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Friday, March 16, 2012

Mandatory Reporting Laws

There is often debate about whether mandatory reporting laws should exist. Should mental health, medical, education and other professionals be required to report cases where they suspect that child abuse is occurring? There have been many examples in the media where mandatory reporters have over reacted to information. In Canada, there is the recent case in Ontario where a child drew a picture of what was thought to be her father holding a gun. This resulted in an over reaction even to the point of the father being arrested.

What does a professional do when an older teenager discloses abuse in a session and then insists that the case not be reported? The child makes a cogent case that reporting will make things worse - what then? These are difficult ethical dilemmas for many professionals.

A court in the United States has shown the damage that can be done when a report is not made. While the case from Oklahoma shows that there were many errors including purposeful deceit, it does make the point that it is up to the child protection authorities to decide on a case, not the mandatory reporter.

In Florida, partially in response to the high profile Sandusky case one suspects, the legislature has now made it possible to levy serious fines on universities for failure to report. The Florida bill goes further according to Tampa Bay Online :

Additionally, the bill makes it mandatory for everyone to report suspected child abuse or neglect, even if the alleged perpetrator is not the child's caregiver. Previously, the public only was required by law to call in a report if a caregiver was responsible. 

 Opponents of mandatory reporting laws feel that they lead to an over reporting of cases and that pressure to err on the side of protecting the agency leads to unnecessary and intrusive actions by child protection authorities. They feel that it results in children coming into care who do not need to be there and thus, destroying families as well as dispersing resources that can be better spent on families that really are abusing their children.

This of course begs the question - if nobody is required to report, then how will cases get known to child welfare? Where is the balance?

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