Last month I attended the retirement party for Steve Cooley, the former District Attorney of Los Angeles, (don’t ask it’s a long story how I got there) where I stumbled upon the topic of reasonable suspicion with one of the guests at my table. The guest was a professor at one of the prestigious southern California universities and she studies child abuse.
The conversation started over that famous case at Penn State, but quickly ran into the issue of reasonable suspicion. What caught my ear and is the main issue of this writing is whether reasonable suspicion needs to be confirmed with another colleague prior to reporting the child abuse to the authorities.
The professor maintained that prior to making a mandated report, that the person making the report must consult with another colleague to confirm their suspicion and that the colleague must agree that it is in fact a case of child abuse or neglect.
Child Abuse Thought Process
It is this type of thought process and training that not only places mandated reporters at risk, but also put children at further risk of abuse and neglect.
To set the record straight, Penal Code 11164 et al. is known as the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act and it is this code that governs the mandated reporting requirements.
Child Abuse Reporting Laws
As you will see Penal Code 11166 (a)(1) defines reasonable suspicion, but no where does it require a second mandated reporter to confirm the suspicion.
(1) For purposes of this article, "reasonable suspicion" means that it is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect. "Reasonable suspicion" does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred nor does it require a specific medical indication of child abuse or neglect; any "reasonable suspicion" is sufficient. For the purpose of this article, the pregnancy of a minor does not, in and of itself, constitute a basis for a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse.
Furthermore, Penal Code 11166 goes on further to state that reporting duties are individual.
(i) (1) The reporting duties under this section are individual, and no supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit the reporting duties, and no person making a report shall be subject to any sanction for making the report. However, internal procedures to facilitate reporting and apprise supervisors and administrators of reports may be established provided that they are not inconsistent with this article.
School districts and other public agencies should review their mandated reporting policies and training curriculum to ensure that it is consistent with California Penal Code requirements.