What Clergy Need to Know About Mandatory Reporting

"Currently, clergy are considered mandatory reporters in about half of all states. But even those laws vary because of the unique nature of pastoral care. Some states that include clergy as mandatory reporters exempt pastors from that requirement if abuse is disclosed or discovered during 'pastorally privileged conversations.'” - Church Leaders

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Larry's picture

Moderator

In reality, the response to these is often, "No. Actually the accuser was the one who called us."

I am not following this. When the investigator asks the church, "Why didn't you call," the response is "The accuser was the one who called us"? 

The bottom line is, that if the policy is followed, the report is made both to law enforcement and to leadership. Let's face it: Law enforcement can't remove a volunteer from a classroom, and church leadership can't remove the volunteer unless they were informed. So tell the police and tell the leadership.

Jay's picture

Suppose you're a pastor or CDS Principal and someone from child services contacts you to inform you that they are investigating and allegation of abuse in your church/school. What's your reaction? 

"OK, what does my organization need to do (or what do I need to do personally) to ensure that get you whatever you need in terms of access to people, materials, video (if we have cameras), etc as fast as is humanly possible?"

For the record, New York does not mandate reporting for clergy.  I think that's absolutely nuts and would report regardless of what the state statues are.  I literally shake my head every time I think about it, because the state is so intrusive and finicky to deal with in so many other ways.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

If you tell the investigator that you already knew, they will respond "why didn't you call us IMMEDATELY?"

I'm assuming that the investigator shows up and surprises you with his reason for investigation.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, here's Minnesota's mandatory reporting law.  You don't have an exception if someone else says they reported, and if you do things the way you propose, the response will be at best what Ron suggests, or it could involve jail time, and worst of all, it could allow a perpetrator to escape justice because everybody thought somebody else covered it. 

Same thing regarding lawyers and insurance.  Again, it is not a "nitpick" to note that since lawyers specialize, you don't want to call just anybody.   You call the guys your insurance company recommends, or else risk them not covering your claim.  It's the same principle as calling your insurance company when you have an accident before you take your car to the body shop.  They're paying the bills, they call a lot of the shots.

Finally, here is a definition for explicit.  Here is a definition for implicit.  Your comment was clearly the latter, as one must infer from "someone didn't follow the policy" that the policy didn't work.  Hence, it fails the KISS principle.  You've got a lot of unfounded confidence in the policy; again, what matters is not the procedures and policies, but rather whether the culture is right.  Ask any ISO auditor.  

Failed to read your comments?  No.  In this case, I think I've understood what you said, and its implications, pretty clearly.  Probably better than you do.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks for the clarification.

If you tell the investigator that you already knew, they will respond "why didn't you call us IMMEDATELY?"

Yes, that was my point.When you say, "The accuser called," I presume you mean the reporter and that is the person who should have called and should have notified organizational leadership that they called. That is why the response is, "You were already called. Here is a copy of the report that was filed."

Again, if you have a good policy and it is followed, these questions should be easy to answer. If your policy does not have required internal reporting, you create risk by leaving accused people in positions of contact, you risk the destruction of evidence, you risk being surprised and caught off guard and being blamed (as you note above). If your answer to "Why didn't you call?" is because "We didn't know," I think you are evidencing internal dysfunction and lack of institutional control. 

I'm assuming that the investigator shows up and surprises you with his reason for investigation.

And that's why a policy requires internal notification. No leader of an organization wants to be surprised with the police showing up for something they don't know about and are not prepared for. 

Perhaps you are different, but I as a pastor don't want to find out about something by an investigator showing up. I want to know immediately so i can take steps.

Ron Bean's picture

Probably because I have a dog in this fight, if someone come to me admitting to abuse I'm going to the authorities. I did it once when the father of a foster child admitted to sexually abusing his daughter. I physically escorted him to the sheriff.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ron Bean's picture

In the real world people regularly ignore policies. Examples are numberless.

And no pastor knows everything that is going on his church.

BTW. my "perp" was a personal friend, Christian College grad, CDS teacher, my pianist, and a deacon. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

T Howard's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Probably because I have a dog in this fight, if someone come to me admitting to abuse I'm going to the authorities. I did it once when the father of a foster child admitted to sexually abusing his daughter. I physically escorted him to the sheriff.

This leaves a question that we're not addressing. What if the allegation of abuse doesn't involve the church and the alleged perp doesn't attend the church? In other words, little Johnny tells his Sunday school teacher that his uncle sexual abuses him when he goes over to his house. How should his Sunday school teacher respond? What is the church's responsibility at that point? Yes, there are still issues of mandatory reporting involved for certain people in the church, but what are right steps to take in this situation?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Bert, I think your comments prove your point that you should be asking a lawyer who specializes about this. 

Larry, here's Minnesota's mandatory reporting law.  You don't have an exception if someone else says they reported, and if you do things the way you propose, the response will be at best what Ron suggests, or it could involve jail time, and worst of all, it could allow a perpetrator to escape justice because everybody thought somebody else covered it. 

I am not familiar with Minnesota so I don't know the ins and outs of their law, but I think you are incorrect on this. A mandated reporter, according to their law, is a "A person who knows or has reason to believe a child is being neglected or physically or sexually abused, as defined in subdivision 2, or has been neglected or physically or sexually abused within the preceding three years." The person who knows or has reason to believe is the mandated reporter, not the person who the knower/believer reports it to. In Minnesota that you link to, the training video says, "You may not have another person make the report on your behalf. The responsibility of making a report is yours." If I am in Minnesota, and someone who works for me knows or has reason to believe abuse is taking place, they are the mandated reporter.

Here is a paragraph from my state of Michigan's training:

Mandated reporters who are staff of a hospital, agency, or school shall notify the person in charge of that agency. They shall include their findings and make the written report available to the person in charge. This notification to the person in charge does not relieve mandated reporters of the obligation to report child abuse or neglect to MDHHS

So again, Bert, know the laws of your state and talk to an attorney in this field.

Same thing regarding lawyers and insurance.  Again, it is not a "nitpick" to note that since lawyers specialize, you don't want to call just anybody.

No reasonable reading of my comment would have understood anything contrary to this. You are nitpicking. Of course you talk to an attorney in the field. And any attorney that you ask who is not in that specialty will tell you to talk to another attorney.

Finally, here is a definition for explicit.  Here is a definition for implicit.  Your comment was clearly the latter, as one must infer from "someone didn't follow the policy" that the policy didn't work.

I am well familiar with the definitions. My comment was "stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt." Therefore, by your definition, it was explicit. The policy was fine. Policies don't work or not work. People work or don't work, and in this case, I was explicit; I "stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt" that the person did not follow the policy.

You've got a lot of unfounded confidence in the policy; again, what matters is not the procedures and policies, but rather whether the culture is right.  Ask any ISO auditor.  

I don't have any confidence in a policy. The confidence has to be in people. And it is simple and short. Tell the police; tell leadership. Even a group no less than the International Red Cross requires this. 

Failed to read your comments?  No.  In this case, I think I've understood what you said, and its implications, pretty clearly.  Probably better than you do.  

As the author of my comments, I determine what they mean and I can tell you that I don't think you understood what I said.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Probably because I have a dog in this fight, if someone come to me admitting to abuse I'm going to the authorities. 

If a pastor does this without the consent of the person admitting it, you are likely going to violate privilege and jeopardize a case. Again, know the law and follow it.

In the real world people regularly ignore policies. 

Yes, when people policies, no policy will work. Just like the law: If people ignore the law of the land or the law of the workplace, it will not work. Ron, there is no solution for people who don't follow policies or laws. 

Ron Bean's picture

If a child may be the victim of abuse, we have a personal responsibility to report regardless of place or persons.

We may be getting away from the OP which involved pastors reporting on matters that come to their attention whether they happen in the church, or outside the church and involve someone who attends.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry's picture

Moderator

In other words, little Johnny tells his Sunday school teacher that his uncle sexual abuses him when he goes over to his house. How should his Sunday school teacher respond? What is the church's responsibility at that point? Yes, there are still issues of mandatory reporting involved for certain people in the church, but what are right steps to take in this situation?

It is unlikely that a SS teacher is a mandatory reporter, though he or she is always a voluntary reporter. Usually mandated reporters are professionals, not volunteers. If a pastor in this case has a reason to believe, then he is a mandatory reporter in most states. He has to decide whether he has a reason to believe it.

I would probably talk to an attorney (who specializes in the field for those who need those things explicitly stated).

Larry's picture

Moderator

Ron, I completely agree that we must do the right thing, even if it involves someone close to us.

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