Mandated reporting is a term used to refer to the laws that compel certain professionals to report known or suspected cases of abuse and neglect. Maryland law names educators, police officers, health care professionals, human-services workers and others as mandated reporters. The exact laws and obligations vary state to state, so while this article will be most useful for Maryland residents, it is important to check your local laws concerning mandated reporting if you have questions.
Almost every adult who is tasked as a mandated reporter has some idea of what this means: if you think a child is being abused or neglected, you are obligated to report it. For some this is as far as the knowledge goes. The purpose of this article is to better illustrate the mandated reporting process and provide informational support to those who may need to stand up and advocate for a child in their care.
Should I Say Something?
Deciding whether or not it’s time to say something can be the most difficult part of the process for some. This is especially true for those new to mandated reporting, as differentiating between abuse/neglect and strict parenting can sometimes be tricky. Uncertainty can also be a barrier, as gleaning information from a youngster isn’t always straightforward. In the end, it really just comes down to common sense and personal judgement.
Maryland law allows for corporal punishment to what is termed a “reasonable” degree. This can cause some confusion as there is no black and white delineation you can point to as a mandatory reporter. That’s why if you have any doubt about something it’s important to simply listen, and get all the information possible to help you decide if a questionable situation needs to be reported.
If you do make the determination that abuse or neglect is suspected, it can be helpful to know what to expect when making a report. First off, if you are concerned for a child’s well-being but feel hesitant to make a report due to a lack of specific evidence--you need to make a report. Maryland law does not require a mandatory reporter to furnish proof of abuse, nor does it require a mandatory reporter to assist in the investigation by helping to gather evidence after making a report.
When it’s time to make the required oral report, you’re going to want to contact your local department of social services. It can be helpful at this time to note the date/time you reported your concerns, as well as who you spoke with. A social services professional will take all factors into consideration and make a determination within 24 hours if an investigation is necessary.
If an investigation occurs, Maryland law does not guarantee that your identity will be kept confidential but every effort is made to prevent your identity from being learned. Also, if you make a report and the person you speak with concludes no investigation is required, you will not be punished or reprimanded. If the child you are concerned about happens to reside in another state, you still need to make a report. In this case you would still contact your local social services rather than the child’s home state. This is to ensure the integrity of Maryland’s confidentiality laws.
All in all, it is an immense responsibility to be entrusted in any capacity with the care of a child and if you suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect you are obligated to report it. Yes it’s the law, but it’s also a moral obligation to advocate for those who are unable or too afraid to advocate for themselves.