California Mandatory Reporting Laws for Child Abuse & Neglect

Neglected childBoth California and federal laws put a broad swath of professionals who interact with adults and children into the category of “mandatory reporters” of child abuse or neglect.

Failure to report abuse or neglect, even if only suspected, is a crime. Reporting is the legal duty of the individual, and cannot be handed off to a supervisor, administrator, employer, colleague, or other person or authority.

What is Mandatory Reporting?

Mandatory reporting is the legal obligation to report observed or suspected acts or circumstances of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable and / or dependent person.

Anyone should always report suspected abuse of an adult or child, but many employers and professionals are legally bound to facilitate or make formal reports to authorities under California mandatory reporting laws.

Mandatory reporting laws require professionals to not simply report their suspicions or evidence to their employers or a supervisor, but these professionals must directly report what they see or reasonably suspect to law enforcement or a social services agency within 36 hours of the incident.

In general, mandatory reporting laws apply to suspected acts by any person or circumstances related to:

  • Child physical abuse or neglect, including failure to provide adequate care and supervision;
  • Child sexual abuse;
  • Elder abuse, neglect, or fraud;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Production or distribution of child pornography;
  • Unlawful corporeal punishment.
Child Abuse and Neglect Mandatory Reporting Law

In California the body of law governing mandatory reporting is primarily assembled within the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA).

Child neglect is defined as the “negligent treatment or mistreatment of a child by a person responsible for the child’s welfare.”   This definition is inclusive of all types of caregivers: parents, a person with custody or guardianship of the child, or a person involved in a large variety of “out of home care” of a child.

Abuse is generally the willful physical or emotional injury of a person under 18 years of age, including sexual assault or exploitation, or endangerment their health.

The law requires certain specified people (called mandatory reporters)  to report any actual or suspected physical injury; sexual abuse or exploitation; neglect; harm or endangerment of a child or the health of a child; emotional abuse; unlawful corporal punishment, and depicting owning, accessing, or exchanging child pornography.

If you are a mandatory reporter under CANRA, you must directly report your suspicions or an incident of child abuse or neglect within 36 hours to law enforcement or to an appropriate social service or child welfare agency. Such agencies are required to receive your report, even if it does not have legal jurisdiction and must refer it to the agency that has proper jurisdiction.

You do not have to witness the abuse to be responsible for reporting. The law requires that if you have “reasonable suspicion” of abuse or neglect you must report. If a child shares information with you that leads you to suspect abuse or neglect, you must report.

Employers are strongly encouraged by the law to provide employees training about their individual duties to report. Certain organizations, such as schools and day care facilities are required by law to provide annual training about mandatory reporting duties and procedures.

Who are Mandatory Reporters?

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act includes a long list of specific professionals who are mandatory reporters:

Teacher, including Head Start Teacher A psychological assistant
Instruction aide or teaching assistant A physician and surgeon, psychiatrist, psychologist, dentist, resident, intern, podiatrist, chiropractor, licensed nurse, dental hygienist, optometrist, marriage and family therapist, clinical social worker, professional clinical counselor
Classified public school employee A marriage and family therapist trainee or intern
Administrator officer or supervisor in a public or private school A state or county public health employee who treats a minor for venereal disease or any other condition.
Administrator of a public or private day camp or a youth program or organization A coroner or medical examiner or other person who performs autopsies
Administrator or board member of an organization that supervises children, including a foster family agency Employees of commercial film and photographic print or image processor
Employee of a county or state education agency A child visitation monitor
Employee or administrator of a licensed community care or day care facility. An animal control officer or Humane society officer
A licensing agency worker or employee A clergy member or custodian of records of a clergy member
A public assistance worker Employee or volunteer of a Court Appointed Special Advocate program
Employee of a childcare institution, including foster parents, group home or residential facilities. Custodial officer
Social worker, probation officer, or parole officer Alcohol and drug counselor
School district police or security employee Clinical counselor trainee or intern
Person who is an administrator or a counselor in a child abuse prevention program in a public or private school Employee or administrator of a public or private postsecondary educational institution
A district attorney investigator, inspector, or local child support agency caseworker Athletic coach, athletic administrator, or athletic director employed by any K-12 public or private school
Peace officer or fire fighter Commercial computer company technicians
An employee of any police department, county sheriff’s department, county probation department, or county welfare department Athletic coach assistant coach or a graduate assistant involved in coaching, at public or private postsecondary educational institutions.
An emergency medical technician I or II, paramedic An individual certified by a licensed foster family agency as a certified family home
An individual approved as a resource family

Mandated reporters are required to give their name and contact information when reporting, but that information is kept confidential. It may be shared with an agency investigator, but may only be shared among investigating agencies, prosecutors, or with an out of home care licensing agency, if relevant.  Agency staff receiving reports may not report to an employer a reporting employee’s identity without the employee’s consent.

Members of the community may report child abuse or neglect anonymously. Mandated reporters have immunity from state criminal or civil liability for reporting.

Penalties for Not Reporting

Failure of a mandatory reporter to make a report is generally treated as a misdemeanor crime. You may face up to 6 months in jail and a possible fine up to $1,000 if convicted of failing to file a report, or if you are found to have impeded the filing of a report. If the abuse or neglect leads to death or great bodily injury, you could face up to a year in jail and a fine up to $5,000.

Violating a reporter’s confidentiality is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Being charged in Orange County with failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect or with preventing a report from being made is serious. It can lead to both criminal and civil penalties. Call on an experienced attorney familiar with defending complex mandatory reporting charges and your individual obligations under the law.

The top-ranked attorneys at the Law Offices of David A. Stein are available for a no-cost consultation. Call our office today at 949-445-0040 or send us an email online here.