Q: What should ministry personnel know about mandatory reporting requirements?

A: Mandatory reporting laws vary widely from state to state. Ministry leaders should familiarize themselves with the mandatory reporting laws in their state and educate employees and volunteers on the requirements they must fulfill.

The term “mandatory reporter” refers to those who are required by state law to report suspected abuse or other dangerous behavior. These individuals generally face criminal penalties if they fail to report such activity.

Behaviors that may be covered by mandatory reporting laws may include:

  • Child abuse and neglect.
  • Elder abuse and neglect.
  • Abuse and neglect of mentally or physically disabled individuals.
  • Suicide threats.
  • Other threats to the well-being of others.

Laws vary as to who is required to report such behaviors, as well as which governmental agency should receive reports. For example, in some states, everyone is considered a mandatory child abuse reporter. In some states, mandatory reporting obligations are limited to medical and school personnel. It’s critical to research local mandatory reporting laws and educate ministry staff and volunteers on the requirements that apply to them. A locally licensed attorney can help clarify these laws.

It’s critical to research local mandatory reporting laws and educate ministry staff and volunteers on the requirements that apply to them.

Reasonable Cause

Reporters may be hesitant to file a report unless they have indisputable evidence of abuse. In many cases, though, such evidence is unavailable, making it difficult for reporters to discern when they should report their suspicions.

Many laws require that mandatory reporters file a report when they have “reasonable cause,” or a reason to believe that abuse is occurring. It’s best to evaluate all of the facts, including the context of the situation and the credibility of the parties involved, when determining whether there is reasonable cause to file a report. When in doubt, seek legal advice immediately from a locally licensed attorney. Many states provide protection from legal action if an erroneous report was made in good faith.

Even if the situation is one that does not trigger mandatory reporting, it’s a good idea to complete and keep on file an incident report describing the accident, the injury, and communications among the involved parties. This report may help protect the church from legal action stemming from the incident. Keep reports confidential and share them only with those who have a "need to know." Sharing information too broadly could lead to a claim of defamation or invasion of privacy.

Reporting Procedures

Ministry leaders, with the help of an attorney, should develop procedures for reporting abuse. Once the procedures are in place, it’s important to regularly train mandatory reporters on how to follow the procedures.

Additional Resources

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.