states. They include:
- Doctors and other health care providers
- Teachers and other school personnel, including those in colleges and universities
- Law enforcement officers
- Social workers
- Child care providers, including employees and volunteers at recreation centers and camps
- Mental health professionals, including substance abuse counselors
- Animal care and control employees
Even coroners and medical examiners are required to report suspicion of child abuse or neglect after performing an autopsy.
What are the penalties for failing to report?
Under California law, a person who intentionally fails to report knowledge or reasonable suspicion of even one instance of abuse or neglect can be fined and sentenced to as long as six months in jail. Anyone who willfully impedes another person’s reporting can also be held criminally responsible. If the abuse or neglect that goes unreported in either of these situations results in either death or “great bodily injury,” those penalties increase to a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail.
It’s essential to know if you are a mandatory reporter and, if so, what the process is for that reporting. Your employer should inform you. However, you should know what the law says if you’re unsure. If you have been charged with willfully neglecting your responsibilities as a mandatory reporter or preventing someone else from carrying out theirs, it’s essential that you seek legal guidance.