A principal of an elementary school in Aurora, Illinois, was convicted of failing to notify the Department of Children and Family Services of the alleged abuse of a student. A student’s stepfather reported to the principal that inappropriate touching between the student and a social worker had happened. The principal did not report the alleged abuse because he did not find the stepfather to be credible.
The Court found that the principal was guilty of failing to file a mandatory report. The Court interpreted Section 4 of the Act as a strict liability statute. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the trial court decision. The Appellate Court concluded that the act was NOT a strict liability act and that “a mandated reporter must exercise some judgment to determine whether a report to DCFS is required.” People v. Willigman, 2021 IL App 200188 (Aug. 31, 2021). The appellate court’s ruling clarifies a common misconception of the mandatory reporting act and now controls how courts must interpret and mandatory reporters must implement Illinois’ mandatory reporting law.
The Appellate Court’s Ruling
Teachers, child care providers, and others have a mandatory duty to report suspect child abuse under Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. The trial Court, in this case, wrongly determined that Section 4 of this Act is a strict liability law, meaning that the act of failing to report is enough to convict the defendant. In other words, the trial Court erroneously concluded that the principal’s belief that the stepfather was not credible is irrelevant to whether the principal failed to report. The Appellate Court said the trial Court was wrong.
The Phrase “Reasonable Cause to Believe”
The Appellate Court pointed out that Section 4 of the Reporting Act requires the mandated reporter to have a “reasonable cause to believe a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be an abused child or a neglected child shall immediately report or cause a report to be made to the department.”
The Appellate Court determined that “reasonable” REQUIRES someone to use an exercise in judgment. The Appellate Court also pointed out that the legislature could have used the term “any cause to believe” if they had intended the section to be interpreted as a strict liability statute. Instead, the term “reasonable” means that the reporter must decide whether reporting is reasonable based on each case’s facts and circumstances.
The Appellate Court also found that the trial Court was simply wrong in interpreting a case to say that school personnel have no discretion at any time and that they must report every allegation of abuse. Despite the public policy concern of protecting children being important, the Appellate Court interpreted the law to mean that mandatory reporters should not feel compelled to report allegations that would divert resources from those that need immediate attention.
Questions About Illinois Mandatory Reporting Law? We Can Help
If you are a principal, teacher, or any other mandatory reporter, you may be wondering how this decision will affect you. The ruling does validate mandatory reporters’ discretion when deciding which alleged abuse to report. However, you should still take alleged abuse cases seriously. If you have questions about reporting alleged abuse, we recommend discussing your case with an experienced attorney. Contact Glasgow & Olsson today to schedule your initial consultation to learn how our legal team can protect your rights.