Refusal to TAKE a Report

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Avoiding Liability Bulletin – September 2010

… One problem that has arisen for mandated reporters of child abuse is the occasional refusal or failure (due to unavailability) of the local child protective services agency (or the police or sheriff) to take a telephone report of child abuse from the mandated reporter. This problem would typically occur in a state that requires both a telephone report and a written report. California is such a state, and practitioners there have been met with the problem of refusals or unavailability when they call to report the suspected abuse.

There are many situations that can arise where there can be some ambiguity as to whether a report should or must be made. Therapists and counselors want to protect themselves in these situations so that they can demonstrate that they did what the law required – reported by telephone and in writing. When the child protective services representative says that a report is not warranted and that he or she will not take the telephone report, or advises that a written report should not be made, the mandated reported is often confused as to what should be done. More common than the above scenario is the situation where the reporting practitioner is unable to complete the call because the line is busy, because the practitioner is kept on hold for an inordinate period of time, or because the phone is answered with a recorded message.

Several years ago, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) successfully sponsored a bill that addressed the problem. The child abuse reporting law now provides that if a mandated reporter is unable to submit an initial report by telephone (after making reasonable efforts), he or she must immediately or as soon as practically possible, by fax or electronic transmission, make a one-time automated written report, and must also be available to respond to a telephone followup call from the agency with which he or she filed the report. Under these circumstances, a written followup report would not be required. Are you aware of a similar problem in your state? If practitioners are required to report, it ought to be easy to do so!


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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