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Course Materials: Legal Protections and Liabilities for Reporters

Immunity

The Social Services Law provides the reporter ample legal protection from liability in order to encourage prompt and complete reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Any persons, officials, or institutions that in good faith make a report, take photographs, or take a child into protective custody have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, that might result from such actions. All persons, officials, or institutions that are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect are presumed to have done so in good faith as long as they were acting in the discharge of their official duties and within the scope of their employment, and so long as their actions did not result from willful misconduct or gross negligence.

Confidentiality

The State Office of Children and Families and the local department of social services are not permitted to release to the subject of a report data that identify the person who made the report unless that person has given permission for the State Central Register to do so. The person who made the report may grant the local child protective services agency permission to reveal his or her identity to the subject of the report. (If a reporter wants anonymity, he or she should stress the need for confidentiality.) In the event that the issue of abuse or neglect is litigated the reporter may be obligated to testify concerning his or her findings and observations: at a fact-finding hearing in Family Court, in a grand jury proceeding (closed to the alleged perpetrator and the public), or at a criminal trial. In these instances the prosecuting attorney will take all necessary precautions to protect your identity. However, the subject of the report (or "respondent") may learn who you are.

Consequences for Filing a False Report

It should be noted that knowingly filing a false report of child abuse or neglect is a Class A misdemeanor. Conviction can result in incarceration of up to six months or a fine or both. If a person, knowing the information is false or baseless, reports an alleged occurrence or condition of child abuse or neglect to the State Central Register, he or she has violated the law. Falsely reporting child abuse or neglect typically occurs in harassment cases and child custody battles. Mandated reporters acting in good faith have complete immunity from liability.

Consequences for Failing to Report

There are serious legal and social repercussions that compel the immediate reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect. The law provides that any person or institution required to report a case of suspected child abuse or neglect who willfully fails to do so may be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and may be civilly liable for the damages caused by such failure. Conviction can result in incarceration of up to six months or a fine or both. Furthermore, if suspected child abuse is not identified and reported, the child protective services agency is powerless to offer aid to the family or take action to protect a child from further suffering and harm. A variety of social and economic factors have caused child abuse to reach epidemic proportions. Children's vulnerability and developmental limitations make it crucial that persons with a reasonable basis to suspect child abuse or neglect take immediate action. Conscience dictates that persons in a position to detect child abuse thoroughly evaluate and report the facts in all cases.

 

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