The Evolving Definition of Mandated Reporters in Higher Education

Natasha Baker
Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP
San Francisco, CA

In the wake of Penn State, we examined various state laws around the U.S. in order to determine the scope of the definition of mandated reporters (those who have an obligation to report suspected child abuse).  In general, it was not always clear whether this obligation applied to institutions of higher education.

For example, the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, requires a mandated reporter, to report whenever he or she, in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observed a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect.  Failure to report an incident is a crime punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or by both that imprisonment and fine.  Previously, the Act, which encompasses “school” employees, did not define “school,” thereby leaving an open question as to its applicability outside the K-12 context.

Effective January 1, 2013, the definition of mandated reporter in California was expanded to explicitly include employees and administrators of a public or private postsecondary institution, whose duties bring the administrator or employee into contact with children on a regular basis or who supervises those whose duties bring the administrator or employee into contact with children on a regular basis.  The scope of the reporting obligation is limited to suspected or actual child abuse or neglect occurring on that institution’s premises or at an official activity of, or program conducted by, the institution.

Recommended Training
Under the Act, California employers are strongly encouraged to provide their employees who are mandated reporters with training on their responsibilities under the Act.  Per the Legislature, this training should include training in child abuse and neglect identification and training in child abuse and neglect reporting.  In order to encourage compliance with the Act, we also recommend that the training include a discussion of the legal obligations and consequences for failing to report and the available legal protections for mandated reporters. We further recommend that institutions in all jurisdictions examine the applicable mandated reporting law and assess whether training should be conducted.

Required Mandatory Reporter Disclosure to Employees
Whether or not employers provide their employees with training in child abuse and neglect identification and reporting, the Act requires that California employers provide their employees who are mandated reporters with the information and disclosure statement required pursuant to Penal Code Section 11166.5(a).

Recommended Actions
California institutions of higher education should review their employees’ obligations under this Act and ensure that those who qualify as mandated reporters are apprised of their obligations in accordance with the requirements of Penal Code Section 11166.5(a).  Institutions outside of California would be well-advised to take this step as well.

A written policy governing the duties and responsibilities of these mandated reporters is also advisable.

Finally, we recommend ensuring that all employees who satisfy the definition of mandated reporter receive the recommended training.  Our office currently offers this training on-site and via webcast.