Pennsylvania has always had two types of reporters of child abuse: those who can, and those who must make reports. The response to the report is the same regardless of the source.
PERSONS WHO CAN REPORT ABUSE
Any person may make a report of child abuse. This is a voluntary, but important action. The report is made when the person has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused child. Only suspicion, not proof, is needed. While the system allows for these reports to be made anonymously; it is very helpful to have the name and phone number of the reporter. During the investigation, questions can arise and the reporter may be able to help by providing additional information and clarification.
PERSONS WHO MUST REPORT ABUSE
Certain persons are required by law to make reports of child abuse. These are persons who come into contact with children in the course of their employment, occupation, or practice of their profession. The report must be made when the person has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of their medical, professional, or other training and experience, that a child they are aware of in their professional capacity is an abused child. The privileged communication between a professional person required to report abuse and the person's patient or client does not apply to situation involving child abuse and does not constitute grounds for failure to report. An exception exists with respect to confidential communication made to an ordained member of the clergy and attorney-client communications, which are protected under law relating to confidential communications to clergy and attorneys.
HOW TO REPORT ABUSE
Persons who report abuse voluntarily may do so orally, usually by telephone, by calling ChildLine or the county agency. ChildLine is available at all times and can be reached toll free at 1-800-932-0313. The local agency's number can be found in the telephone book by the name of the county in which the abuse occurred, for example, Dauphin County Children and Youth Services. The number is also listed in the blue pages of the telephone book under the category of abuse or may be downloaded above.
If the report is first received by ChildLine staff, they will call the county agency where the suspected abuse occurred for action. If the county agency staff receives the report first, they will see to the immediate safety of the child and other children in the home, then notify ChildLine of the report.
Required reporters, on the other hand, must immediately make oral reports to ChildLine. It is also recommended that they contact the county agency, which puts them directly in touch with the persons who are familiar with the community and will be taking action on the report.
Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse
There is a different procedure for mandated reporters of child abuse who have a likelihood of contact with children during the course of their employment. Mandated reporters who work in an institution, school, facility or agency must immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency or the designated agent of that person of the suspected abuse. The person in charge or the designee has the responsibility and obligation to contact ChildLine immediately. They may not make an independent determination of whether to report. The person in charge or the designee then notifies the employee when the report was made. Organizations should have a policy in place to ensure that all employees are aware of the protocol for their organization.
Mandated reporters may contact ChildLine directly if there is no designated person at their institution, school, facility, etc. to handle that responsibility or if the designated person is the one suspected of child abuse.
Some examples of mandated reporters are teachers and other school employees, doctors, nurses, child care workers, Early Intervention staff, law enforcement, peace officers, library personnel, clergy, mental health professionals, etc.This list in not inclusive - anyone who has the opportunity to come into contact with children while working is a mandated reporter of child abuse.
Written Reports by Mandated Reporters
After mandated reporters contact ChildLine with a report of abuse, they must complete a written report. The Report of Suspected Child Abuse, or CY47, form must be completed and forwarded to the agency in the county where the suspected abuse occurred within 48 hours of the call. Copies of the blank form may be requested from the local county agency, ChildLine, or downloaded from this Web site.
ACTIONS BY REQUIRED REPORTERS
There are certain other actions that required reporters may take on behalf of a child suspected of being abused.
A mandated reporter must in good faith:
- Make a report
- Cooperate with an investigation
- Notify police, if appropriate
- Testify in proceedings that result from their report
A mandated reporter may also:
- Take photographs of the child’s injuries
- Have x-rays taken
- Have the child hospitalized
- Have the child moved into protective custody - according to the law
- Have a medical exam performed by a medical professional
Any photographs, x-rays and/or medical summaries should then be sent to the county agency with the Report of Suspected Child Abuse, or as soon after as possible. The mandated reporter must give the county access to the actual photographs and x-rays.
Only a court official, law enforcement officer, physician, or hospital administrator can take protective custody of a child. A caseworker must obtain a court order. This action may be taken when it is immediately necessary to protect the child from further harm. When a child is taken into protective custody, that person (e.g. law enforcement, physician, etc.) must immediately notify the county agency. A child cannot be held in this type of protective custody for more than 24 hours. However, if necessary, the county agency can obtain a court order permitting the child to remain in protective custody for a longer period of time. If a child is taken into emergency custody, the case must be brought before a judge within 72 hours.
In all cases, the county maintains written records of the investigation.
Information regarding cases of child abuse is confidential except in certain instances specified by law. In most circumstances, the identity of a person who makes a report of suspected abuse or cooperates in a subsequent investigation is kept confidential and cannot be released by the county agency. However, if the case must be reported to law enforcement officials by the county agency, the names of the persons who made the report or cooperated in the investigation must be given to law enforcement officials upon request. Law enforcement officials must treat the reporting sources and persons who cooperated in the investigation as confidential informants. Any person outside of the county agency who receives information regarding suspected child abuse is also subject to the confidentiality provisions of the CPSL. They are required to ensure the confidentiality and security of the information and liable for civil and criminal penalties if they release information to persons who are not permitted access to it.
Mandated reporters can request certain information about a child who was the subject of a report of suspected child abuse that they made. Information can be requested verbally or in writing from the county agency. The information that can be released to the mandated reporter is limited to:
- the final status of the child abuse report, in other words, whether it is indicated, founded or unfounded, and
- any services provided, arranged for, or to be provided by the county agency to protect the child.
Before releasing the allowable information, the county agency must verify the identity of the required reporter.
PROTECTIONS AND PENALTIES
Certain protections are afforded those who become involved in situations of child abuse. Immunity from civil and criminal liability is given to a person, hospital, institution, school, facility, or agency employee that participates in good faith in the making of a report, cooperating with an investigation, testifying in a proceeding arising out of an instance of suspected child abuse, taking photographs, or removing or keeping a child in protective custody. For the purpose of any civil or criminal proceeding, the good faith of a mandated reporter is presumed.
Mandated reporters who, in good faith, make or cause a report of suspected abuse to be made can take action in the court of common pleas for appropriate relief if they are discharged from employment, or in any other manner are discriminated against with respect to compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges. The court may issue an order granting appropriate relief if it finds that action was taken against a person who, in good faith, made or caused to be made a report of suspected child abuse. The Department of Public Welfare may intervene in any such action.
A person who is required to report a case of suspected child abuse and willfully fails to do so may be penalized. Charges include a third degree misdemeanor for the first violation and a misdemeanor of the second degree for a second or subsequent violation. A person found guilty of willful failure to report is punishable by fines and/or a jail sentence.