ATLANTA, Ga. - As of July 1, nurse's aides, members of the clergy, and personnel, employees and volunteers at schools, social agencies, hospitals, reproductive health care facilities and pregnancy resource centers were added to the list of individuals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse.
"We need to let Georgians know about these key changes because each individual has a moral obligation to report if they know a child is being abused," said Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville). "It is also important that everyone knows what constitutes child abuse. Child abuse is not just physical and sexual abuse; in fact, most cases that are reported in Georgia involve child neglect. Together we can make a difference and help these children."
Under Georgia's mandatory reporting requirements, certain individuals are required by state law to report suspected instances of physical injury or death to a child caused by a parent or caregiver, neglect or exploitation of a child, sexual abuse of a child and sexual exploitation of a child. These individuals must also report the failure of a parent or caregiver to see that a child is properly supervised, fed, clothed, or housed.
This legal obligation to act previously applied only to medical personnel, psychologists, social workers, counselors, law enforcement personnel, child service organization personnel and school teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.
During this year's legislative session, the General Assembly chose to expand the list of mandatory reporters in order to better protect children in the state. Under House Bill 1176, the list now includes licensed physicians, hospital or medical personnel, dentists, licensed psychologists, anyone participating in internships to obtain licensing to become a psychologist, podiatrists, registered professional nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurse's aides, professional counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, school teachers, school administrators, school guidance counselors, visiting teachers, school social workers, school psychologists, child welfare agency personnel, child-counseling personnel, child service organization personnel, law enforcement personnel, reproductive health care facility or pregnancy resource center personnel and volunteers, and members of the clergy.
A person falling under any of these mandatory reporter categories that has a reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused must report the suspected abuse. Failure to report the abuse could lead to their criminal prosecution.
Anyone who attends to a child pursuant to their duties as an employee of or volunteer at a hospital, school, social agency, or similar facility, can fulfill his or her legal obligation by reporting suspected child abuse to the person in charge of the hospital, school, or social agency. All other individuals required to report suspected child abuse must file a report by telephone or in writing to their local DFCS office, police authority, or district attorney. These reports should be made within 24 of learning of the suspected abuse.
Individuals required to report suspected child abuse must do so even if their suspicion comes from information that is considered privileged or confidential by law. Although members of the clergy are not required to report child abuse that they learned of solely from a communication required to be kept confidential under church doctrine or practice, such as confession, the law does require clergy to report information about child abuse learned of from any other source - even if the clergy member also received a report of the child abuse from a confession.
While the law only requires the above specified individuals to report suspected child abuse, the law also makes it clear that all other individuals with reasonable cause to think that a child is being abused may report the abuse. Anyone who reports abuse in good faith, whether required by law or not, is protected by the law from any civil and criminal liability that could result from their report.
If you have reason to believe that a child is being hurt or neglected, you should report the case to authorities immediately. During the week days, individuals should contact the local Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and provide them with the name and location of the child in question. For after hours, weekends, or holidays, call 1-855-GACHILD. All reports are made confidentially.
For more information on Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services, please visit dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov.