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Child Abuse: Is It a Crime to Fail to Report?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you know of child abuse and fail to report it, or if you file a false report, it may be a crime. Laws vary from state to state and most do not require the average citizen to call out child abuse, although some do.

The obligation to report abuse mostly applies to people who -- because of their professions -- are in a position of responsibility for children and have the obligation to report imposed on them by statute. There are states that obligate anyone to report, however. Below is a look at who, by law, must report abuse, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Mandatory Reporting

The following types of professions are typically required to report abuse in the US and its territories:

  • Social workers
  • Teachers, principals, and other school personnel
  • Physicians, nurses, and other health-care workers
  • Counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals
  • Child care providers
  • Medical examiners or coroners
  • Law enforcement officers

Twelve states, Guam, and Puerto Rico include commercial film or photograph processors in the mandatory reporter category, while six states also include computer technicians. All of these professions are much more likely to contact evidence of child pornography, which is why they are mandatory reporters despite having minimal physical contact with children.

Other professions that require reporting, depending on the locale -- substance abuse counselors are required to report in 14 States, and probation or parole officers are mandatory reporters in 17 States. Members of the clergy now are required to report in 27 States and Guam.

Permissive Reporting

In approximately 18 States and Puerto Rico, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. These states also make a point of specifying mandatory reporting professions in their statutes.

New Jersey and Wyoming require all persons to report without specifying any professions. In all other US states and territories, anyone is permitted to report abuse but -- unless you are a mandatory reporter -- you are not under obligation to do so.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you know of or suspect child abuse and are not sure how to handle the situation, speak to an attorney. A lawyer can talk to you about your suspicions, and help you determine when, where, and how to report.

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