The Georgia legislature has amended the statute mandating who must report suspicions of child abuse to state authorities. Effective July 1, 2012, the new provisions significantly expand who must report and contract the time for reporting. All youth-serving organizations need to train their personnel about these new requirements.
Note that this summary deals only with reporting obligations under the mandatory reporter statute. Licensing agencies may have additional requirements for specific organizations such as day care centers or medical facilities.
Who Must Report
The list of people who must report suspected abuse now includes all personnel at all organizations that provide services to children, including volunteers and clergy. The only exception is clergy who learn of abuse as part of a confession that their church doctrine treats as confidential.
What To Report
A key question is what behavior to report. Georgia law requires reporting of
- Physical abuse or neglect,
- Sexual abuse, and
- Sexual exploitation
Physical Abuse or Neglect – The law requires reporting of physical abuse or neglect by parents or caretakers. The “parent or caretakers” requirement means that organizations need not report fights or physical altercations between children. Of course, other rules, such as anti-bullying guidelines, may require reports of such incidents, but the mandated reporter statute is not concerned with them.
Sexual Abuse – The law has specific and extensive definitions that basically cover sexual intercourse and touching private body parts. There are two significant exceptions. First, adults need not report intercourse between (a) minors of opposite sexes or (b) a minor and an adult no more than five (5) years older. In other words, the statue does not require reporting of teen sexual activity or childhood experimentation.
Second, the statute includes physical contact only for “apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.” Thus, if a child kicks another in the crotch during a fight, the statute does not consider that behavior to be reportable sexual abuse. Again, other rules or company policy may require a report, but the statute does not.
Sexual exploitation – This section covers prostitution or production of pornography.
When To Report
A mandated person must report within 24 hours “from the time there is reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused.” Courts have defined “reasonable cause” as the point that available information would lead a reasonable person in that same position to suspect abuse.
Knowing when to suspect abuse is an art rather than a science, and a difficult one at that. Some signs are clear, such as physical injuries or disclosure from a child. Sometimes, however, behavior may be much less clear. Sexualized behavior, for example, may be developmentally appropriate or may signal some form of abuse. Or a child may exhibit generalized anxiety symptoms, which behavior can have a number of causes. A discussion of all of the possible signs is beyond the scope of this paper, but a good place to start your own research is www.childwelfare.gov.
Where To Report
All reports must go to the local child protective services agency (most often the county Department of Family and Children’s Services), or if there is no such local agency, the police or district attorney.
The statute does allow employees and volunteers to report suspected abuse to an organization’s leader or designated manager. That person then must make a report to protective services or law enforcement, without making any changes to the information from the initial reporter. The manager may add relevant information to the report.
The purpose of allowing reports to managers appears to be an attempt to provide for behavior that may be benign as individual incidents, but that raise suspicion when they become part of a pattern. Thus, for example, a single bruise is normal for children, but a series of injuries reported by several different teachers raises concerns.
Also note that reporting under this statute does not relieve an organization of responsibility under licensing or other applicable regulations. Day care centers, for example, must report to both protective services and state licensing.
Why to Report Abuse
Anyone who is convicted of failing to report as the statute requires will be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The most important reason to report, however, is to protect the children that we serve. An abuser rarely stops voluntarily, and if adults in a child’s life do not protect him or her, then no one will.