Massachusetts General Law Chapter 119, Section 51A,
defines MANDATED REPORTERS as one “. . . . who, in his profession shall have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of eighteen years is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse inflicted upon him which causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare including sexual abuse, or from neglect, including malnutrition, or who is determined to be physically dependent upon an addictive drug at birth, shall immediately report such condition to the department by oral communication and by making a written report within forty-eight hours after such oral communication.”
1. Who is a mandated reporter?
A mandated reporter is a professional, who because of his or her particular employment, is likely to have regular contact with children.
The legislature has outlined a number of health care professionals, including doctors, dentists and nurses, as mandated reporters. The list also includes teachers, guidance counselors, school administrators, psychiatrists, psychologists, family counselors or therapists. Social workers, police, fire fighters, and even court personnel are required to report cases of suspected abuse, as are a number of specialized fields.
In 2002, the language was changed to include: priests, rabbis, ordained or licensed ministers of any church or religious body, an accredited Christian Science practioner, a person performing one or more of the official duties of a priest, rabbi, ordained or licensed minister of any church or religious body or an accredited Christian Science practitioner, a person or layperson in any church or religious body acting in the capacity as a leader, official, teacher, delegate or other designated function on behalf of any such church or religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a regular basis, are now designated as mandated reporters.
2. What are the obligations of a mandated reporter?
Individuals are required to immediately notify the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) whenever they have reasonable cause to believe a child under eighteen years of age may be a victim of abuse.
3. What happens when I call DCF?
DCF will screen in or accept the report if it appears from the information provided the child is at risk of being abused by a caretaker. If an emergency situation exists, DCF will assign a licensed social worker to investigate the report within 24 hours. If it is not an emergency, the investigation must be completed within 10 days.
4. What does it mean when DCF supports or unsupports a referral?
After the investigation is completed, DCF will support or unsupport the referral of abuse or neglect. If DCF unsupports a referral, this does not mean that DCF has determined that the abuse did not occur. If you have any questions or concerns about the decision, DCF or the Plymouth County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) may be able to clarify the decision.
5. What if I am not sure a child is actually being abused?
The law is designed to always give a child the benefit of the doubt. When you are in doubt, file a report. It could save a life.
6. What if I notify my superior or some other person of authority where I work?
Once you immediately notify the person in charge of your school, hospital or other facility, that person becomes responsible for notifying DCF of the suspected abuse. If your superior is not available, YOU MUST FILE A REPORT WITH DCF.
7. Will I be sued if I report abuse?
Mandated reporters who report suspected abuse are absolutely immune from any liability, civil or criminal, provided they immediately report as required by the statute. The provision is designed to encourage mandated reporters to file whenever they suspect a child is at risk.
8. Can my employer retaliate against me if I file a report with DCF?
No. The law strictly forbids employers from penalizing an employee who files a report to DCF. Any employer who discharges, discriminates, or takes any other negative action against his or her employee shall be reliable for triple damages and related attorney’s fees.
9. Can I call the District Attorney’s Office directly to report abuse?
Mandated reporters are welcome to contact the Plymouth County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) at (508) 580-3383 with any questions or concerns. However, you must report suspected abuse to DCF as the law requires.
10. Do I have to report to DCF if I believe a caretaker is not the abuser?
Yes. The decision as to whether a person is a caretaker is made solely by DCF under the law. An individual does not have the authority to make that particular decision.
11. Does DCF notify the District Attorney’s Office that a child has been abused?
In certain cases, DCF is required to notify the District Attorney. For example, all instances of sexual abuse of children and serious cases of physical violence must be reported to the Children’s Advocacy Center of the District Attorney’s Office.
12. What happens to cases that are referred to the District Attorney’s office?
The Plymouth County CAC receives over 500 reports of sexual and physical abuse of children each year. While most of these reports come from DCF, a number also arise from the police and private citizens. The District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the child’s family, counselors, DCF, and police will decide which of these cases may be prosecuted.
13. Will I have to appear as a witness in court?
It is possible that a mandated reporter will be called as a witness in the criminal prosecution of an abuse case. It is up to the prosecutor to make that determination.
14. Will I hear about the outcome of the investigation?
Yes. DCF must send a letter to the mandated reporter informing him or her of the outcome of its investigation.
15. Will the child’s family be told the name of the person who filed the report?
DCF does not identify the reporter. However, the family may become aware of the reporter’s name through the course of a criminal investigation.
16. Where can I call to file a report or for help?
In the Brockton area, dial 508-894-3700. In the Plymouth area, dial 1-800-423-2338. In Plymouth County, call the District Attorney’s Plymouth County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) at 508-580-3383, if you have a question about a possible abuse case and would like to speak with a professional about it. The statewide hotline to contact DCF is 1-800-792-5200.
As professionals we must protect a child’s right to safety.
A mandated reporter suspecting abuse must notify DCF immediately by telephone and follow up with written report within 48 hours.
There are no exceptions!
THE LAW IS CLEAR. PROFESSIONALS WHO FAIL TO REPORT SUSPECTED ABUSE ARE SUBJECT TO CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND A $1,000 FINE.