Child Abuse Reporting

January 2013

… Each state has a child abuse reporting law where licensed mental health practitioners and others are required to report known or reasonably suspected child abuse. These laws vary from state to state, sometimes in fine nuance. One aspect of the reporting law involves the time frame for making reports, which is usually rather short. Suppose that a pre-licensed person (a/k/a an intern) comes to a supervision session and describes information that was received from a patient four days earlier. Suppose further that the intern has described something that constitutes reportable child abuse, which he or she either missed or delayed beyond the required time frame for reporting in order to discuss the issue in supervision.

Failure to make a required report within the time frame specified usually constitutes a crime and/or unprofessional conduct. Once the supervisor discovers that a report should have been made, the question arises as to whether or not the supervisor must (or should) file a report or whether the supervisor should encourage the intern to make the report forthwith. It has been my view (at least in California) that the supervisor would be required to make the report, since the supervisor is a mandated reporter who found out about the suspected abuse in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment.

If the supervisor did not make a report, he or she would arguably have violated the reporting law and be subjected to the applicable penalties and consequences. Moreover, if the supervisor merely encouraged the intern to make the report, albeit late, the supervisor would essentially be encouraging the intern to admit to the commission of a crime. Something about that bothers me, especially when I believe there is a better alternative. When the supervisor makes the report, he or she can explain the fact that the intern was new or inexperienced, or that the need to report was not readily apparent, or that it was arguable as to whether a report was required under the circumstances. Assuming that the child has suffered no injury during the period of time that the report was delayed, it is unlikely that the intern would be prosecuted for a failure to report. Of course, each case is different and there can be no guarantees.


Richard Leslie

"At the Intersection of Law and Psychotherapy" Richard S. Leslie is an attorney who has practiced at the intersection of law and psychotherapy for the past twenty-five years. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), where he worked with their various state divisions to develop and implement their legislative agendas. He also provided telephone consultation services to AAMFT members regarding legal and ethical issues confronting practitioners of diverse licensure nationwide. Additionally, he wrote articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine and presented at workshops on a variety of legal issues. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. He was director of Government Relations for CAMFT, and as such was the architect of CAMFT’s widely regarded and successful legislative agenda. He represented CAMFT before the regulatory board (the Board of Behavioral Sciences) and was a tireless advocate for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants. He was a regular presenter at workshops and was consistently evaluated as CAMFT’s most highly rated presenter. He also sat with the CAMFT Ethics Committee and acted as their advisor on matters pertaining to the enforcement of ethical standards. Richard is an acknowledged expert on matters pertaining to the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. For many years, he taught Law and Ethics courses for a number of colleges and universities in their marriage and family therapy degree programs. While at CAMFT, he provided telephone consultation services with thousands of therapists in California and elsewhere for over twenty years. He is highly regarded for his judgment, his expertise, his direct style, and his clarity. Richard has been the driving force for many of the changes and additions to the laws of the State of California that affect MFTs. In 1980, he was primarily responsible for achieving passage of the "Freedom of Choice Law" that required insurance companies to pay for psychotherapy services performed by MFTs. Passage of that law allowed MFTs to earn a living, allowed them to better compete in the marketplace, and strengthened the profession in California by leading to a great increase in the number of licensees and CAMFT membership. Currently, about half of the licensed marriage and family therapists in the country are licensed in California. While at CAMFT, Richard was primarily responsible for, among other things, the successful effort to criminalize sex between a patient and a therapist. He was successful in extending the laws of psychotherapist-patient privilege to MFTs, thereby giving patients the same level of privacy protection as when seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. He fought tirelessly and successfully for the right of MFTs to refer to themselves as "psychotherapists," to perform psychological testing services, to be appropriately reimbursed by California’s Victims of Crime Program, and to be employed in county mental health agencies throughout California. Richard was admitted to the Bar in New York (1969) and in California (1973). While practicing in New York, he served as a public defender, and later, as an Assistant District Attorney. Shortly after moving to California, he worked for the San Diego County Human Relations Commission as their Law and Justice Officer. While there, he worked successfully to achieve greater racial diversity in the criminal jury selection system and to expose and stop police abuse. For such work with that agency, he was the recipient of the Civil Libertarian of the Year Award by the San Diego Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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