Episode II: If You See Something, Sometimes the Law Demands You Say Something

To recap our story, Charles and Donna found their young daughter with her boyfriend after curfew, and a yelling match ensued in front of the family home. When James, the boyfriend, called the police out of fear for an escalating situation, the officers who arrived on scene ended up taking James himself into custody for drugs they found in his vehicle, and taking Charles into custody, as well, for suspected domestic battery, when his daughter was discovered with scratches on her face.

As soon as Charles was snug in the back seat of the squadcar, the officers summoned DCFS to the scene of the domestic dispute. Since Brianna is a minor, and they were alarmed by the scartches they found on her face, the officers have a duty to report the suspected abuse under 325 ILCS 5/4.

Between 1963 and 2009, child abuse hotline calls increased over 2,300% nationwide. Much of that increase is probably due to increased awareness of these problems and an increased concern over children’s rights. However, there is also little doubt that most of that increase is due to more frequent, and more serious, potentially abusive situations. As is so often the case, lawmakers felt intense pressure to do something, and that something often has had mixed results for people like Charles.

Who are the Mandatory Reporters in Illinois?

Mandatory reporting laws like the one referenced above are fairly common in all parts of the world, although the ones in the United States in general, and the Prairie State in particular, are a little more stringent.

The following professionals who work with children or other vulnerable population groups must report suspected abuse that they come across during their job-related activities:

  • Medical professionals,
  • School personnel (if a school board member encounters a reportable situation, the board, and not the individual, has a duty to report),
  • Social workers,
  • Law enforcement personnel, including court staffers, probation officers, and so on,
  • Medical examiners,
  • Child care workers, and
  • Clerics.

That last group brings up an interesting and necessary point, which is that professional privilege does not trump the reporting requirement, so for example, priests who learn about abusive situations during confessions have a duty to report. The law does preserve the confidentiality of reporters unless they must testify in court, and in these situations, they are immune from any adverse legal action.

Even hairdressers and salon workers, while not mandated reporters, are now required to attend trainings to learn to spot the signs of abuse and provide victims with information about resources, hotlines, etc.

What Must They Report?

Within 48 hours after discovery, these individuals must file a written report if they have “reasonable cause” to believe that a child suffers from:

  • Physical Abuse: This category includes both physical acts, prior acts that created “a substantial risk of physical injury” (e.g. pushing a child down the stairs), “excessive” corporal punishment (bruises are generally excessive), or furnishing a child with illegal drugs.
  • Sexual Abuse: This term includes penetration, exploitation, molestation, and infecting the child with a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Neglect: This item is a tricky one. In terms of material provision, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish neglect from poverty. Neglect also means leaving the child alone or in the care of someone incapable, by reason of age, infirmity, or otherwise, of providing that care, but there are really no objective standards here, either.

Typically, “reasonable cause” is usually based on many factors, including an observation of a physical injury, the credibility of the source, and any past abuse/neglect incidents. One of the reasons mandatory reporters have 48 hours is that they are expected to perform at least a cursory investigation into the facts.

Nonreporting Penalties

Wilfully failing to report neglect or abuse is usually a Class A misdemeanor (maximum one year and $2,500 fine); a subsequent infraction is a Class 4 felony (maximum one to three years and $25,000 fine). In addition to the lack of reasonable cause defense, there is also no duty to report if the injury, or potential injury, was accidental. “I didn’t mean to hit him/her that hard” does not constitute an accident.

By that standard, the police were obligated to report their findings at Charles’ house to DCFS so that they could conduct a thorough investigation. What will happen to Charles? Will he be charged with child abuse, or will the facts of the case clear his name? Tune in next time to find out.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

Illinois has a strict, and rather vague, mandatory reporting law. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Delfi de la Rua)

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