Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a high priority in California, and the laws are geared to bring swift action in response to any suspected abuse.
Parents and those employed in occupations dealing with children should be aware that certain people are identified as "mandated reporters" in California and are required by law to report to the state if they have reason to believe child abuse or neglect has occurred.
If you are a mandated reporter under the law, you should also be aware of the consequences of failing to report an alleged incident or pattern of abuse.
Simply put, in California, a “mandated reporter” refers to certain professionals legally required to report actual or suspected child abuse or child neglect cases.
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to have provisions or procedures that require specific individuals to report known or suspected instances of child abuse and neglect.
California defines this law under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA). Mandated reporters include teachers, principals, social workers, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, therapists, childcare providers, and police officers.
The mandatory reporters must report abuse and neglect cases to law enforcement and social services agencies within 36 hours of learning about or suspecting abuse or neglect. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA)
The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) was enacted in 1980 to address the pressing need for a systematic approach to identify and respond to child abuse and neglect in California.
The law seeks to protect children by requiring certain professionals, known as mandated reporters, to report any reasonable suspicion of child maltreatment to the relevant authorities, typically local law enforcement or the county welfare department.
Through this legal framework, California aims to create a safety net for vulnerable children and ensure timely intervention by law enforcement and social services agencies.
Penal Code 11164 PC says, “(a) This article shall be known and may be cited as the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. (b) The intent and purpose of this article is to protect children from abuse and neglect. In any investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect, all persons participating in the investigation of the case shall consider the needs of the child victim and shall do whatever is necessary to prevent psychological harm to the child victim.”
What Constitutes Child Abuse and Neglect?
California categorizes child abuse and child neglect under different definitions, as discussed below.
Under California Penal Code 273d PC, child abuse is defined as willfully inflicting any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a child.
In simpler terms, it refers to a child's intentional physical harm or excessive discipline that causes visible injuries or a lasting impact on the child's well-being. Common examples of child abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Physical assault or battery, such as hitting, slapping, punching, or kicking;
- Sexual abuse or producing child pornography;
- Inflicting burns or scalding injuries on a child;
- Unlawful corporal punishment;
- Death of a child that was not an accident;
- Domestic violence;
- Deliberately causing fractures or dislocations of a child's bones;
- Shaking a baby violently, leading to shaken baby syndrome;
- Excessive or inappropriate use of physical restraints on a child.
Further, mandated reporters must report to authorities when they know or suspect somebody has downloaded or accessed child porn online.
Penal Code 270 PC defines child neglect as the failure of a parent or legal guardian to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision for a child without any lawful excuse, causing detrimental effects on the child's well-being and development.
Child neglect can be a willful act (such as refusing to feed the child) or an omission (e.g., forgetting to feed the child). Examples of child neglect may include the following:
- Failure to provide adequate food or drink;
- Not providing appropriate clothing for weather conditions or basic hygiene;
- Inability or refusal to provide necessary medical or dental care for a child;
- Leaving a child unsupervised or in the care of an unfit caregiver;
- Exposing a child to unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.
Who Qualifies as a Mandated Reporter?
California law identifies a broad range of professionals who are considered mandated reporters. These individuals typically work in professions that involve close contact with children or have access to sensitive information about them. Some examples of mandated reporters include the following:
- Teachers, school administrators, and other school personnel;
- Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals;
- Licensed therapists, counselors, and psychologists;
- Social workers and childcare providers;
- Clergy members and religious leaders;
- Law enforcement officers and firefighters;
- Daycare facility employees;
- Medical examiners.
Legal Obligations of Mandated Reporters
Mandated reporters are legally required to report any reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
This means that if they have any reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected, they must make a report to the appropriate authorities within 36 hours.
As of 2014, mandated reporters are also required to report anyone they know or suspect has accessed, streamed, or downloaded child pornography—failure to make the report promptly can result in legal and professional consequences.
Mandated reporters are not required to have conclusive evidence of abuse or neglect; their role is to raise concerns and allow the authorities to investigate further.
Can You Report Anonymously?
You cannot report anonymously if you are a mandated reporter; however, your identity will be kept confidential. If you are not mandated to report but are doing so voluntarily, you can report anonymously.
What Are the Consequences of Not Reporting Abuse?
Failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect can have serious consequences for both the child and the mandated reporter.
For the child, the lack of intervention may result in ongoing harm or even death. For the mandated reporter, failure to report can lead to legal and professional penalties.
If you are a mandated reporter who fails or declines to report suspected child abuse or neglect, you could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1000.
If you willfully fail to make the report and the child dies or is seriously injured as a result, the penalties go up to one year in jail and up to $5000 in fines.
If you are a mandated reporter accused of violating the abovementioned regulations, contact our law firm to review the details and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.