Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Obligations

Physicians are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect under Massachusetts law. Here are links to the mandated reporter law; a guide for reporters, and the report form.

In 2008, a 139 section bill on child abuse passed the state legislature. This bill included Section 97, which added the following sentence to the law: “(k) A mandated reporter who is professionally licensed by the commonwealth shall complete training to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect.” It applies to all individuals with a professional license who come in contact with children.

Most licensing boards did not implement this requirement, which had an effective date of 2010. They are now catching up.

The Board of Registration in Medicine has implemented this law by notifying physicians who are seeking a license or renewal of the law’s existence. They provide the following notice: “Have you completed training to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect?  Your license will not be processed until you complete the required training – see instructions.”

Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 119, §51A(k), physicians are required to complete training to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect. Physicians may comply with the training requirement through: 

  1. Receiving training in child abuse or neglect assessment in medical school education or postgraduate training;
  2. Completion of a hospital sponsored training program in recognizing the signs of child abuse and neglect;
  3. Completion of continuing professional development (formerly known as continuing medical education credits) in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect;
  4. Completion of an on-line training program (i.e., The Middlesex Children’s Advocacy Center’s program,   51A Online Mandated Reporter Training: Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation ”; or
  5. Completion of a specialized certification (i.e., Child Abuse Pediatrics)

This is a one-time requirement.

At the Board’s public session recently where its approach to this requirement was formed, it was clear that physician members of the Board felt that they had been trained in medical school, in their residencies and in their practices in recognizing and reporting child abuse. This view is reflected in the Board’s first means of compliance with the requirement above. 

For many Massachusetts physicians, medical school or residency will have provided the necessary educations and no further training is required. If you feel that your preparation did not cover this issue, the other options may meet your needs.

Full text of the mandated reporter law

MGL CHAPTER 119 Section 51A. (a) A mandated reporter who, in his professional capacity, has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from: (i) abuse inflicted upon him which causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare, including sexual abuse; (ii) neglect, including malnutrition; (iii) physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth, shall immediately communicate with the department orally and, within 48 hours, shall file a written report with the department detailing the suspected abuse or neglect; or (iv) being a sexually exploited child; or (v) being a human trafficking victim as defined by section 20M of chapter 233. 

If a mandated reporter is a member of the staff of a medical or other public or private institution, school or facility, the mandated reporter may instead notify the person or designated agent in charge of such institution, school or facility who shall become responsible for notifying the department in the manner required by this section. 

A mandated reporter may, in addition to filing a report under this section, contact local law enforcement authorities or the child advocate about the suspected abuse or neglect. 

(b) For the purpose of reporting under this section, hospital personnel may have photographs taken of the areas of trauma visible on the child without the consent of the child’s parents or guardians. These photographs or copies thereof shall be sent to the department with the report. 

If hospital personnel collect physical evidence of abuse or neglect of the child, the local district attorney, local law enforcement authorities, and the department shall be immediately notified. The physical evidence shall be processed immediately so that the department may make an informed determination within the time limits in section 51B. If there is a delay in processing, the department shall seek a waiver under subsection (d) of section 51B. 

(c) Notwithstanding subsection (g), whoever violates this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000. Whoever knowingly and willfully files a frivolous report of child abuse or neglect under this section shall be punished by: (i) a fine of not more than $2,000 for the first offense; (ii) imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than 6 months and a fine of not more than $2,000 for the second offense; and (iii) imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than 21/2 years and a fine of not more than $2,000 for the third and subsequent offenses. 

Any mandated reporter who has knowledge of child abuse or neglect that resulted in serious bodily injury to or death of a child and willfully fails to report such abuse or neglect shall be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 21/2 years or by both such fine and imprisonment; and, upon a guilty finding or a continuance without a finding, the court shall notify any appropriate professional licensing authority of the mandated reporter’s violation of this paragraph. 

(d) A report filed under this section shall contain: (i) the names and addresses of the child and the child’s parents or other person responsible for the child’s care, if known; (ii) the child’s age; (iii) the child’s sex; (iv) the nature and extent of the child’s injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect, including any evidence of prior injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect; (v) the circumstances under which the person required to report first became aware of the child’s injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect; (vi) whatever action, if any, was taken to treat, shelter or otherwise assist the child; (vii) the name of the person or persons making the report; (viii) any other information that the person reporting believes might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injuries; (ix) the identity of the person or persons responsible for the neglect or injuries; and (x) other information required by the department. 

(e) A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to believe that a child has died as a result of any of the conditions listed in subsection (a) shall report the death to the district attorney for the county in which the death occurred and the office of the chief medical examiner as required by clause (16) of section 3 of chapter 38. Any person who fails to file a report under this subsection shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000. 

(f) Any person may file a report under this section if that person has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering from or has died as a result of abuse or neglect. 

(g) No mandated reporter shall be liable in any civil or criminal action for filing a report under this section or for contacting local law enforcement authorities or the child advocate, if the report or contact was made in good faith, was not frivolous, and the reporter did not cause the abuse or neglect. No other person filing a report under this section shall be liable in any civil or criminal action by reason of the report if it was made in good faith and if that person did not perpetrate or inflict the reported abuse or cause the reported neglect. Any person filing a report under this section may be liable in a civil or criminal action if the department or a district attorney determines that the person filing the report may have perpetrated or inflicted the abuse or caused the neglect. 

(h) No employer shall discharge, discriminate or retaliate against a mandated reporter who, in good faith, files a report under this section, testifies or is about to testify in any proceeding involving child abuse or neglect. Any employer who discharges, discriminates or retaliates against that mandated reporter shall be liable to the mandated reporter for treble damages, costs and attorney’s fees. 

(i) Within 30 days of receiving a report from a mandated reporter, the department shall notify the mandated reporter, in writing, of its determination of the nature, extent and cause or causes of the injuries to the child and the services that the department intends to provide to the child or the child’s family. 

(j) Any privilege relating to confidential communications, established by sections 135 to 135B, inclusive, of chapter 112 or by sections 20A and 20B of chapter 233, shall not prohibit the filing of a report under this section or a care and protection petition under section 24, except that a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of a church or religious body or accredited Christian Science practitioner need not report information solely gained in a confession or similarly confidential communication in other religious faiths. Nothing in the general laws shall modify or limit the duty of a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of a church or religious body or accredited Christian Science practitioner to report suspected child abuse or neglect under this section when the priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of a church or religious body or accredited Christian Science practitioner is acting in some other capacity that would otherwise make him a mandated reporter. 

(k) A mandated reporter who is professionally licensed by the commonwealth shall complete training to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect. 

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