Federal Crime of the Week – Failure to Report Child Abuse

It is a violation of federal law to fail to report child abuse, if you are a member of certain professions that come into contact with children frequently, and you work on federal land or in a federally operated or contracted facility.  Violations can result in fines, or imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

What professions are required to report if they suspect that a child has suffered an incident of child abuse?

  1. Physicians, dentists, medical residents or interns, hospital personnel and administrators, nurses, health care practitioners, chiropractors, osteopaths, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists, emergency medical technicians, ambulance drivers, undertakers, coroners, medical examiners, alcohol or drug treatment personnel, and person performing a healing role or practicing the healing arts.
  2. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals.
  3. Social workers, licensed or unlicensed marriage, family, and individual counselors.
  4. Teachers, teacher’s aides or assistants, school counselors and guidance personnel, school officials, and school administrators.
  5. Child care workers and administrators.
  6. Law enforcement and juvenile rehabilitation or detention facility employees.
  7. Foster parents.
  8. Commercial film and photo processors.


What is child abuse under this statute?

  1. Physical injury, which includes, but is not limited to lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe bruising or serious bodily harm;
  2. ‘mental injury,’ which means harm to a child’s psychological or intellectual functioning which may be exhibited by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or outward aggressive behavior, or a combination of those behaviors, which may be demonstrated by a change in behavior, emotional response or cognition;
  3. sexual abuse and exploitation.

Child abuse does not include “discipline administered by a parent or legal guardian to his or her child provided it is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree and otherwise does not constitute cruelty.” 

This is one of those places in the law where you can get into trouble for doing nothing.  If you are a member of the group (as described above), and you are presented with evidence of abuse as described above, the law places an affirmative duty on you to report it.  If you stand around and do nothing, or you make a mistake, you still face punishment.  Frequently these cases are the result of an honest mistake or a subjective characterization of the available evidence.  If you find yourself facing charges for “failure to report,” give me a call.  We are here to help.