Each state’s reporting requirements identify certain individuals who are required to notify the authorities of suspected abuse. Although it varies by state, mandated reporters are typically individuals who encounter children through their professional capacity. In Pennsylvania, the statute requires all individuals who encounter a case of abuse through their professional capacity to make a report. More often, a state’s statute will refer to a number of specific professions.29 Common professions include: physical and mental health providers, teachers, child care workers, legal professionals (e.g., judges, magistrates, attorneys, law enforcement officers), clergy members, and employees of state agencies that deal with children and families.30 In addition, some states designate any individual who provides care or treatment to children as a mandatory reporter (e.g., Alabama, Missouri, Montana). In 18 states, any individual who suspects that a child has been the victim of abuse is required to notify the proper authorities.31
In terms of physical and/or mental health providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, surgeons, osteopaths), statutes often make specific reference to providers who treat adolescents who are pregnant or infected with sexually transmitted diseases. For example, in Texas any individual who suspects child abuse is required to notify the proper authorities. However, the law also includes more specific reporting requirements for individuals who work with children in a professional capacity, including employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.
In some states, a child who is pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease is sufficient to cause reasonable suspicion of abuse, thereby necessitating a report. In Rhode Island, as noted above, the law requires reports of non-familial cases in two situations, one of which is if the mandated reporter is a physician or nurse practitioner who treats a child less than 12 years of age who is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Michigan also requires medical providers to report all cases where a child under 12 years of age is pregnant or has a sexually transmitted disease. In contrast, California law states that “the pregnancy of a minor does not, in and of itself, constitute a basis for a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse.”32 The California Court of Appeals has similarly found that mandated reporters are not required to report cases in which a minor is found to have a sexually transmitted disease.33
Few states allow mandated reporters to exercise discretion in deciding which cases to report. Consider the following three exceptions:
- Florida. The criminal code includes a law stating that anyone 21 years of age or older who impregnates a child under 16 years of age is guilty of contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a minor. However, the reporting requirements state that health care professionals and other individuals who provide medical or counseling services to pregnant children are not required to report abuse when the only violation is impregnation of a child under the circumstances described above if such reporting would interfere with the provision of medical services.
- Tennessee. A 1996 law addressing statutory rape added a number of provisions to the state statutes with respect to reporting requirements. One such provision addresses cases in which a physician or other person treating pregnant minors learns that the alleged father of the patient’s child is at least 4 years older than the patient and not her spouse. The provision encourages the provider to notify the appropriate legal authorities. However, such a report can only be made with the consent of the patient or the patient’s parent, legal guardian, or custodian.
- Wisconsin. Health care practitioners who provide family planning services, pregnancy testing, obstetrical health care or screening, or diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases to minors are exempted from the reporting requirements with the following exception: If providers judge that their clients are in a dangerous situation. For example, providers are required to report cases where they believe that: the victim, because of his or her age or immaturity, is incapable of understanding the nature or consequences of sexual activities; the other participant in the sexual acts is exploiting the child; or the child’s participation in the sexual acts is not voluntary.