When does a mandated reporter have “reasonable cause to suspect” that child abuse has occurred?
Neither the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) nor the Regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) offer a definition of the term. There are a multitude of facts and circumstances that will vary with each situation, but the declared purpose of the CPSL is to encourage prompt and complete reporting, so as to assure the well‐being of children. Therefore, in keeping with the spirit of both the CPSL and of the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Young People, it is more prudent to err on the side of making the report and then depending on the trained professionals to determine what has actually transpired.
Can I be sued for making a report that turns out to be wrong?
The CPSL grants immunity from civil suits for those who make a “good faith” report of suspected child abuse. If the reporter is truly motivated by concern for the safety of the victim, and for the safety of others who may be exposed to the suspected perpetrator, the reporter’s good faith will be presumed under the CPSL.
What is the legal definition of “child abuse”?
Child abuse can be one of several different things: (1) Non‐accidental physical injury that causes severe pain, or that significantly impairs the child’s physical functioning, even temporarily; (2) Non‐accidental clinically‐diagnosable mental injury that renders the child chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic, unable to perform age‐appropriate developmental and social tasks, or in reasonable fear that his or her life or safety is threatened; (3) Any type of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation (such as inducing a child to engage in sexual acts or to be photographed in simulating sexual acts, even if the child “consents” to the acts); or (4) Serious physical neglect which endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning, but which does not arise solely from the financial inability of the parents to provide adequate housing, clothing and medical care. Child abuse also occurs when an individual places a child in imminent risk of suffering any of the foregoing harms.
Are non‐paid volunteers required to report?
The CPSL does not limit the reporting mandate to “employees.” Therefore, if a volunteer comes into contact with children in the course of his or her Church “occupation,” s/he should assume s/he will be treated as a mandated reporter.
Are multiple individuals all required to make a report regarding the same incident?
No. However, each mandated reporter who knows of a reportable incident should assure himself or herself that a report has actually been made.
Am I required to report child abuse that I suspect only while on Church duty?
No. You are a mandated reporter of child abuse for incidents involving children who are under the supervision, guidance or training of the Church entity with which you are affiliated, regardless of whether you learned of the abuse while either on or off duty.
Am I required to report only those incidents of child abuse that I suspect to have occurred on Church property?
No. If the suspected abuse involves children who are under the supervision, guidance or training of the Church entity with which you are affiliated, you must report it regardless of where the suspected abuse occurred. Therefore, for example, child abuse that occurs in the home of a Catholic school student is a reportable incident.
To whom should I speak if I have doubts about the obligation to report?
Your supervisor, in the first instance. Supervisors will be aware of how to contact the proper individuals in the (Arch) Diocesan administration who can help resolve any doubts, but all consultation should be carried out promptly, since the CPSL requires reports to be made “immediately.”
What are the criminal penalties for failing to make a legally mandated report?
Any mandated reporter who “knowingly” fails to report child abuse commits a misdemeanor of the third degree for a first violation, and a misdemeanor of the second degree for any subsequent violation. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor of the third degree is imprisonment for one year. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor of the second degree is imprisonment for two years.
Am I still required to report when I learn of the abuse only after the victim is now over 18 and is therefore no longer a “child”?
Neither the CPSL nor the DPW Regulations address this question. However, in the interest of preventing further abuse by the same perpetrator, a report should be made under these circumstances.
Is abuse perpetrated by other children reportable?
Yes, if it is sexual abuse (even arguably “consensual sex” between two minors) or if it causes serious physical or mental injury to the victim. Causing serious mental injury can include placing the victim in fear that his or her life or safety is threatened. School personnel are especially cautioned to be alert for physical assaults, inappropriate sexual contact and severe bullying that may constitute “abuse” under the CPSL.