Mandatory Reporting

Most states specifically name teachers, principals, and other school personnel as mandatory reporters.1  While reporting abuse or neglect may be uncharted territory for many, the consequences of looking the other way can be severe. If abuse goes unreported, a student may endure more abuse, suffer lifelong physical and emotional scars, and may become an abuser later in life.2 Moreover, mandated reporters who fail to make a report may face criminal or civil penalties.

Your school leadership can help staff and volunteers understand their moral and legal responsibilities associated with this serious issue. A clear policy, supported by leadership, explains how to recognize abuse, respond to allegations of abuse, and what steps to follow if an individual admits to abuse. Training for mandatory reporting should be available to all faculty, staff, and select volunteers. Some states require training on mandatory reporting.

Know Mandatory Reporting Laws in Your State.

Most states include school staff as mandatory reporters. Ask your attorney about mandatory procedures, including the individuals in your organization who are required to report. Schools accredited by either a state or professional organization may need to follow additional requirements.

In nearly every state, laws name teachers, principals, and other school personnel as mandatory reporters.1 Individuals who are not named as mandatory reporters may be considered permissive reporters. While youth threats of suicide may not mandate a report to be made in itself, you may be required to report this to authorities if abuse or neglect appears to be a contributing factor.

You can search for your state statutes at www.brotherhoodmutual.com/mandatoryreporting or with the help of your local attorney. Some states have criminal and civil penalties for not complying with mandatory reporting requirements.

What does “Good Faith” reporting mean?

Every state provides protection against liability when an individual reports suspected abuse in “good faith,” meaning the person has a reasonable belief that abuse has occurred or is ongoing.3

What to Report

Train staff and volunteers to identify signs of abuse. Since abuse takes many forms, staff will need to know how to recognize signs of verbal, physical, sexual, and other abuse. Policies should state that reasonable suspicion or direct knowledge of abuse must be reported. Click your state's website on http://brotherhoodmutual.com/mandatoryreporting to see if your state offers training for mandatory and permissive reporters.

A student may self-report to a staff member about abuse he or she is suffering at the hands of a parent, relative, teacher, volunteer, fellow student, or neighbor. Mandatory reporting rules apply in these situations, too.

How to Report

When someone at your school reports abuse or exhibits signs of abuse or neglect, school leaders need to act immediately. Contact your state social services agency or local law enforcement and follow their lead. School leaders, faculty, and staff should cooperate fully with civil authorities.

Create a document that outlines internal procedures. Who is the first person to hear of the suspected abuse? Who alerts authorities? What should the employee or volunteer do if the first person on the list is the one suspected of abuse? A locally licensed attorney can help organize a chain-of-command policy that complies with the laws in your area.

Train employees how to report abuse. Once you have a written plan, thoroughly train workers on your reporting procedures. Staff and volunteers should have clear guidance and step-by-step instructions. Set an annual date for retraining and evaluating your plan. Inform parents and guardians about any new policies so that they will understand the care their student is receiving.

Create a need-to-know chain of command. Keep the number of people who hear of an allegation or suspicion to a minimum prior to contacting authorities. This helps streamline the process, preserve the integrity of the information, and protect the privacy of those involved.

Document everything. Know what documentation you’ll need and where to find required forms. From a risk management perspective, it is good practice to document everything, including conversations, dates, and circumstances in which the individual learned of, suspected, suffered, or was accused of abuse.

Leave the investigation to authorities. Most mandatory reporting laws only require a reason to believe or a reasonable suspicion that a child is the victim of abuse or neglect. Your school should not confirm an allegation prior to reporting. Investigations are best left to highly skilled professionals in law enforcement and social services. Interviewing the suspected individual, the person claiming abuse or the person exhibiting possible warning signs of abuse, can do more harm than good. You could unintentionally tamper with an investigation by affecting a child’s recollection of events or divulging critical details to the accused. Stick to a few clarifying questions necessary to make an accurate report.

When to Break with Procedure

Regardless of whether an employee is required to report, most states permit you to report if you have a reasonable suspicion that abuse has occurred. If you suspect someone is in danger or presents an immediate threat to someone else, call the police.

Barriers to Reporting

Protecting students should be your school’s top priority. Unfortunately, some may feel that’s in conflict with safeguarding the reputation of staff and the organization.

It’s important to address this concern among faculty and staff who may wrestle with the consequences of reporting abuse. Fear can be a powerful deterrent. Failing to disclose abuse can have legal consequences, and it may perpetuate more abuse and can severely damage a school’s reputation.

1 “Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.” Child Information Welfare Gateway, 2019, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/manda.pdf.

2 “The Long-term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect, Fact Sheet April 2019.” Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families Children’s Bureau, www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/long_term_consequences.pdf. Accessed 28 July 2019.

3 Child Welfare Information Gateway. Immunity for persons who report child abuse and neglect. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau. (2023) https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/statutes/reporterimmunity/ Accessed 29 March 2023.