Currently under Michigan law, there is a very specific list of people who are considered to be mandated reporters of child abuse. That means that they are legally required to report any child abuse or neglect to the appropriate agency, such as child protective services, law enforcement, or Michigan’s toll-free child abuse reporting hotline (855-444-3911). However, House Bill 4020 aims to change that.
HB 4020 would expand the state’s list of mandatory reporters beyond the current boundaries. As it stands right now, mandatory reporters include police officers and other law enforcement personnel, teachers, physicians and nurses, psychologists and school counsellors, clergy members and several other professionals whose work brings them into contact with children. Though while teachers are listed, this doesn’t include all school staff and other educational personnel.
If the new bill is signed into law, the list of Michigan’s mandatory reporters would grow to include any adult involved in kindergarten through grade 12 athletic activities and youth recreational activities. This means coaches, field trip chaperones, classroom volunteers and anyone else involved with students during and after school.
The bill is currently stalled in the House Committee, and so several media sources are imploring the public to contact their representatives and advocate for Michigan’s children. However, while we understand that additional mandatory reporters does sound like it will close possible loopholes in the law with regards to people being required to speak up on behalf of children, there are other factors to consider.
If a mandatory reporter does not report abuse, perhaps because they aren’t’ sure, and don’t want to get a potentially innocent parent into trouble, there could be legal consequences. Any mandated reporter who fails to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect is civilly liable for the damages that are directly linked to the failure to act. In a case where a person knowingly fails to report, the result may be a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail, a fine up to $500, or both.
Fear of legal reprisal can put mandated reporters in a position where they report possible or suspected abuse that never happened. The result is families who are investigated and invaded by CPS agents, and who may be put on the Central Registry without due cause simply because they are suspected by CPS workers. This can result in lifelong consequences for innocent families.
The truth is that people who truly suspect that a child is a victim of abuse will report it whether or not they are state mandated reporters. This means it is unlikely that there are people working with children in schools today, who would turn a blind eye to what they believe is abuse, even if they weren’t required to report it. So this change to the law seems both redundant and possibly dangerous.
As parent advocates, we deal with the fallout of many situations where a mandated reporter informs CPS or law enforcement about possible abuse where there is none. We understand how hard it can be for teachers and doctors to be in a position where they are fearful of their own careers, and so they report “just to be on the safe side,” as a form of self preservation. It is a tragedy.
If you or a loved one have been falsely accused of abuse or neglect by a mandated reporter, please contact us immediately at 800-576-6035. An attorney is standing by to discuss your case and provide you with guidance, drawn from decades of experience helping other parents and caregivers who have been falsely accused. We are here for you.