All 50 states have passed some form of a mandatory child abuse and neglect reporting law in order to qualify for funding under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)(Jan. 1996 version), 42 U.S.C. 5101, et seq.. The Act was originally passed in 1974, has been amended several times and was most recently amended and reauthorized on October 3, 1996, by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Act Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-235). CAPTA mandates “minimum definitions” for child abuse and sexual abuse.
Every state has a hotline for reporting abuse and neglect.
Many states have broad statutes requiring “any person” to report.
CAPTA requires states to enact legislation that provides for immunity from prosecution arising out of the reporting abuse or neglect. In most states, a person who reports suspected child abuse in “good faith” is absolutely immune from criminal and civil liability. For that reason, most healthcare attorneys will advise a client “that it is far better, in theory, to be faced with defending a civil action for reporting suspected abuse rather than the bleak alternative of defending a civil action . . . if a child is injured or killed as a result of failing to make a report of suspected child abuse.” Mandatory Reporting: Hidden Dangers by Attys. Jennifer L. Cox and Jennifer A. Osowiecki.
The 1993 CAPTA amendments require states to enact legislation providing for prosecution in false reporting cases (reports made without having a reasonable belief that the report is true.) The false reporting laws must be read together with the immunity statutes and case law, however; persons who report in “good faith” are immune from civil and criminal liability. As a matter of public policy, prosecutors should be extremely selective in initiating false reporting prosecutions so that reporting is not discouraged.
All states require the report to be made to some type of law enforcement authority or child protection agency. Reporting to a parent, relative or another worker will not satisfy the reporter’s legal duty under the statutes.